For a range of reasons, it can affect the diet of those affected in a myriad of ways such as heightened sensitivity to the taste and smell of food, which to put in perspective, would be like listening to a favourite piece of music, when suddenly the volume jumps to maximum, turning pleasure to instant pain. Other reasons include,
- Being very distressed at trying any new foods
- Having a strong preference for foods of a particular colour such as only ever eating foods which are white (potatoes, rice, vanilla ice cream, etc)
- Only accepting processed foods with familiar packaging, and rejecting favourite foods when the packaging changes
- Distress in some mealtime environments such as if it is too noisy, too bright or they can smell other foods
- Only eating food that is presented in a consistent way such as always on the same plate
In a recent workshop on diet and the autism spectrum disorder, it was pointed out that in common with a lot of children, two food groups that seem the most affected are fruit and vegetables.
Now as parents of an affected child, we know how creative we have to be in order to get our girl trying new things and not worrying too much at how she may react to the same food served in different ways. For instance, M will eat a large bowl of risotto and help herself to more, but will instantly turn her nose up at a bowl of plain steamed rice.
The trick is NOT to tell her that risotto is rice, that could just spell disaster, we just let that be and experiment with risottos, adding different vegetables; you learn to use what you can. Fortunately, for us and her, M seems to like a lot of vegetables, her area of avoidance is fruit.
The only fruit she will eat are raspberries and we are now having some success with sultanas. What we were told that may help her or any other child with an aversion, is to have a small plate of cut up fruit at the dinner table. There is to be no pressure to force her to eat anything, but the best chance of success comes after a long period of time, perhaps years, in letting her watch us eating fruit.
Modeling is something that doesn't come easily to autistics.
But the biggest hope of success comes from a surprising area and is apparently true for all children. If you want to get your child to eat fruit, the chances are greatly increased if they watch their fathers regularly eating it.
C'mon dads, down an apple!
With thanks to Zoe Connor, Dietitian, and members of the Dietitians' Autistic Spectrum Interest Group (DASIG)