A person with Autism Spectrum Disorder, (ASD) has special needs due to the nature of ASD’s social learning deficits - particular educational requirements due to physical, mental, or emotional needs. From the school programs they attend to the idiosyncrasies in the way they make their bed, individuals on the spectrum prefer their tasks to be done a certain way. A change from the prefered schedule can result in tantrums. Commonly, people with ASD have trouble navigating the social landscape and with that, it is best to instill good habits at an early age where behaviors are easily malleable. Due to these certain learning and performance obstacles, one must focus on the dietary needs of a person with ASD. Upon finding out that a child has ASD, an appointment with a gastroenterologist is often quickly scheduled to discuss the dietary needs of the child. A comorbidity of ASD is inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). Children with autism often have trouble verbalizing their food preferences and make it difficult to encourage them to eat on a regulated schedule. Because of this, most dietary plans begin with preferential food options that reduce risk of discomfort from constipation, acid reflux, and/or diarrhea. By proactively avoiding these common gastrointestinal problems, we might be able to prevent a host of other health issues such as obesity and malnutrition.
Alongside health obstacles, children with ASD experience sensory hindrances that require careful attention. Individuals on the spectrum can have strong preferences such as taste, color, texture, and even smell. Thus, it is important to listen to their doctor-recommended needs but if we begin to restrict their food consumption too much, this can become detrimental later on. As parents and caregivers direct their attention towards teaching the infinite amount of life skills such as using the restroom, mathematical skills, and proper speech techniques, what the child eats tends to take a smaller role. As the child’s range of food consumption continues to narrow due to lack of caregiver attention, they might not receive the proper nutrients to undergo healthy development. Not getting the proper foods is why we must focus on their diet because food is an essential part of life and by slowly teaching them to try new foods, we look after their physical health. Full comprehension of the ASD obstacles is a learning curve for anyone. One often starts by setting goals for the child to serve as a recorder for progress.
As they meet their goals, congratulate them and reward them as this will further motivate children with ASD through positive reinforcement. The key factor to helping children with ASD, or anyone as a matter of fact, is to be persistent. If we want these skills to have long-lasting effects, one must persevere. We have to remember that those with autism are just like people without autism. With their unique challenges comes a unique support system -- a concept comparable to everyday life. By helping them with their day-to-day tasks, we support people with ASD in becoming productive members of society that will one day make a huge difference. Instead of having to focus on simple tasks, people with ASD are allowed to expand their horizons just like everyone else.
Juliann Garey is a journalist, novelist and clinical assistant professor at NYU. Her work has appeared in the New York Times. “Autism and Picky Eating.” Child Mind Institute, 16 Jan. 2020, childmind.org/article/autism-and-picky-eating/.