This blog is a way of sharing the information and resources that have helped me to recover my son Roo from an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What I have learned is to view our symptoms as the results of underlying biological cause, which can be identified and healed. I say "our symptoms" because I also have a neuro-immune disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

And, of course, I am not a doctor (although I have been known to impersonate one while doing imaginative play with my son)- this is just our story and information that has been helpful or interesting to us. I hope it is helpful and interesting to you!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Implementing Dietary Changes with Children

The only thing more daunting for many of us than figuring out what dietary modifications a child needs, is figuring out how to get that child to eat this new way.  Many children with autism and related disorders have self-selected their diets down to only a handful of foods, often specific to brand, restaurant, or packaging.  The thought of offering this child broccoli or freshly juiced veggies sounds absurd.  But, like all things in the autism world these days, thousands of families have walked this road already and there is much wisdom, as well as many observations, tricks, methods, etc that can be learned from those that blazed the trail.  Here are a few that I have used or know others who have used:

When introducing a new version of a food- it's best to let some time pass since the child has had the previous version.  The more recently they have eaten the old version the more they may be aware of the difference in the new one.  Many people find it helpful to give the new food when the child is distracted, such as watching a video.  Feeding them may draw even less attention to the food, helping the child adapt to it.  The new food can be put into the packaging of the previously preferred kind.  For example I put the new homemade ketchup into the cleaned out bottle of the ketchup we had been buying.  Some parents have even gone to restaurants and gotten empty containers for chicken nuggets, fries, etc to put the new versions in.

Keep in mind that people's tastes change over time- very often children self-select to the foods that cause them problems.  These problems can include actually altering their sense of taste and/or texture, which can then reinforce the self-selection.  By removing these foods, you may be removing what is causing the avoidance of other foods.  What is surprising is how quickly this can change.  Many parents have been shocked by how quickly their child was willing and eager to eat new foods, that they could not imagine their child eating before, soon after the problem foods were removed.  Other times this can take longer, more like months, but I have seen this in action and it is amazing.  Also, our preferences for tastes, such as sweet and salty, is influenced by how much of this flavor we get....basically we adapt.  Someone who eats a lot of sugar will often need to eat a lot of sugar to taste something as sweet at all. By drastically cutting back on sweetness, in even a few days a person's sense of taste can be dramatically readjusted.

Preferences for food can be the result of underlying health problems- and may therefore be resolved with treatments, including dietary intervention.  A craving for sweet could be the result of a yeast overgrowth, and once the yeast is under control the child may not have nearly the same strong desire for sweet things.  A craving for salty foods may indicate an adrenal function problems.  Avoidance of meat is commonly associated with low levels of stomach acid, which in turn is often tied to low zinc levels.  Low zinc levels affect taste and smell in many ways and often results in a very restricted diet.  Supplementing zinc is often an easy and effective first step in dietary intervention with children.

Some miscellaneous thoughts- for some children, it is more successful to introduce new foods rather than new versions of familiar foods.  For other children, new versions of familiar foods are easier to adapt to.   Some ingredients can be "snuck" into the food, such as pureed vegetables, without drawing attention to the fact that there is anything new about the food.  Examples are putting pureed squash or sweet potato in pancakes or muffins, or putting bone marrow or ground organ meat in burger patties.  You may need to start by adding a very small amount so as not to change the flavor as much, then slowly increasing the amount.  Many kids prefer foods with a "carby" sort of texture, and may find meat hard to chew or just not a preferred texture.  One trick is to make chicken pancakes which are just chicken and eggs, pureed, and cooked up as pancakes.  These have the texture of "regular" pancakes but do taste like chicken.  This video of Julie Matthews and Polly Tommey shows how to make these pancakes.

Making Food Fun- This is a post that I wrote with ideas for presenting new foods in ways that make them more appealing, interesting, or fun for children.

TACA article about picky eaters