We often see a range of eating behaviours in our pupils with some similarities in preference. At Hedgewood, we aim to provide healthy snacks and water to all pupils as a common daily practice. Through gentle exposure, play and unrestricted access to fruits and vegetables, we aim to have our pupils experimenting with new foods.
My pupil only eats junk food?
‘Junk food’ is often high calorie foods that are useful for managing energy levels. Therefore, these high energy foods are valuable for maintaining growth in children. Pupils can move onto healthier options but children should be supported with eating foods that give them the calorie load they need to maintain growth. Don’t restrict a child that already has a restricted diet.
Allow safe foods
Pupils will eat foods that feel ‘safe’ to them. Whether it’s a particular brand of biscuit or food cooked to a crisp for that extra crunch. The most important thing is that the pupils are eating enough calories to support their physical development. Establish a good quantity of safe foods per meal and while working on expanding the range of safe foods.
My pupil is too sensory?
Hyposensitivity vs. Hypersensitivity. A pupil who has hyposensitivity would need a lot of sensory input while eating and this can come from sharp, spicy or tangy tastes. Pupils may also mouth inedible items or fill their whole mouth with food. This is because they have a harder time stimulating their senses. Pupils with hypersensitivity are the complete opposite; very sensitive to strong tastes and smells and can often be upset around mealtimes and food. Hypersensitive pupils would gravitate to bland and predictable food
Reduce Anxiety and Increase Sensory tolerances
Be aware of sensory overload at lunchtimes. Try different eating arrangements to see what works best for the pupil. Sensory overload will reduce how much a pupil can eat. Use strategies and sensory safe spaces to make the pupil comfortable eating in that time. Desensitise the pupil to foods through gentle, graded exposure to foods e.g. through messy play. Schedule regular eating to help develop the awareness of appetite and allow for grazing throughout the day.
What foods should I try?
Don’t try foods that are too far out of their comfort zone. There are many factors that impact a pupil’s relationship with food. Texture, taste, brand, who serves it and the setting are just some of the elements that affect our pupils during mealtimes. This is because of the biological or cognitive differences that come with Autism. The ‘disgust response’ is a physical response to foods, in which our bodies learn which foods are safe to eat and which foods aren’t. Our pupils have a stronger disgust response to foods and they should be listened to.
Increase their range
Start with a known favourite of the pupils and branch out from there, one step at a time. If they’ll eat a strawberry munch bunch, try a strawberry frube? Change the brand, change the package, change the flavour or shape. This system will increase flexibility in thinking, increase their range of safe foods and will give you back up foods. It allows the child to generalise foods and will avoid sensory specific satiety – where the brain has had enough of the sensory experience the food provides.