The objective of eating/feeding is for your child to be able to independently open wrappers, containers, and eat the items opened.
Many children with autism have a hard time opening wrapped food items and eat the content of it. Eating in general is often difficult for children with autism due to motor planning, tactile, and oral motor defensiveness issues. Many children have a hard time tolerating food in their mouth, chewing it and swallowing it might be an issue. For example they don’t know how to chew the food, they don’t like the texture in their mouth and they don’t like their mouth to be touched. In order to get proper help for the above issues it is important for your child to be evaluated by an Occupational Therapist. This lesson will teach you a general sense of how to deal with your child’s eating issues.
Unwrapping food or opening the packaging of food might be hard for your child due to the lack of fine motor skills or motor planning issues, for example their fingers are not strong enough to open the packaging and/or the motor planning of opening the package is lacking.
What to do
- Place the desired food in front of your child, for example a granola bar.
- Get your child’s attention by saying your child’s name and or touching your child’s arm.
- Say “(Child’s name) time to open the granola bar and eat it”.
- Show your child what you want them to do, tear the granola bar open starting at the top. Over accentuate your motion so your child has a better idea of what you want them to do.
- Hand your child the granola bar and say “Open”.
- Perfect outcome: your child opens the granola bar. Praise!
Not so perfect outcome: your child tries but gets frustrated and throws the granola bar on the floor.
- Have your child pick up the granola bar and then repeat your instruction and show your child again what to do. Hand the granola bar to your child and say “open”. Your child opens the granola bar, great! Praise! If not repeat the steps from above 3 times. If your child still doesn’t get it move on to a different task and try again later.
The process of getting your child in eating their food is a long process. It might take a long time for your child to be able to actually eat a wide variety of food. Some kids take a couple months to get used to new foods, others take years and in general it is an ongoing process.
Here’s how to start and progress. Start with one step at a time and once it’s mastered move on to the next.
- Child will tolerate food on table.
- Child will open food.
- Child will touch food.
- Child will kiss food.
- Child will lick food.
- Child will take a small bite.
- Child will take a whole bite.
- Child eats food by himself without any help.
Applesauce will be used as an example.
- Put the applesauce on the table, first put it on the opposite site of your child and then move it closer and closer to your child.
- Once your child can tolerate the sight of the applesauce have your child open the applesauce as described above.
- After your child opens the applesauce let your child stick his finger in the apple sauce. This might cause a fit due to the new wet texture of the apple sauce. If your child just barely touches the applesauce praise for trying. Over time your child will get used to the feel on his finger.
- Once your child is used to the texture on his finger, hand him a spoon or let him continue with the applesauce on his finger. Have your child bring the applesauce to his lips to kiss it.
- Have your child lick the apple sauce of his finger/spoon. The new texture of the applesauce might cause your child to gag, it might take up to 15 exposures to the new texture before your child stops gaging.
- After that have your child eat a small bite of apple sauce. Your child might still gag. Just keep on trying.
- Your child takes a whole spoon full of apple sauce.
- Your child is able to open the applesauce by themselves and can eat the applesauce without help.
It might take your child a couple of days, weeks or maybe even month to understand the concept of how to open food packaging and how to actually do it. Don’t get frustrated, be positive, praise your child often for trying, and make it fun. For any questions or concerns please join our support desk.