We shared a very popular post on our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook about Autism and Picky Eating. We thought we would share some related additional, information.
For picky eaters, there can be a stigma that follows people for their whole lives and is a cause for shame. There can be exasperation from family members and friends who don’t help. Even strangers and waiters can get frustrated.
Why are people so picky? Older adult Autism patients have expressed their enhanced senses don’t make it easy. If only we could experience their feelings for any amount of time we would be a lot more understanding and patient. With children, even more, patience and empathy are required. Many would wish to like any food, to order from a menu without concern or anxiety. However, the reality is that for many foods is an overwhelming affair.
Size, texture, smell, colour, consistency, shape can also complicate matters. Some clients express it “hurts” to eat. Can you imagine that? Then on top people are getting frustrated with them. Food can stimulate memories and flashbacks that at the very least are disconcerting and even disorientating.
If the patient has other complaints and issues, then it becomes a winless situation.
Huge Texture Factor
Food comes in so many textures does it not? An Apricot has the weird furry feeling; meat is sinewy, porridge is slimy! The list could go on and will be different for everyone. Symptoms of the aversion to certain foods can manifest in many ways from jaws becoming stiff and locked to full-body experiences. There can be a pain, the shivers, discomfort, headaches, and unexplained aches.
Question of Taste
Bland food is not exactly nice for anyone. With Autism multiply the blandness factor by ten at least! Families have specially mentioned this from Eastern Cultures. Others are the opposite and are at pains to consume spicy foods or savoury dishes. Bear in mind, that a patient’s sensory receptors are amplified and super-sensitive, so what we believe is overwhelming may not be for them. Also, vice versa is equally possible. There is a high chance they are not just being picky or overreacting. They could be experiencing things more intensely than your average Joe Public.
Sensory input can appear to be impaired; a chilli taste might taste like bile to someone else.
Too many tastes at once are also overwhelming. Cultures with curry meals, for example, can involve combining flavours. To someone with Autism, this may be an assault on their senses.
It may mean at restaurants asking the waiter to ask the chef to provide Meal A but without certain ingredients that will trigger issues. The ingredients that are removed may make a big difference to the sufferer in the context of having a meltdown or becoming distressed and anxious.
What to do?
Do nothing if you are a family member. Just be supportive and try to help plan menus and dinners. Maybe making a list of all the foods, a loved one struggles to eat.
The first step is acknowledging that someone with Autism may not eat in the same way a non-sufferer does. Trying new foods should be approached when they want to if they’re going to. Remind them that what they do eat is impressive and they should be proud. “Eat what you’re given and clear the plate” attitudes will exacerbate problems. To patients, certain foods will not register as a food substance. Other times the serving bowl or cutlery may trigger sensory overload. Combinations of both may be an issue. It will be different for everyone, so patience is the key to a happier life with food.