Swan Mothers

Discovering Ourselves through Parenting

When Your Child Won’t Eat

on July 2, 2013

The process of eating is extremely challenging for many individuals with autism and sensory integration disorder. Seventy-five percent of children diagnosed with ASDs have limited food preferences. Approximately half of the autism population in one study was hypersensitive to textures and lumps in food.[1]

Termed resistant eaters, individuals with underlying oral-motor delays[2] or sensory integration dysfunction[3]severely limit their food selections, sometimes to as few as three foods. Resistant eaters often select foods that have similar traits, such as being white, having similar textures or being easy to chew. Autistic children often choose only the foods that are  harmful to them:  processed wheat products (pasta, bread, crackers), sugary foods, and milk products. Other resistant eaters limit themselves to foods that are pureed.

Our Story

One of my children had severe oral sensitivity challenges and was a resistant eater.  Daniel literally could not eat many foods.

As a baby, he was not interested in food when I first offered it to him. I waited and tried again. He was still not interested.  Eventually, he began eating very small amounts of pureed foods.  When it was time to transition to real foods, he could not make the change. He would eat mac and cheese and  pizza, but vegetables, fruit and meat where completely unpalatable to him. He would choke and gag at the sight of food.

Today, he eats almost everything. We never did occupational therapy, feeding therapy or any other traditional therapies. He made the transition to eating a healthy and varied diet slowly.  His body and process were supported with homeopathic remedies and a huge change in perspective for his parents.

Juicing to Improve Oral Defensiveness

A significant shift occurred when I began juicing. When fruits and vegetables are juiced, the fiber is removed and the nutrients are immediately absorbed and assimilated into the body. (It is important to consume fiber for optimal digestion. Drinking freshly juiced produce is a step leading to healthy eating.)

Every morning, on an empty stomach, Daniel (and the whole family) drank freshly juiced fruit and vegetables. My juice of choice was pineapple and celery, made in my Jack Lalanne juicer. This juice is sweet and palatable. Use more pineapple at first to make if very sweet.

Pineapple is an excellent source of the protein-digesting enzyme bromelain. Celery is high in organic sodium which most people are severely lacking. Sodium that is available in celery is soluble and organic (living), and is essential for the body. Every cell in our body is constantly bathed in a salt solution, and if the salt level is not in balance, dehydration occurs.

Soon after beginning this routine, Daniel began eating healthy, unprocessed foods, including steak and broccoli.  (Yes.  I was shocked!)

Pureeing for Nutrients

Before he got to this point, I pureed everything in a Vitamix — a very high-power blender essential for making the super-smooth foods orally sensitive children demand. I mixed the pureed meal that the family was eating with gluten-free pancake mix and an egg and fried it into a pancake. He ate these pancakes for a few years. I made extra pancakes and sent them to school for his lunch.

Lentil soup pancakes. Beet and chicken pancakes. Carrot and steak pancakes. Everything went in the blender and was served with a large side of mayonaisse.

These days, Daniel occasionally gags at the site of a new or strange food, but is willing to try almost anything. He has discovered that he may like what he tries — and also that we will not force him to eat even another bite if he does not like the food.

Solutions for Resistant Eaters

Contrary to children who are called picky, resistant eaters may starve themselves, jeopardizing health and growth.[4] For these children, foods must be made palatable in some way that does not destroy nutritional value.

One of the best methods for encouraging healthy eating is education. Learning where food comes from can begin by gardening and growing fruits or vegetables. When shopping together, children can be encouraged to choose a new fruit or vegetable, look up where it grows, what part of the plant it comes from, and its nutritional and therapeutic benefits. Then, the new produce may be prepared and tasted.

Children should be repeatedly offered a variety of health-building foods. Ten or more exposures to a new food may be needed to get used to eating it. Some children may be willing to eat raw fruit and vegetables. Others will eat them cooked to a particular degree. Favorite condiments may make trying a new food a possibility. Children can find eating a whole fruit or vegetable daunting. Cutting fruits and vegetables into small pieces and dipping into sauces may make them palatable.

It is essential to accommodate children who have sensory integration and oral defensiveness issues. For children who balk and gag at the sight of vegetables or other necessary foods, the foods must be disguised or blended into acceptable foods. Any food may be pureed to a consistency as smooth as necessary.

If applesauce consistency is tolerated, pureed fruits and vegetables may be offered.  Pureed vegetables may be added to mashed potatoes, hidden in spaghetti sauce or in meatballs, mixed with pancake mix and egg and fried or baked as a pancake or patty.  Pureed fruit may be mixed into oatmeal or served as a smoothie, pudding, or ice cream.

For autistic children who understand language, teaching children how marketing works and the advantages of healthy foods gives them tools to make educated decisions in food selection. Children who do not possess adequate language for such communication need gentle and loving exposure to new foods.

For resistant eaters with physical or neurological obstacles to eating the foods necessary for healing and balance, the above tactics will likely be ineffective. Remedying mealtime dilemmas will involve a comprehensive plan and a significant commitment from parents and caregivers. Parents and caregivers must reconsider their assumptions and begin where the child is. Working with occupational therapists toward improving oral tolerance is important. Professional homeopathic treatment may yield critical support.  Ultimately, proper nutrition that leads to true healing will make it easier for the resistant child to consume a wider variety of textures and flavors.

EFT and Homeopathy for Resistant Eaters

EFT and homeopathic treatment address underlying issues of orally sensitive children.  These safe and natural methods bring forth the wisdom of the body and support self-healing.

War & Peas

Jo Cormack

If you are worried about your child’s picky eating, War & Peas has the answers you need. Therapist Jo Cormack turns conventional parenting techniques on their head, introducing readers to EAF (emotionally aware feeding). This is not a book about what to feed children, but how.

[1] Mayers and Calhoun, “Symptoms of Autism in Young Children and Corresondence with the DSM.”  Infants and Young Children, 1999, v. 12.

[2] Oral-motor skills include the functions of sucking, biting, crunching, chewing and licking.

[3] Sensory integration dysfunction occurs when the brain cannot efficiently process the sensory information coming from the body or from the environment, causing the person with SID to experience difficulties responding in an adaptive way to everyday sensations that other people hardly notice.

[4] Ernsperger, Lori, Just Take a Bite:   Easy, Effective Answers to Food Aversions and Eating Challenges.Arlinton, Texas:  Future Horizons, Inc.  2004.

5 responses to “When Your Child Won’t Eat

  1. Emma Lesko says:

    I love seeing empowered parents using creative solutions to meet their kids’ needs. Kudos to you!

  2. Alexa says:

    Wonderful post. Feeding can be so frustrating for parents with sensory kids. There are a lot of emotions and expectations around food and diet. As a therapist, when I work with a child on feeding, I really work with the parents first. They have to meet their child where he/she is at. I love your approach. Thanks for sharing!

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