Is getting your child to eat a new food a stressful experience? Do you find yourself cooking 4 different meals for the family dinner? Have you given up on trying to get your child to eat fruits and vegetables? These are common experiences for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).. Picky Eating, or Problem Eating is much more common in children with ASD. We spoke to Judy, Feeding Therapist at Opya, to help us, as parents, understand why a child self-limits their diet and what we can do to help them and ourselves.
“Why is making my kids eat different foods such a chore?”
Eating is a multi-sensory experience. Each mouthful brings the possibility of a variety of flavors, textures and temperatures. They include:
A child/adult on the spectrum may have an aversion to one or many attributes listed above, depending on their sensory profile.
“What do kids with ASD experience?”
Food choices are based on individual children’s sensory experiences. Many children who are picky or problem eaters may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). A child maybe hypersensitive, hyposensitivity, or a mixture of both.
A child with hypersensitivity, has heightened sensitivity to flavors, textures, temperatures, and smells, or hyposensitivity, may seek out strong flavors and hard textures to make up for experiences they are missing.
The smell and/or texture of a food may elicit the same noxious sensory response as being stuck in a room with skunk stench. “GET OUT OF HERE!” is the message the body will send.
It can be difficult for parents to understand their child’s preferences when they themselves do not share the same sensory experience. The symptoms in some children with ASD can be further exacerbated by their strong preference for routine.. This preference for sameness can show up at meal time as well. For example, wanting chicken nuggets only from McDonald’s on a specific plate.
“What is considered typical picky eating and when is a child a problem eater?
While it is common for toddlers and kids of all ages to be picky or fussy about foods …
… a typical picky eater tends to exhibit different behaviors and often outgrow these tendencies. This is often not the case in kids who are “problem eaters.”
A typical child may exhibit some or all of the symptoms below:
A child with problem eating may exhibit some or most of the behaviors below:
“My child is already has a busy schedule, I don’t see this as a priority!”
Parents may get dissuaded from thinking that feeding is an issue because the pediatrician’s growth chart shows the kid(s) growing normally. However the reality is that kids can grow quite well on diets that are not nutritionally balanced, eg. a carb-only diet. Additionally, communication difficulties, meltdowns and lack of time makes any eating issues seem trivial and hard to prioritize.
Having a family add one more commitment of weekly Feeding Therapy can feel daunting. Research has shown that for the vast majority of children problem eating presents itself when they are toddlers and they do not “outgrow it”. Early intervention for feeding is the key to having the best outcome, just as in the case of other therapy types (speech, behavior, & OT).
Additionally, research has proven that a nutritionally balanced diet is essential to thrive and has several benefits.
Kids with ASD are 2x likely to be overweight, 5x likely to be obese, and 2x likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
“What can I do to get a head-start?”
Parents and professionals working with children are responsible for preparing and providing a well balanced meal at an appropriate schedule and setting. The child is solely responsible for whether they eat and how much they eat.
Before each meal
During each meal
PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE any participation in food-related experiences.
“How can I take action?”
As a parent you can intervene by:
Think long term, small steps today can make a huge difference! See a doctor or a professional before starting any new meal plan.
If you’re in the area, please contact Opya for any questions regarding our feeding services.
Judy is a licensed Speech Language Pathologist and the Director of Speech & Occupational Therapy at Opya. Judy brings 25+ years of experience in her field. Her level of expertise extends from pediatrics to neurologically impaired adults. She also served as a therapist and manager in the Department of Rehabilitation at Stanford Hospital for many years. Judy was the founding president of the Special Education PTA of Redwood Citv (SEPTAR). Her experience as the parent of an adult child with ASD provides her with a unique and beneficial perspective. She holds her Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) and is licensed by the state of California.
According to a University of Wisconsin study, parents of children with autism have stress levels comparable to combat veterans.
Between the hours of therapy appointments, unpredictable behaviors, demanding jobs, and uncertain future the stress compounds and takes a mental toll. Most parents focus on the child’s well being at the expense of their own. Sound familiar? Then this blog is for you!
Note: The following blog is intended for parents who have kids with an active IEP and third-party services such as ABA, speech, OT, etc. outside of school hours.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, in 2016, 13% of kids between the ages of 3-21 years have an Individualized Educational Program, a.k.a. an IEP. This require a school district to provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the student’s disability.
An IEP process starts with an evaluation of the child’s current performance at school by a team of experts. The purpose of the evaluation is for the IEP team to understand the strengths and areas where the student would benefit from additional support. The IEP team & parents then come up with an agreed upon list of goals and objectives, along with services, accommodations, and assistance, to help them thrive in a classroom setting.
In order to help us understand this better, we spoke to an Opya parent, Lisa, who shares some tips from her experience. Lisa’s child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), over 2 years ago. Like every parent, she felt anxious about the process. However, she has come a long way with the support from the school and is grateful for her son’s progress.
Lisa found that prepping before IEP meetings led to more productive conversations and showed the school that she was invested in the process.
Here are some helpful tips that you can do to be prepared and assured that you have a great long-term relationship with the school and the IEP team.
Before the meeting
During the meeting: After you have prepared yourself, the material and have your Binder. You’re ready for the meeting.
After the meeting
The amount of work and effort that goes into the IEP is without a doubt a shadow a mountain of work. However over time it does get easier and a little bit of time investment will not only help the child, but it also makes parents more confident, in control, and less stressed in the long run. Like Lisa, we believe that anyone can advocate for their children, even working parents, since they know their child the best.
About our Opya Contributor:
Lisa is a client (parent) at Opya. Besides being a mom, she is currently working on her Masters in Nursing (Leadership & Management) and works for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital where she works as a nurse. She has been an advocate for patients going on 14 years and is now putting those skills to use in treatment and educational environments, including IEP meetings. She is also the President of the PTA at her child’s school.
Kids and adults diagnosed with ASD possess numerous strengths, however, they lack an intuitive social ability. This inhibits them from managing everyday activities as well as skills that would support them for the rest of their lives. Additionally, communication and interaction deficits can exacerbate the issue.
According to a blog on The Mighty, in a recent study, researchers used a fMRI machine to study the regions of the brain that are representative of a person’s social abilities. It was found that people with ASD who attended a five-week social skills camp (one hour, twice a week) showed significant improvement. During this process the individuals learned empathy, initiating play, and emotional recognition, which helped reduce anxiety and form friendships.
Not surprisingly many parents want this for their young ones so they can thrive in social situations. Opya listened recognized this gap and enhanced our service offerings by running our first Social Skills Group this summer; inspired by the renowned Michelle Garcia’s, Social Thinking™. It took a lot of passion and expertise to come together as a team and design and execute an evidence-based program to help our clients expand their social skills by providing them with a safe environment to practice, learn, and be understood. The goals of the program were to facilitate and improve:
Over the course of 8-weeks, the Opya leadership team and therapists, designed, supervised and facilitated the Social Skills Group at our San Mateo location. Opya’s Social Skills Groups consists of kids and young adults with and without an ASD diagnosis between the ages of 5-17. The curricula groups are designed, supervised, and led by BCBAs, supported by Masters level supervisors, occupational & speech therapists. Additionally, a one-to-one behavior therapist is provided for most clients as well. Our team actively worked on helping our clients improve their social skills by:
In doing so the participants had a chance to practice their newly acquired social skills, and hone them in a friendly, engaging, and team-based environment.
The results were outstanding! Not only did they see a direct implementation of the skills in the groups, but parents also reported that their children were able to apply what they learned in social and family gatherings. While the feedback Opya received from parents was extremely positive, the most exciting part of the program was when group members starting to form friendships and set up playdates outside the program. This was a complete 180 from the first day where the kids were reluctant to engage and interact with one another.
The results spoke for themselves. The success was overwhelming. The program truly bridged the gap between the treatment and the ability to generalize what they learned in other social and school settings.
The success of this program inspired us to make the Social Skills Group a regular part of our curriculum. It’s a four-month-long program, once a week, that is offered at our San Mateo & Santa Clara locations starting in September 2018. Please come join us! If you are interested, email us at email@example.com.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to our website and thanks in advance for taking your time to view our video. Hopefully it helps you learn more about the incredible people who have decided to join us in changing autism treatment in America by successfully connecting treatment with technology. I’d also like to invite you to join us in our mission by becoming a client, joining us as employee or partnering with us.
— Jonathan Wright, Founder & CEO, Opya