Last month, we started a blog series on mealtime challenges in children with autism. In continuing with this series, here is some more information on making mealtime a more positive experience:

Making Meal Time Fun!

How many of your kids grimace each time you go to wipe their face?  Pat, Pat, Pat is an engaging face wiping technique to increase oral motor awareness, decrease facial over-responsivity and decrease aversion and stimulation to the facial muscles.

Pat, Pat, Pat

  1. Apply firm pressure with a rolled up wash cloth.  Do symmetrically on both sides of the face.
  2. Pat three times from check bone to corner of the mouth (“Pat, Pat, Pat)
  3. Press and swipe top lip down ("lip down")
  4. Press and push bottom lip up("chin up")
  5. Firmly press washcloth to lips ("kiss")
  6. Complete two times

We have started implementing this strategy with many of our LCA kids and they seem to catch on to the rhyme quickly and enjoy incorporating it into their meal time routine.

The Importance of Toothbrushing!

Tooth brushing happens every day!! Often times getting a child to brush their teeth seems to take a lot of effort and we just want to get the job done.  There are some things we can do to reduce the effort required. If tooth brushing happens in the same pattern every time, your child can begin to tolerate and even enjoy the experience.  Incorporating songs and silliness around tooth brushing helps the child "buy in" to the activity.

We learned that you don't even need to use toothpaste; the most important part of brushing teeth is actually brushing the gums!!

One of the benefits of a tooth brushing routine is increased awareness to help with organization of the tongue, lips, and teeth for motor planning, which is necessary for speaking and eating. Improvement in organization is shown by your child demonstrating decreased sensitivity to touch which makes it easier for them to try new foods. Additionally, it reduces drooling, which also benefits speech.

Learning through Exploration

Parents of picky eaters want nothing more than to have their children eating a wider variety of food. However this only comes through practice, often over time. Remember the process of introducing new foods to a baby? We introduce foods one at a time gradually as they become more proficient at eating.  There are a variety of reasons a child can avoid foods such as texture, temperature and color and we must take this into account when working with our kids.

It is developmentally expected and socially accepted for babies to explore food through food play (just like a child eating their first piece of birthday cake)…. with our kids who have sensory difficulties around food, we have to make food safe and fun!!  This means that we can't expect them to eat everything on their plate.  We have to allow kids to be comfortable with how a food smells, how it feels, how it looks, and how it tastes, before expecting them to eat it.   This level of comfort is achieved through food exploration.  Remember to try and make food a positive experience.  It's ok for kids to get messy…. and adults too. Make it a positive family meal time experience.

As part of Autism Awareness Month, LCA is hosting a Food and Nutrition Night on April 19th from 5:30-7:30.  We will be giving short presentations throughout the night and will be available to answer any questions that you may have.  It'll be an opportunity to learn more about the topics that we have covered and more.  We will also have Janey Yoo, a Registered Dietician and Family Nutritional Counselor.  She has experience working with families who have children with Autism and will be discussing common nutritional needs for children. We look forward to seeing you. Stop by the front desk to RSVP.

Check back for more on our feeding series in the future.

Written by Shana Speer, OTD, OTR/L and Lyndsey Aston, MA, SLP-CF