This morning we had a great Q&A session about teaching meal skills with our teachers and families in our Mersin program. Over the weekend, participants watched the meal skills presentation (the second to last presentation in our Mersin program) on our private YouTube channel. They gathered this morning to ask questions. Here are some of the things they wanted to know:
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Muna, Mother of Haya, age 7: I want to ask a specific question about Haya. During mealtime, she likes to take her iPad and play with it. However, while she is doing this, she eats in the correct way. Is it okay to continue like that?
A Global Voice for Autism Team: I am sure that all of us look at our phone or do something else while we’re eating sometimes. Like you said, if Haya is still eating appropriately, then it’s not something to be too worried about. However, if you do have a situation in which you need her to eat without her iPad, she is likely to find this very difficult if it is part of her routine to have her iPad.
(Haya, 7 and Reema, 9, join their families for a support group picnic in the park last week)
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Soumia, Primary School Teacher: I heard that children with autism have low appetites. However, the child with autism that I know never stops eating unless we remove the food from him. Can we use imitation skills to teach meal skills. For example, can I hold his hand or have him model how I eat?
A Global Voice for Autism Team: Some children with autism have low appetites, but not all children with autism. It’s also not unusual for children with autism to eat a lot, like the child you know does. Food is naturally enjoyable (reinforcing) for most people, and it can be hard for children with autism to manage their food intake. They may not understand social rules around how much to eat and may not understand the implications of their decisions, such as the need to eat a balanced diet to remain healthy.
If a child is able to understand pictures, you could show him pictures of what he can eat (this could include quantities) and only allow him to eat that amount. You could also build some choice into it so that he can choose some of his food. You could use imitation to teach him to eat slowly, using a spoon or fork if he is eating the food that he has too quickly. When he eats at a slower speed, even if just briefly to start, then you can provide reinforcement.
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Rula, Primary School Teacher: Is there a specific diet for children with autism? Are there certain foods that children with autism should or should not eat?
A Global Voice for Autism Team: Eating healthy foods is always a good idea for any child as it can improve concentration and keep them feeling good. However, there is no specific diet for kids with autism. Like all children, some kids with autism have sensitivities to things like gluten (found in bread and flour) or lactose (found in most dairy products). If you see that a child seems to be sick/uncomfortable after eating certain foods on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor to see if the child might have a sensitivity to those foods. You can also try removing a food from a child’s diet for a period of time (10 days) and see if the child appears to feel better. Then, try adding it back in and see whether the child seems uncomfortable/sick after eating it. You can do this for any child, not just children with autism.
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Do you have questions about feeding and meal skills? Comment on this post with what you want to know!