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Does anyone have ideas on how to help a 3 year-old with feeding difficulties?

My son will be 3 in April. He has Autism and as a result we have trouble getting him to eat age appropriate foods. He has many sensory issues when it comes to textures and won't swallow anything thicker than a puree. He still gets the majority of his nutrition from whole milk and he is still on the bottle. When he does eat, it is baby food, and he only averages about 2 jars a day. I give him a vitamin to help meet his nutritional needs, but I fear it is not enough. We finally were able to get him to chew certain foods but he has only been able to do this for a few months and it is usually junk food such as chips, french fries, and crackers. He will also eat corn chex from the box. Usually he only chews things that are crunchy and salty. Then he usually spits it out on the floor. He only swallows about 20% of the time. Does anybody have any ideas on what else I can do to help him? Please don't suggest OT. We are on a waiting list that is several months long. He needs help now!


I couldn't possibly research Autism more than I already have. All the research suggests that I should do is take him to an occupational therapist

Update 2:

Mootygirl, thanks for the suggestion. It makes perfect sense, and we tried something similar when we were trying to get him to chew. He makes eye contact and does engage me, he mimics only when he feels like it but isn't very good at following commands. I will try this.

9 Answers

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Feeding difficulties are extremely prevalent with children with autism and can be very difficult to "treat." Crunchy and salty foods are usually a huge preference because of their sensory processing difficulties. I am a pediatric occupational therapist and would obviously suggest staying on the waiting list, but I understand that you want help now. I am not really skilled in this area but I can offer some suggestions that I hope will help. Without a full evaluation, I obviously cannot tailor anything specifically to your son, but maybe between my pointers and your expertise on your son we can come up with something that will work.

    Chaining can be very effective in getting children to accept new tastes and textures. I am only guessing that along with oral defensiveness, your son also refuses or does not like to touch or be near certain textures. I understand this, but please be patient with him and try this technique for a couple of weeks to see if he will adjust and accept it. Of course, autism is a broad diagnosis which leads me with little understadning of his functional level. Does he make eye contact and engage with you? Will he mimic? Does he follow commands? If not, this technique may not work at all.

    OK--With chaining, you are starting with a food that your child likes. Say, for example, that he will eat cheese Doritoes. Start with that. He is not going to inmmediately eat it but it going to play with it instead. You model crushing it on the table. See if he will (but do not force him). Have his sprinkle some crumbs on his hand and then have him brush them off. You can make some kind of game out of it to get him to join in. The goal is to progressively get the food closer to his mouth. You see, when children are learning to self feed and to eat new foods, they play with them. They get mashed potatoes up their noses, in their ears, and everywhere else. Children with sensory issues do not go through this step so with chaining we are trying to move him through this process. So after you get him to put the crumbs on his elbow, give him a whole dorito. Have him tough his shoulder with it. Touch his head. Touch his forehead. Ear. Nose. Chin. Lips. Kiss it. Touch it with his tongue. Lick it. Then have him take a bite and spit it out into a bowl. Here we are teaching him that it is OK to spit something out if you do not like it. This takes away some of the fear response that comes with trying new foods.

    OK--This process will be repeated with each new food. Now, another part of chaining is which food to go to next. So start with something that he likes, like the suggested cheese dorito. Each next food in the process should retain a similar characteristic of the food before it. For example, cheese dorito becomes a ranch dorito (same shape and texture). That become a tortilla chip (same shape and texture). That becomes a plain sunchip (same texture and color). That can then become a white cheeseball puff (same color, still crunchy). That can become a piece of white string cheese (similar color and taste). Then vanilla yogurt (same color)... I have things moving more quickly toward the end just to show you how you can go from one food to the next once he becomes more comfortable with the experience. Start with the same food each time and go through the same process/group of foods. Take him as far as you can get him each time. It might be the third or fourth try before he will put the food on the back of his hand. That is OK. Stop once you cannot get him to go any further and try again later. Once he gets good with the first few foods, start weaning out a food when you add a new food to the end. For example, the second or third time you offer the white cheese puff, take out the plain sunchip... I hope this all makes sense--It is pretty late here.

    It is a slow and tedious process but is well worth it if it works! I wish you both the best of luck. I'll be chaecking back here if you have more information or questions! Good luck! And please, keep him on that waiting list. The OT can help out with more sensory issues than just his feeding...

    Source(s): Pediatric occupational therapist with some clinical background in feeding
  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Try some kind of reward's. I've learned that my children have forced me to become creative. Try to make it seem like it's an exciting thing. I've learned that if i do something, my son will most likely follow my lead. maybe get some kind of shake for yourself, drink it out of your cup and then give him his nutrition drink at the same time out of a normal cup. If he won't take it then give him the bottle and just keep trying this until he feels comfortable with the idea. Tell him it's gonna make him strong and he will be able to ride his bike for a long time or something. My son loves his bike so that's what i would say. If you only give him 1 nutrition drink, try splitting it into small portions. I know it's hard but just keep trying. If nothing seems to work then just keep giving him the bottle. When he gets older and you can reason with him a little better, then he will stop. When kids are this small they don't understand too much, like why you are taking away his bottle. If it gets him to drink it and he needs it then don't worry about it until he's old enough to understand. There will come a time, the right time when he will let you give him in a cup. Just keep encouraging it until he is ok with it. Don't listen to all the negative talk out there, I hate that. People don't know what it's really like until your in that situation so just keep trying. I hope this helps and good luck.... :)

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    what about making choclate covered bananas, choc. covered strawberries, choc dipped pretzels

    Also, very slowly start making his food less puree (do you make your own in the blender or buy it?)

    Natures Blend has a really great salty granolla bar and it is good. The peanut and almond bars (two different kinds). They are two layered , the top is the nuts and the bottom is peanut butte and such. They are sweet and salty

    sometimes to help the swallow reflex, rubbing the throat (down, not upand down) repeatedly helps alot... make sure though that spitting food out doesn't become a behavior

    Source(s): Good luck:)
  • carole
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Hello my dear. I have an autistic child too - though luckily this is not one of our issues. Here are the things I can suggest though:

    My naturopathis physicians told me that mixing goat milk, carrot juice and water in equal parts gives a solution that is most similar to mother's milk - so with that you would at least be sure he was getting full nutrition. We used this to wean from and to supplement breatstfeeding and we happy with it.

    Cow's milk has been said to be very bad for autistic children. I know how intimidating the GFCF diet is, but we have had remarkable luck with it. We give goat cheese, rice dream milk, white spelt bread and rice pasta - an only organic sugars. This is so important - I know parents who went through the therapy with little luck until they changed the diet.

    Cheerios, are of course a perennial favorite with kids. I would try to put a some in a bowl while the child is playing and see if he will eat them. My daughter (now 6) put more toys in her mouth than food and hates to leave her current task to take care of herself - so allowing her to eat in front of the computer has been helpful for us.

    It sounds like he craves salt - you might want to consider giving him a mineral supplement. My child licks the top of the salt shaker when she needs extra minerals it seems. Here's the one we use: It's liquid and sweet - I give it to my kids in a dropper.

    Finally, I will share with you what seems to be the single most important thing we did for our family - Byonetics CDs. It is one of the most inexpensive treatments I have found. It's a program created by a grown man who was autistic as a child. He went on to work with NASA and seems to have combined some NASA technology with dolphin research to come up with these CDs that seem like a miracle to me. Here's the link:

    While I see some positive changes in my child, what I really know is how it affected me. I don't feel crazy any more. I don't cry all the time anymore. Our whole house is more peaceful - and the program comes with a support group of maybe 50 other families all in the same boat, sharing their experiences and researching together. The whole thing cost like $300 total - it is worth 3 times that in my opinion.


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  • 1 decade ago

    Does he like to dip his fries and chips? If so try giving him fish sticks with ketchup, steamed carrots with ranch or french toast sticks with syrup. A lot of kids like to dip their food, and if he will do it..give him dips to put on everything. It sounds like you are doing everything possible to meet his dietary needs, now all you need is a gimmick to get him to actually get the solids in him. Good Luck...

  • 1 decade ago


    It sounds like you have done your research. Sensory issues and autism are difficult in themselves to overcome. Have you talked to your pediatrician? From the sounds of it, he may be getting enough, but as mothers it is our natural tendancy to worry about what exactly is enough. My suggestion is to record what, when and how much he eats and then discuss it with your pediatrician to if anything ease your concerns about whether or not he is eating enough.

    BTW, I read your other post about your husband and Christmas gifts. I would like to talk to you more about this issue and I have the same problem with my husband. He is mentally ill with PTSD and Bipolar disorder. I would love to talk to someone else who faces some of the same challenges in their marriage as I do. Please email me.

    Thanks Lisa

  • 1 decade ago

    I would suggest that you do a search on Autism and read all that you can to better understand him. I hope you find help with feeding him.

    God Bless.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    i think it a stage that they go through so if he gain weight and running around i wouldn't worry your self with it and if you feel as if he not eating as much give him a peadiasure and keep taking him to his DR

  • 1 decade ago

    Take him to the specialist...they can help you with this matter!

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