Some people call it “picky eating.” Others call it “selective eating” and struggling with “food aversions.” Any way you slice it, lots of kids go through it. It’s an especially significant challenge for children with sensory processing issues, as is the case for many on the autism spectrum. Our Akron ABA therapy team (and our occupational therapy team, as well) can offer insight into how to help your child gradually overcome some of their food aversions and incorporate a more varied, healthier diet.
Akron ABA Therapy Tips to Tackle Picky Eating
Selective eating can take a lot of different forms. Every child is going to be different, so it’s best to consult with your child’s ABA therapy and/or occupational therapy team before initiating any of these strategies, particularly for a child on the autism spectrum.
That said, here are a few ways we might advise introducing new foods and/or increasing the variety of foods your child eats at home.
- Pair non-preferred foods with preferred foods. Try putting the food they won’t eat on the same plate with a food they love. If they’re having a hard time even tolerating that, put a “no thank you” plate or bowl next to their eating plate. This way, they still have the opportunity to see, smell, and touch the food, which is really the first step toward getting it anywhere near their mouth. But continue to encourage them to try it. Let them see you eating – and really enjoying – it.
- Change up food consistency. If your child consumes lots of liquids but struggles with solids (due to sensory issues and not oral motor function, which is a whole separate issue that should be addressed with feeding/swallowing therapy), try blending some non-preferred foods into liquids. Or if your child loves popsicles, try making them out of certain fruits you would like to see your child eating more of. Offer thin apple slices instead of apple sauce or whole apples. If your child tolerates the different texture, you can slowly experiment with others.
- Alter the size of the food. Sometimes big pieces can seem visually overwhelming as much as the taste or texture of the food itself. Maybe your child isn’t going to gobble up a huge piece of broccoli, but they might bird-peck at some bite-sized pieces. You can always slowly increase the size as your child eats more of it. (If your child is very picky about the size/shape of the foods they eat, try starting by slowly mixing it up with their preferred foods; get them used to tolerating changes on their plate.)
- Mix foods together. If your child is super into applesauce but you’d like them to eat yogurt, try mixing the tiniest bit of yogurt into the applesauce. See how it goes. If your child loves pizza but loathes vegetables of any kind, try mixing the tiniest bit of cooked, blended vegetables into the pizza sauce. If they tolerate it, you can slowly (very slowly) change the ratio.
- Dish up positive reinforcement. Set up a preferred food or positive activity ahead of time. Then encourage your child to take a tiny bite of the non-preferred food. Don’t make it a battle, but if they do it, immediately give them their preferred food/positive activity and heap on a big helping of praise.
- Model. Don’t underestimate the power of modeling good eating habits. Have the foods you’re hoping your child will eat in the house and regularly available to all family members. Make sure your child sees you and others in the home modeling healthy eating behavior.
- Take it slowly. Lots of kids take time to get used to certain foods. Consider there were lots of things you couldn’t stomach when you were a kid that you may love now. (And maybe a few that still make you cringe.) Kids on the spectrum and other picky eaters need more time than most to incorporate different foods into their diet. Often, taking a bite is too much to ask to start. Begin by having them play with it, tolerate it on their plate, smell it, lick it. With no pressure and lots of positive reinforcement, you can slowly encourage them to try new foods one morsel at a time.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
More Blog Entries:
Sensory Meltdown vs. Tantrum: What’s the Difference? Akron OT Explains, Jan. 20, 2021, Akron ABA Therapy Blog
Our Akron occupational therapists are big fans of autumn here in Northeast Ohio – brightly-colored leaves, brisk air, bulbous pumpkins, and crisp apple cider. Plus, there are so many ways we can incorporate season-themed activities into our OT sessions: Crafts, games, and even food!
Here, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite fall-themed favorites you can do at home with your child for some fun – and extra OT practice!
Construction Paper Trees
This is a craft that helps with a child’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination skills and hand strengthening. You need some fall leaf colored construction paper (think brown, red, yellow, and orange) and maybe a larger poster board if you want to make your trees bigger.
Have your child gather up a few of their favorite fall leaves outside. Then have them trace the leaf on the construction paper before carefully cutting them out. Set them aside and create a trunk made of construction paper. Then glue the trees on top of the trunk and have them sign their name!
Our Akron occupational therapists love this activity because it can be adjusted based on your child’s skill level. They can cut out printed or pre-drawn leaves or just do free-form cutting. Depending on how into it you are, you can even make a giant tree for decoration on their bedroom door or wall. Smaller master pieces will find a great home on the fridge. When they’re finished, make sure to tell them how proud of them you are!
This one helps your child practice pre-writing lines and visual motor skills. Just grab a bunch of fall leaves (or acorns, seeds, and other small seasonal stuff). Have them draw one pre-writing line or shape on a piece of paper. Then have them trace that line with a glue stick and then tack on the tiny leaves, seeds, etc. This is great practice for hand-eye coordination too! Any leftover leaves, you can use for an autumn leaves crayon-rubbing craft.
This is a fun game that you and your child can do together, maybe with some fun, fall-themed music in the background. It helps with core strength, balance, and gross motor coordination. Just grab a couple bean bags, mini pumpkin, and a jump rope (or other long, thin string). Simply walking along the “balance beam” (rope) without stepping off can be good for posture and core strength. Add to the fun of it by putting on some fall-themed tunes. If they master that, have them do it carrying a small pumpkin If they pass that one, have them do it with a beanbag on their head. If they can do that too, have them try it while balancing the little pumpkin on their head!
Fall Sensory Bin Scavenger Hunt
Spend some time exploring in nature and make it fun with a scavenger hunt. There are tons of fall scavenger hunt printouts you can find online, but a few ideas of things to look for:
- Smooth, shiny leaves.
- Red leaves.
- Crunchy leaves.
- Smooth rocks.
- Jagged-edge rocks.
- Bumpy pinecones.
- Bendy twigs.
When you fill your bucket, have a seat and stop to feel all the textures. Draw or trace the objects or turn them into art on a piece of construction paper or cardboard.
Making Apple Sauce
This one is great for executive function, following directions, fine and gross motor skills, proprioceptive input, and upper body strength. Plus it’s just a lot of hands-on, memory-making fun!
If you can start, take your kids apple-picking! Then find your favorite easy apple sauce recipe, and have your kid help step-by-step. (Applesauce stays fresh in the fridge for a week or so and freezes really well too!) Make sure to talk your child through every step of the process, especially if they also struggle with speech-language delays or disorders.
If you’re looking for more ideas on fall-themed OT activities for kids, our Brecksville occupational therapists are happy to help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – is a pediatric therapy center providing occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA therapy to children with special needs in Northeast Ohio. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email. Serving Brecksville, Akron, Cleveland and surrounding communities in Northeast Ohio.
More Blog Entries:
Does My Child Need Occupational Therapy? Sept. 15, 2021, Brecksville Occupational Therapy Blog
- “My 1-year-old shows zero interest in feeding himself. Is that normal?”
- “My toddler spills so much cereal every time she tries to feed it to herself. Cleanup is a nightmare.”
- “My 5-year-old hates using a fork so much, he tosses it onto the floor every time I try to get him to use it.”
If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time to reach out to an Akron OT (occupational therapist) to decide whether your child’s feeding struggles are typical or if there could be something bigger going on that necessitates a closer look.
Independent eating is an exciting milestone for children as they move from being a fully dependent baby to a functioning little person. They are starting to gain a sense of autonomy and independence. But keep in mind that eating is actually a complex task that requires many different body functions to work in tandem. Kids need to develop/improve fine motor skills, sensory processing skills, strength in their back, arms and hands, oral motor skills, strong reflexes, gross motor skills, attention skills, visual and cognitive skills. There is ample research that shows trouble in any of these areas can affect feeding skills.
Feeding problems can generally be classified as:
- Structural abnormalities.
- Neurodevelopmental disabilities.
- Behavioral disorders.
Sometimes, there is an overlap of issues.
If a child is struggling with self-feeding, an Akron OT from Therapy and Wellness Connection can help determine the source of the trouble and help your child build up his/her skills to become an independent eater.
If you love a child with autism, ADHD or any condition associated with sensory processing disorder, our Akron occupational therapists have some tips for sensory toy gifts this holiday season.
Child development toys are beginning to dominate the toy industry in general – which is great news. The fact is, ALL kids can benefit from various sensory toys, which focus on stimulating or calming the five main senses – sight, taste, touch, hearing and smell. Some of the best sensory toys for children with special needs also focus on two others: Balance and body awareness.
Benefits of Sensory Toys
Toys are a great way to promote development because children learn best through play. That’s why sensory toys are so effective in:
- Promoting focus. Sensory toys are a great way to help children hone their concentration skills. A child with difficulty concentrating or a learning disability will spend more time engaged with a sensory toys than they will other tasks, so this helps them build their concentration.
- Reducing anxiety. Playing with sensory toys can be calming because it can help regulate internal discomfort, whether it stems from boredom, agitation or some other type of agitation.
- Building fine motor skills. Sensory play that involves exploring their environment by use of pouring, pinching, lacing, etc. can help build these small muscle groups, important for skills like writing, zipping, buttoning or tying.
- Supporting language. When children play with objects of varying tastes, textures, sounds and colors, we can practice describing each aspect in detail, which helps them develop new ways of talking about the world around them.
Sensory Toy Tips for “Santa”
Many sensory toys are fairly simple by design, and often can be created using common household supplies.
However, if you’re looking to buy something for a special child in your life, we have a few suggestions.
Jumping Board. Children who love to move, wiggle and jump will love this board, which wobbles when you balance your weigh on it. Our Akron occupational therapists think it’s great for helping kids develop balance skills and overcome fear of heights. (Fold & go trampolines are great for this as well!)
Sensory Hammock Swing. Kids who love pressure, snuggling or swinging will enjoy a hammock swing. Some brands can be used both indoors and outdoors.
Sand & Water Play Table. These are great for helping kids develop tactile skills, like pouring, scooping, pinching, stacking, etc. You can fill them with sand, water or just about anything (bubbles, beans, water beads, Play-Doh, playfoam, etc.)
Builder Marble Run. This kind of creative construction helps children build fine motor skills, visual spacial skills, three-dimensional thinking, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Kids are delighted when they finish & get to watch the marbles wind their way down the track. Some models even play music.
Chewelry. Jewelry that is chewable (and non-toxic) is a great alternative for kids who tend to stick everything in their mouths. If they’re constantly biting on their pencil, shirt, fingers, etc., these will be much-appreciated.
Headphones. Noise-reducing or noise-canceling headphones can be an excellent way for children overwhelmed with noises to catch a break. They can also be used to stimulate the hearing sense with music or Audible books.
If you have questions about what would be best for a specific child (every child’s sensory diet needs are different!) our Akron occupational therapists are happy to help!
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Why Sensory Play Is Important, Sept. 16, 2019, By Amanda Morin, VeryWellFamily.com
More Blog Entries:
Cleveland OT Talk: “Why Would My Child Need Occupational Therapy? June 19, 2019, Therapy & Wellness Connection Occupational Therapy Blog