Why To Teach Good Eating Habits To Autism Children: Research and Tips

Teaching good eating habits to autism children can be difficult. As parents, therapists and teachers we are very well aware of taste sensitivities, smell and food aversion issues. As a parent myself,  there was a time when I gave up the battle to convince Niam to eat healthy foods. Over night Niam put on an abundance

of weight. I was shocked. I realized it was all the Junk food and carbs he craved and loved.  I wrote a blog a few months ago about how accidentally Niam went from eating five foods to many. I started video taping Niam trying different foods and posting it on Facebook. I was surprised by the amount of positive feedback I received from parents who were enjoying the videos. I am happy to announce Niam now has good eating habits.

I have written a few blogs on the subject, I urge you all to read.  

1. The first blog looks at the issue with some real life tips you can implement.

http://blog.able2learn.com/2017/01/17/why-we-have-teach-autism-teenagers-good-health/

2. The second blog is a narrative story how I got my own son with Autism, Niam to eat different foods. Niam is no longer overweight.

http://blog.able2learn.com/2016/06/06/how-i-got-niam-to-move-from-picky-eater-to-eating-all-foods-including-green-smoothies/

3. The third blogs examines why it is important to teach our children to cook. 

http://blog.able2learn.com/2016/02/12/11-essential-reasons-to-teach-cooking-to-my-child-with-autism-autism-blog/

4. Is a cute blog on Niam’s obsession with Carbs.

http://blog.able2learn.com/2016/03/22/niam-relationship-miss-world-autism-blog/

I am going to start of with an overview.

MARKET OVERVIEW OF OBESITY

Obesity has been described as a global epidemic. Canada is not any different from many other nations experiencing increasing rates of overweight obesity. Currently, 59% of adult Canadians are either overweight or obese.[1] , and this number is only increasing. In 1978, only  15% of children were overweight or obese.[2] In 2004, 26% of Canadian children and youth aged 2-17 years were classified as overweight or obese using BMI from measured heights and weights.[3] .  The BMI categories established by the International Obesity Task Force showed, data indicated that among boys, 31.1% of 9-13 year-olds and 30.8% of 14-17 year-olds were overweight or obese; among girls, 28.0% of 9-13 year-olds and 25.6% of 14-17 year-olds were overweight or obese.[4] Moreover  a recent National study showed   adolescents with a disability, had a higher risk of being obese, with Autism having the highest rates. [5]

OBESITY AND AUTISM

Moreover, individuals with autism face many additional challenges when it comes to food and nutrition. The study found increased health problems within this population including asthma, migraine headaches, increased anxiety, depression and sleep problems.[6] Researchers at Marcus Autism Center at Emory University School of Medicine reviewed and analyzed all published, peer-reviewed research relating to eating problems and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There findings children with ASD are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as tantrums, extreme food selectivity and ritualistic eating behaviours. Additionally, they also found inadequate nutrition to be more common among children with autism than in those unaffected by the disorder. Of great concern was the overall low intake of calcium and protein. Calcium is crucial for building strong bones. Adequate protein is important for growth, mental development and health.[7] The ripple effect of obesity on a child’s risk for social difficulties and poor academic achievement is increased.[8] Most adolescents do not outgrow obesity and in fact, many continue to gain excess weight[9]  If current trends continue, by 2040, up to 70% of adults aged 40 years will be either overweight or obese[10]

Thus, childhood obesity for children with Autism is of great concern for many reasons. The impact on personal health,  the emotional, physical and economical impact of providing extra care from an aging caregiver, and, the impact on the health system.

In 2005, obesity-related chronic conditions accounted for $4.3 billion in direct ($1.8 billion) and indirect ($2.5 billion) costs – a figure that may be an underestimation of the total costs of excess weight in Canada.[11]

The Problem Educators and Parents Face To Teach Children With Autism Good Eating Habits

Although there are many food options and choices available to children and adolescence with Autism, there is no measurable curriculum to teach this segment of the population how to make informed decisions about their diets change eating habits , and encourage a healthy living style balanced with nutrition and exercise. Obesity is difficult to reverse and research in the areas of helping this population adopt long lasting healthy lifestyles is imperative and must include effective prevention beginning in childhood. The Dietary Guidelines for Canadians provides the science-based information we need to make smart choices from every food group, get the most nutrition out of the calories we consume.

 

TIPS TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO EAT DIFFERENT FOODS

  1. Teach your child to cook and learn good eating habits. Using available research, I was able to put together 99 step by step autism cooking videos together based on research for you. They are free and available on the official Able2learn You Tube Channel. Please use them.

 

PLANNING THE PROGRAM

There have been numerous studies of visual based learning. Visual supports have been successfully used to teach children with autism a variety of skills to include literacy skills, cooking, encouraging positive behaviour, and providing activity schedules[12].  Research shows that individuals whose learning programs include video modelling, were able to maintain skills learned via video modelling and children were able to generalize skills learned  via video modelling across all generalization  conditions” Delano, M.E. (2007).

2. LET YOUR CHILD TOUCH SMELL THE FOOD

While cooking let your child touch the food, smell it and, just enjoy different foods. It is okay if they don’t eat it right away. Just don’t give up.

3. LET YOUR CHILD COOK FOR SOMEONE ELSE

Your child may not be interested in drinking a green smoothie but may enjoy cooking one. Let you child watch someone else enjoy their creation. Take the opportunity to ask if they would like to try it too. Never force.

4. INCREMENTAL STEPS

Take incremental steps when it comes to your end goal. It can be as simple as tasting, smelling, holding it up to the face,  than to the lips, than a quick taste on the tongue. This is essential to be on the road to teaching your child good eating habits

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