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Autism, Sensory & Food

Autism, Sensory & Food

Autism, Sensory & Food

Some autistic people have a restricted diet, which can be due to sensory issues. If you have sensory difficulties you may not like the texture, the taste, the smell, the colour or the sound of foods. You might have been called a “Picky Eater” or have a restricted diet. Food affects so many of our senses it can be difficult to manage. Especially when it comes to eating away from your safe home environment or if your sensory-safe foods are not available.

Food & The Senses

When you think about food and the senses we automatically think about taste. We eat food so of course, we taste food.

But that isn’t all!

To taste the food we need to smell food. Smell influences taste and taste influences smell. So we are sensitive to taste and smell it can affect the food that we like and eat.

There is also the texture of the food. If you have sensory difficulties you may find that you prefer a certain texture of food. This means you might not be able to tolerate other types of food and avoid them. You may also crave certain textures.

Autism, Sensory & Food

The colour of food can also affect our senses. If you are a visual avoider and find bright colours can be overwhelming you may not be able to eat certain coloured foods. Or you may prefer bland coloured food.

Then there is sound. If you are sensitive to sound you may avoid eating noisy and crunchy foods, but if you like crunchy noisy foods you may seek them out.

If we struggle with proprioception and balance it can also affect how we eat. You may be a messy eater and struggle with using a knife and fork.

Interoception

Is knowing and understanding what is going on inside of our body. This often means we forget to eat as we don’t feel the hunger signals or we overeat because we don’t feel full.

 

I'm Not Just A Picky Eater

You may think that your child or someone you know is just being a picky eater but it is so much more than that. When our senses become overwhelmed by food it can cause headaches and nausea. We can actually be physically sick and this can cause major stress, anxiety and fear.

Fear

You may be worried about your child’s diet and try to get them to eat new foods. However, your child might respond inappropriately to this. They may refuse to eat something or have a meltdown. Whilst this might not be the reaction you wanted, when a child reacts like this it means that they are struggling and it is the only way they can communicate it at that time. They may be physically scared to try the food because they are worried about being sick, feeling sick or getting headaches. This is a real fear.

Sensory Safe Foods

If we struggle with our senses we know which foods are safe for us to eat and which are not. For me, Quorn is a safe food because the texture is always the same and I know what to expect. This is why we might like to eat in certain restaurants such as McDonald’s. I love McDonald’s chicken nuggets and I know that whichever McDonald’s I go to they will be the same. Chicken nuggets in other places are different, some are in breadcrumbs, some are too big, and some have extra ingredients in the coating. So if I’m away from home I know that I can go to McDonald’s and I will be able to get my sensory-safe food.

Autism, Sensory & Food

Sometimes our sensory-safe foods change. This can be a change of packaging and/or a change of ingredients. Whilst this may not affect some people for those of us with sensory challenges we can notice the difference immediately. Sometimes we still like the new recipe which is great but more often than not it means we have lost a food from the list of foods that we do genuinely enjoy.

Listen To us

We know what we like and what we don’t like. If food changes we know and we may not like it anymore. You can try putting new foods into old boxes but if it doesn’t work it’s because we know! Please listen to us, we aren’t trying to be awkward or fussy. Trust me we see foods that look amazing and we wish we could eat them but we physically can’t. I’d love to have a more varied diet than I do and I’m pretty sure your kids would too.

They'll Eat When They're Hungry

If I had a £1 for each time I’ve heard this being said I’d be rich. Yes, some people refuse to eat certain things because they want something else. They don’t fancy what has been made and would much prefer something else. We all get like that from time to time. If your child has real sensory issues with food they will not eat it when they’re hungry, they would rather starve.

Autism, Sensory & Eating Disorders

There is a high connection between autistic people with sensory issues and eating disorders. There are many reasons for this. If we’re struggling with interoception and understanding our body’s internal signals we may forget to eat or we may overeat. This can be mistaken for not wanting to eat or binge eating. If we have sensory issues with food we may avoid eating certain things and this can be put down to an eating disorder rather than sensory issues. If we have experienced trauma due to food issues, like being force-fed for example it can cause an eating disorder.

Autism, Sensory & Food

If you have any questions about senses and the food or would like to learn more about the senses you can visit our content hub.

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