As a parent or carer, you may be worried that your child’s diet isn’t healthy enough or that they are not getting the nutrients they need. It’s important to understand that due to sensory issues, many autistic people have a limited diet and traditional advice on how to deal with “picky eating” may not be helpful and may also increase anxiety.
Food and sensory differences
Many autistic people experience taste, texture and smells of food differently. As a result of these sensory differences, they can often have difficulty eating healthily. Those who are overly sensitive may not like strong flavours – even a flavour not considered strong by a non-autistic person may be unbearable to someone with extreme sensitivities. Those who are under-sensitive may love very strong flavours and may be able to tolerate very hot and spicy foods.
Taste and presentation
Autistic people may also have a very narrow range of food items they are willing and able to eat. This can make healthy eating very difficult if those foods are mostly dry, beige in colour and plain, which is often the case. Often, processed foods are preferred because of the consistency they offer – unlike fresh fruit and vegetables they are guaranteed to taste and look the same every time. Some people are so sensitive they will be able to detect very small differences in taste and may insist on only eating certain brands.
If you are concerned about your child’s diet or that of an autistic adult you support, please discuss this with your GP or another health professional, who can refer you to specialist services. Make sure they are experienced with autism and they understand that traditional dietary advice may not work for autistic people.
We have also collected links to websites with more information on this topic and how to find help.