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Autism and eating

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Flora, like many children with ASD, struggles with eating and has a limited diet.

There are several reasons that cause this difficulty. We will focus on sensory causes..

More specifically, the sensory causes are related to the way we manage the stimuli we receive from our senses, touch, sight, smell, taste. Many foods cause disgust because of their smell, texture and/or image.

A typical example of a food that often causes disgust due to its intense colour, texture and smell is broccoli.

How can we help Flora develop her eating habits and expand the variety of food she eats. (The recommendations and advice below have been based on instructions given by occupational therapists we are working with.)

1. Tolerance

To help Flora with tasting something new it is important to give her the time and space to process the product.

To achieve this, she must be exposed to the new stimulus that causes her discomfort/difficulty so that she gradually begins to tolerate it.

For example, we want Flora to try broccoli.

First, we place the broccoli on a plate and leave in the same room with Flora.

In this way, Flora will start to get used to its image and its smell.

Gradually, we begin to bring the plate closer to Flora starting with placing the plate on the table opposite Flora.

When Flora begins to show signs of tolerance, we move the plate halfway across the table, then into Flora's wider vision , with final aim to put it on her plate.

2. Interaction with the food

To expose Flora to different smells, textures and tastes it is important to create opportunities for her to interact with the food. The best way to achieve this is to avoid expecting her to taste the food immediately and to focus on her actively participating in the preparation of the food and the table.

Instead of expecting Flora to sit at the table during meal/snack time, we can include in her schedule:

To help with preparing the meal, for example to participate in the cooking process.

To use utensils to mix food.

To use utensils to serve others and/or herself.

Use utensils or even her hands to pick up the food.

3. Activate all the senses.

During mealtime, it is important to give her the space and time to process the food through play. This will give her the opportunity to smell, touch and even taste the food.

The more she experiments with the food, it is more likely that she will gradually bring it closer to her mouth, lick it, bite it, and eventually eat it.

4. Adult

The role of the adult, as in any other activity, is very important. You will find more information here.

The adults we act as role models. It is important during mealtime/snack time to sit with Flora and even eat with her.

We need to be patient and try not to speed up the process.

It is important to avoid making any negative comments or reactions. We need to praise the effort. For example, if during the interaction with food Flora spits out the food, we should avoid commenting negatively on it as it may prevent her from trying the same or any other food in the future. We need to focus on the fact that she tried.

The process of trying new food will take time. We need to show patience and be consistent.

According to the advice of the occupational therapists, exposure to new food can take, on average, 6 weeks. That doesn't mean it can't be fun. It is important to give the child the opportunity to play and get dirty with the new stimulus.


We will share more tips and activities in the future, so keep visiting us.

We are looking forward to hearing your views and experiences. You can email us at

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