This article will look at some of the food-related problems discussed in the previous article, and try to figure out why they may be taking place. However much autistic `behaviour` may appear to be irrational, there is always a reason behind it somewhere. The reasons might not always seem logical, but they are not excuses, they are genuine reasons and need to be taken seriously, and understood. It is well known in the autism community that people with autism don’t do anything without a reason. Hopefully getting a grasp of some of these reasons will help to improve understanding around issues relating to food.
Below are some of these reasons.
Every sense can come in to place here. If the senses are strong then sights, smells, textures and tastes can all overwhelm the autistic person. Even hearing can be a problem; somebody might not like the sounds certain foods make when being prepared, or eaten, and therefore avoid these foods them for this reason.
The obvious sensory issue with food is taste. It might not even be that something tastes unpleasant, it might be that the taste is strong. But smell is also an issue. Autistic people may have a much stronger sense of smell than other people. If somebody is confronted with a plate of extremely foul, or strong smelling food they are not likely to eat it. Having such highly powered senses can be very useful, but when it comes to food they can be difficult to deal with.
Routine is generally very important to people with autism, and it can apply to every aspect of their life – even things which are ordinarily flexible, such as when to eat. Having set meals times can provide a level of comfort to autistic people that they might not even be thinking about consciously. And it is not just when to eat; somebody can get in to a routine of having a certain meal on a certain day. The reasons behind this are the same as the reasons for many routines when it comes to people with autism, it helps them to feel safe and comfortable in their day to day lives; knowing what is happening and when provides structure and a feeling of assurance.
Anxiety can often be the driving force behind people being unwilling to eat outside of their own homes. There may be no logic to this from an outsiders point of view, but if somebody is anxious about going out anyway, then the more they have to do when they are out, the more anxious they will become. Anxiety also ties in to routine. Routines do bring comfort and take away stress for autistic people, but the obvious side-effect of this is that when the routine is broken it can lead to anxiety and stress. A desire to avoid this can often influence autistic people`s thinking. People can also experience sensory overload when they are out. Once they are in the middle of this food may be the last thing on their minds. Especially if they get physical symptoms such as stomach pains, and nausea.
It is very common for people with autism to have problems with their gut; be it intolerance or allergies, or stress-related bloating of the stomach, and pain. This means they may be intolerant of, or allergic to, certain kinds of foods and be unable to eat them for this reason, or they might be uncomfortable or ill after eating certain things, and may not be able to communicate this. It is obvious that if a certain type of food does have a negative effect on somebody`s health in this way, then their diet may become restricted, whether they want it to or not.
There are many reasons why autistic people may have issues when it comes to food. Not all of these can be covered in this series of articles, and some of them may not even be known about yet, But the most important things for people to remember is that autistic people are not being fussy or awkward; they have genuine and important reasons for their relationship with food. It is also important for autistic people to remember that if they do have reason behind their food-related behaviour they should express this if they are able to. And there is no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed of any food-related routines, or issue. But there are ways around some of these issues which will be discussed in article 3 of this series, and hopefully will be of some help.