The previous two articles in this series have discussed possible issues around food for autistic people, and some of the reasons that may lead to these issues. This third article will look at what can actually be done, on a practical level, to try to help with these issues.
It is unlikely that each tip will help everyone facing these issues, but hopefully some of them will prove useful.
• Don’t put too many colours on the plate – visually this can be overwhelming. This doesn’t mean serving bland food, but may be add one thing to the plate at a time, over a period of time, introducing more colour to the plate gradually. Try new foods one at a time, in small amounts, and on a separate plate – the concept of building things up slowly is very important when it comes to food issues. Whether it is somebody with autism trying to broaden their own diet, or parents trying to help their children to eat more healthily, it is best to try new foods slowly, just a little bit at a time. Perhaps putting a small amount of the new food on a separate plate can be helpful instead of just going straight in to a full meal of unknown food.
• Build up gradually to strong tasting food – continuing with the theme of building-up slowly, if a food has a particularly strong taste it may take even longer than normal to build up to. Perhaps somebody with autism may take a week or two of building up to decide whether they like something or not, but if it was for example a hot curry, it may take longer to get used to the taste.
• Build up slowly to being more flexible with routine – there is no point simply trying to change a routine without any kind of preparation. It is only going to lead to problems. When changing a routine that has already been established it is important to do so over a period of time – don’t change too much too soon. For example, if set mealtimes are creating difficulties, build in flexibility gradually.
• Scripts, Signs & Sketches* – The use of Scripts (a description of what the issue is, and what can be done about it) Signs (a visual aid to communication) and Sketches (a series of illustrations explaining the issues) can be very helpful in this situation (see below to learn more about Scripts, Signs & Sketches) They help the autistic person to be able to communicate their feelings and emotions, and also provide a strong visual aid for learning. These can be useful for autistic people of any age. They can help with breaking routines, for example, becoming more flexible about meal times.