Thursday, September 29, 2022

Free Printable Picky Eating Tracking Sheet

Have a picky eater? Use this free printable picky eating tracking sheet to make note of your child's food preferences.

It's quite common for autistic or hyperlexic kids to be picky eaters. Especially if they have intense sensory preferences or sensory processing issues.

Some may have really restricted diets and need help from a trained feeding therapist. And others may just be particular about certain foods or textures, but still eat a fairly decent assortment of foods. In other words, they may be somewhat picky, not extremely picky.

Regardless of how picky your child is, it's important to know your child's food preferences. And that's where this free printable picky eating tracking sheet comes in. You can use it to identify what foods your child likes, dislikes, and sometimes eats.

Have a picky eater? Use this free printable picky eating tracking sheet to make note of your child's food preferences.

How to Use this Picky Eating Tracking Sheet

There are three columns on this picky eating tracking printable for you to fill in. You'll simply write down the foods that apply to each column.

In the first column, you will list your child's preferred and favorite foods. The ones they'll almost always eat, no matter what. This column will also include their samefoods, those safe and predictable foods that they could eat day in and day out. Basically, this column is all about listing the foods that your child calls "actually good" (direct quote from my youngest).

For the second column, you'll list foods that they'll sometimes eat. You know, like when the stars align just right. So some days they might eat it and other days they won't touch it at all. Instead, they'll push it around the plate in disgust.

Then finally, in column three, you'll list the foods that they most definitely won't eat for whatever reason. The foods they dislike or hate. The "junk" (again, another quote from my youngest).

Once you've filled in the tracking sheet, it's time to look for patterns in each column. Is there something that ties all the dislikes together or all the preferred foods together? Like are they all green veggies? Do the foods all use ground beef? Are they spicy foods? Foods covered in cheese? Sweet foods? Plain foods? etc. Be sure to use this process and analysis for all three columns.

Look for patterns on your picky eating tracker

After you identify the patterns, you might be able to come up with other foods that meet that fit that pattern. For instance, let's say that all of their preferred foods seem to be plain food or food with simple flavors. Maybe that means you need to serve food without sauces, stick to simpler flavors over spicy, or deconstruct their meals (e.g., serve all the taco parts separately instead of as an assembled taco).

You can also use the information from this tracking sheet when meal planning. Simply try to incorporate some food from the first two columns into your meals. You could also try different ways of serving foods from the dislike column to see if they still dislike it or not.

Finally, you can fill in this picky eating printable and share it with your child's occupational therapist or feeding therapist. It will be helpful information for them as they support you and your child with picky eating.

Free picky eating tracking printable

Download the Free Picky Eating Tracker

This one page printable is a perfect way to track your child's food preferences. Simply print more copies if needed. To get your copy of the picky eating tracking sheet, enter your name and email in the form below.

Have a picky eater? Use this free printable picky eating tracking sheet to make note of your child's food preferences.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Infodumping in Autism: What You Need to Know

What is infodumping in autism? And why do autistic people infodump? Find out below.

Understanding various aspects of autistic culture is important, especially if you are raising or parenting an autistic child and want to have a supportive relationship with them. 

Or even if you're a teacher with autistic students. 

Or a therapist working with autistic clients.

Regardless, part of that learning process might involve learning about samefoods and special interests, for instance. 

Or, in this case, learning about one of the neurodivergent love languages called infodumping, which, by the way, is closely related to special interests. The two go hand-in-hand.

Now, perhaps you've encountered the interesting conversation style of autistic infodumping before. And, presumably, you're curious to learn more about it. That's likely why you're here, right?

Well, let's take a closer look at what infodumping in autism is, how it's related to special interests, and why autistic people use this style of communication.

A look at infodumping in autism, including what it is and why autistic people infodump

What is Infodumping in Autism?

Infodumping refers to the the autistic tendency to excitedly share a large amount of information about a highly-focused subject or passion at one time, usually in great detail and length.

What is infodumping? A definition

In terms of detail, autistic people might attempt to share absolutely everything they know about the topic. It is worth noting that usually the topic is one of their special interests or something related to it. So, unsurprisingly, they know a lot about it. 

What starts off as sharing one or two interesting facts may quickly snowball into sharing an entire textbook or Wikipedia entry's worth of information or more. As a result, the information shared during an infodump session is often quite detailed, in-depth, and exhaustive.

What starts off as sharing one or two interesting facts can quickly snowball into infodumping

As for length, they may talk about the topic for long periods of times, even hours, regardless of the other person's interest level. 

So quite often autistic people may miss body language changes or nonverbal cues from others that indicate that the other party is bored or not interested in the topic. This happens simply because they get so engrossed talking about it.

There is another term for infodumping that you may have seen before. Sometimes it's referred to as monologuing. Makes sense given that monologues are defined as long speeches delivered by a single person. So you may see these two terms used interchangeably in autistic spaces.

Why Do Autistic People Infodump?

It's important to know that infodumps are an authentic form of communication and conversation style for autistic people of all ages, even autistic kids. 

Infodumps are an authentic conversation style for autistic people

In other words, it's a natural way for them to communicate because of its directness and focus on facts and logic. 

For some, infodumping is also a love language. So it can be a way for autistic individuals to express what they are passionate about with those they care most about. 

Infodumping is a great way for autistic people to share their special interests with others

So why do autistic people infodump exactly? Well, there are a few reasons, including:

  • To share their passion, joy, enthusiasm, and excitement
  • To express themselves in a way that is authentic and natural
  • To share knowledge and information, usually in great detail and length
  • To build connections, bond, and communicate with others
  • To make friends and/or find a sense of community
  • To self-regulate
  • To create a sense of pride
  • To release a build up of thoughts that need expressing (i.e., they have an intense need to share their thoughts or else it feels like they may explode)

There are likely a handful of other reasons why infodumping is necessary for autistic people so keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive. However, as you can probably see, this style of communicating is valuable and beneficial for them in a lot of ways.

Reasons why autistic people infodump

So Should You Encourage Your Autistic Child's Infodumping or Not?

Like a lot of autistic traits and elements of autistic culture, infodumping is misunderstood by a lot of people.

For instance, some therapists or professionals might tell you to discourage and redirect their monologues. Kind of like they do for a lot of things...So, too often, the autistic's urge to infodump is viewed as rude, self-absorbed, dominating, the list goes on and on. 

The reality though is that infodumping is just one way that autistic individuals communicate and engage in conversations with others. It's how they connect. It's how they relate. 

Infodumping is just one way that autistic people communicate

So the short answer is yes, you should encourage your child to infodump. After all, there are a lot of benefits to doing so.

When you allow your autistic child to infodump, you are showing them that you care about them and their special interests. It's just one way to encourage your child's special interests by the way. So be genuinely curious and a good listener while they're infodumping. Ask questions, if appropriate.

Allowing your autistic child to infodump is one way to show them you care about them and their special interests

When you let your autistic child infodump, you are also validating and affirming what comes naturally to them. 

Essentially, you're acknowledging that this is how they communicate and that you will honor their communication no matter what form it comes in. Kind of like you would or should with echolalia and scripting.

Letting your autistic child infodump also validates and acknowledges their communication attempts

But what if your autistic child is non-speaking, what should you do? Can they even still infodump? 

You bet they can. If you give them the tools to do so. 

For instance, you could create a page of things dedicated to their special interests on their AAC device to encourage infodumping. This video from @nigh.functioning.autism has some great suggestions.

They may also engage in infodumping by writing their thoughts down in a book or journal, showing you a video or book, pointing to things, and so on.

Non-speaking autistic children can infodump too

Some Caveats & Final Thoughts on Infodumping

Now, having said all that, there are a few caveats and things to consider when it comes to infodumping. It's not like we can engage in all day conversations about Titanic's sinking or the many moons of Jupiter. In most cases, that's not realistic, maintainable, or even practical.

So you might have to consider setting some boundaries, like letting them infodump for a few minutes and then letting you respond for a few minutes. Or finding a different way to encourage them to infodump. They could try journaling or recording a video, for instance. Infodumping doesn't always have to be through spoken language.

You might also have to teach them how to engage when others are infodumping on them and they don't like the topic. Because that can happen too. So they might need help knowing what to do.

It might also be helpful to find your child a special interest group or an autistic friend whom they can infodump with. It's an amazing feeling to meet and connect with others who share the same enthusiasm as you do for certain topics. And they may be more accepting of infodumping as a result (at least compared to how most neurotypical people are). 

Regardless, infodumping or monologuing is a valuable form of autistic communication that should be honored, acknowledged, and encouraged as much as possible. Not something to be just be automatically disregarded and redirected. That's not a great approach to anything really.

Infodumping is valuable and beneficial for autistic individuals

Anyway, I hope you learned a few things about infodumping in autism and now have a better understanding of why it's important to autistic individuals.

A look at infodumping in autism, including what it is and why autistic people infodump

Continue reading "Infodumping in Autism: What You Need to Know"

Monday, September 26, 2022

What is a Samefood? A Look at Autistic Samefoods

A look at samefoods in autism. We'll cover what a samefood is and why they are important for autistic kids and adults.

Have you noticed that your autistic child prefers to eat certain foods over and over? Or that they'll only eat a specific food if it's prepared a certain way?

Perhaps you've heard of the stereotypical autistic child who only eats chicken nuggets...

Well, that's what we're talking about when we talk about samefoods in autism. Many autistic people happily eat the same thing every day.

But what is a samefood exactly? And why are they so important for autistic kids and adults? Well, let's take a closer look at this important part of autistic culture.

Autistic samefoods: What is a samefood in autism and why are they important?

What is a Samefood?

Samefood refers to the tendency for autistic individuals to frequently eat the same food over and over. It might be a food that is eaten exclusively for days, weeks, or even months at a time and they could eat the same exact things day in and day out. 

A definition of samefood in autism

A samefood might be a meal or a snack. They might be simple foods or bland foods. They might be food from the frozen food section, something spicy, something homemade, or something different entirely. 

Regardless, samefoods are foods that the individual will always love and always eat. Favorite foods, if you will. 

Please note that samefoods will vary from autistic person to autistic person. They don't all just eat chicken nuggets and that's it!

It's important to note that samefoods often need to be a specific brand and be prepared in the same way each time. They may also need to be eaten in a particular manner or order (aka they may be routine based). You can't just serve up pasta with a different sauce, for instance.

In other words, the food needs to remain the same each and every time they consume it. Hence, the term samefood. Otherwise, it just doesn't taste right.

Things to know about samefoods in autism

Why Samefoods are Important for Autistic People

When eating, you receive sensory input about a food's temperature, texture, flavor, smell, appearance, and more. It's a lot of sensory information to be receiving at one time. 

For some people, all of that incoming sensory information can be overwhelming and quickly overload the senses. After all, different sensory profiles mean different sensory responses and many autistic people have specific sensory aversions.

Furthermore, some food can be wildly unpredictable, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. 

The food may be sweet one time, too squishy the next, and then tart the next time. There's a reason why so many kids in general have certain food aversions and instead stick to things like crackers.

In other words, if food causes sensory issues at all for your child, then this unpredictability of certain foods may be too much to handle. So that's where samefoods come in.

After all, samefoods are predictable and safe. You know, based on previous experiences, that it won't cause sensory issues or overwhelm you. You know you don't have to worry about an unexpected flavor, smell, or texture because it literally tastes the same each and every single time you eat it. Plus, you know you already like it and will continue to like it.

In a way, samefoods are reassuring and comforting for autistic individuals. They know they can trust it to remain constant and not cause sensory issues.

Why samefoods are important for autistic people

Your Autistic Child & Samefoods

As discussed above, your autistic child might like to eat the same foods over and over, day in and day out because these samefoods are consistent, predictable, and safe. They don't overwhelm the senses and they taste the same each and every time they're consumed. So samefoods are comforting for your child.

There are certain mealtime experiences, however, that might be challenging as a result. For instance, eating at a restaurant or big holiday meals with family. 

Offering your child a samefood during these times may be helpful. For example, I used to pack a can of Heinz brown beans in my purse as a backup when my son was younger because I knew he would always eat those if there was nothing else for him to eat.

You might also notice that your child has an intense reaction or even a meltdown when packaging for their samefood changes. Or if the samefood now suddenly has a "new and improved flavor" or they added an additional flavor to the bag (I'm looking at you sweet potato Veggie Straws!). These changes can be triggering for some because all of a sudden their predictable samefood is no longer predictable.

Perhaps your child's preferred samefoods are rather bland or boring, at least in your eyes. Well, guess what, plain food or food with simple flavors can't overwhelm the senses. So that's why your autistic child might gravitate towards them. As my son likes to tell me about his food preferences, "The plainer and more boring, the better!"

Although, please note, that samefoods aren't synonymous with bland or boring foods. Your autistic child's preferred food might something spicy and hot like chili or a generous helping of buffalo hot sauce on literally everything.

Remember, your autistic child's samefoods will be unique to them and their sensory preferences.

Your autistic child's samefoods will be unique to them

So does your child have a samefood? And is it chicken nuggets or something else? 😜

Autistic samefoods: What is a samefood in autism and why are they important?

Continue reading "What is a Samefood? A Look at Autistic Samefoods"

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Tips for Using Special Interests in Autism & Hyperlexia

Wondering how to incorporate your child's special interests? Here are some tips for using special interests in autism and hyperlexia.

One thing you'll hear me say over and over is to use or incorporate your child's interests, whatever they may be. 

So, for hyperlexic kids, that's leveraging their interests in letters or numbers or flags or the periodic table...

But maybe you're just not quite sure how to do that exactly or where to start. And that's okay. 

Admittedly, some interests are a bit trickier to work with and incorporate, while others are a lot easier. 

No worries though. You'll find some tips for using special interests below that should make things a bit easier. So let's dig in!

Tips for using special interests in autism and hyperlexia (as well as things you shouldn't do!)

Important Disclaimers for Using Your Child's Special Interests

There are a couple of common mistakes that can be made when leveraging special interests in autism and hyperlexia. In other words, some people approach it all wrong and inadvertently cause more harm than good. 

Since you should avoid making these same mistakes, we're going to discuss them first. That way you know what not to do. 

1. Don't change their play or limit it

The goal should never be to change how an autistic or hyperlexic child plays. All forms of autistic and hyperlexic play are valid so it's important that you respect their play, no matter what form that comes in (see strategy #2 here for more information). 

Respect autistic and hyperlexic play

So don't correct them or tell them how to play with certain materials. Instead, let them lead. 

After all, play should be child-led. Let them guide how they want to interact and engage with the materials.

Also, please don't limit or take away things that are important to them, which - newsflash - their special interests are incredibly important to them. You can read more about why you shouldn't discourage your hyperlexic child's letter play here to get a better understanding of why you shouldn't limit access.

Although, please note, if a special interest is causing harm to themselves, others, or property, then you may need to redirect their play to something safer. That's the only exception here.

Only redirect special interests if they are unsafe or are causing harm

2. Do not use their special interests as rewards or for manipulating them into doing something

Want to know the quickest way to suck the joy right out of your child's special interests? Well, every time you withhold access to their interests as a reward or use their special interests to manipulate them into complying, that's exactly what you're doing.

Special interests should be incorporated into other activities, not used as a way to manipulate a person into behaving or acting a certain way. Compliance should never be the main goal for accessing their special interest.

Special interests should be incorporated into other activities, not used as a reward

Tips for Using Special Interests in Autism & Hyperlexia

So now that you know what not to do, let's look at what you should do when it comes to leveraging special interests. After all, it's incredibly important that you do encourage their interests, especially considering how many benefits there are to doing so.

1. Use their interests as a calming/coping strategy

For many autistic and hyperlexic individuals, engaging with a special interest has a calming effect. Their interest can be a source of comfort or help distract them when they feel stressed. In other words, engaging with the special interest can reduce anxiety (see benefit #6 here) and build self-regulation skills. That may look like:

  • Offering them extra time to organize and alphabetize their letter magnets or to line up cars in rainbow order after a long day at school

Special interests are great for teaching self-regulation and coping skills

2. Incorporate their interests into the learning process

This tip is all about teaching to their talent (see point #7 here). You can easily add their favorite things to any learning activity just by simply adding some relevant clipart or using their favorite toys. You just have to get creative! For example, this tip may look like:

  • Counting Pokemon figures as a way to practice math facts instead of using math cubes or counting bears
  • Making printable writing worksheets with clipart and the names of previous presidents as a way to work on handwriting skills
  • Making a craft related to their special interest to work on fine motor skills

Teach to the talent by using their strengths and incorporating their interests into the learning process

3. Incorporate their interests into play, therapy, and school

Before my son was officially identified as autistic and hyperlexic, we did a lot of hands on sensory play. So, over the years, we have done tons of activities that leveraged both of my sons interests. It's kind of my jam. There's a reason why there are so many math, letter, Pokemon, music, and video game related ideas on my blog!

The point here is that interest based activities and materials should be offered at home, in therapy, and at school. That may look like:

  • Rolling playdough into letters and numbers as a way to explore new sensory experiences
  • Printing off a game of logo or flag bingo as way to work on speech and language
  • Building letters out of LEGO as way to encourage them to play with a toy they wouldn't normally want to play with
  • Letting them teach about their special interest as part of a presentation at school

Use interest based activities and materials at home, in therapy, and at school

4. Use their interests to model and build social skills

Encouraging your child to talk about their special interests can provide you with a great opportunity to model and build social skills such as turn taking, asking follow up questions, staying on topic, being a good listener, etc. You can also build these skills while playing. That may look like:

  • Playing with letters, making them go down a slide, for instance, and saying, "It's G's turn to go down the slide!" or "P wants a turn!"
  • Asking your child relevant questions about their special interest and giving them time to answer
  • Looking for a special interest group so they can meet others who share their interests, build friendships, and make connections

You can use special interests to model and build social skills

5. Use their interests to boost speech and language skills

Your child's special interests are a great way to build speech, language, comprehension skills, and communication. This may look like:

  • Modeling scripts (or gestalts) while playing alongside your child with their special interests
  • Encouraging them to talk about or share their passions with you
  • Using games based around their special interests to practice speech sounds or articulation
  • Practicing comprehension strategies using stories about their preferred interest

Leverage special interests to boost speech and language

6. Incorporate their interests into family life & daily routines

There are lots of ways to incorporate their interests into family life and day-to-day life. Again, you might have to get a bit creative here, but it's worth it! This may look like:

  • Serving up number pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings while you watch some Numberblocks episodes
  • Planning experiences around their interests (e.g., going to a movie, visiting a museum related to their special interest, etc.)
  • Playing a board game together as a family that's related to their special interest
  • Buying alphabet pajamas and bedsheets to help with bedtime routines
  • Doing a family read aloud with a book about their special interest
  • Making a visual schedule that includes clipart of their interests
  • Writing social stories that use their favorite characters or interests

Try incorporating your child's interests into daily routines for better buy-in

7. Use their interests to teach intrinsic motivation

We're not talking about rewards or extrinsic motivation here. We already discussed that earlier in the post. Instead, we're talking about developing intrinsic motivation, where they're driven to engage in a task simply because it's enjoyable and fun. That means you are:

  • Offering them a choice to do interest-based projects versus forcing them to do a specific topic or project
  • Never forcing them to comply in order to earn their special interest

Use special interests to teach intrinsic motivation

Tips for using special interests in autism and hyperlexia (as well as things you shouldn't do!)

Need More Ideas for Using Your Child's Interests?

If you still need some guidance with this topic, I highly recommend checking out the book Just Give Him the Whale! It has lots of suggestions for using a child's interests.

Just Give Him the Whale book cover

But I get that sometimes a child's special interests may be a bit more unusual or unique and it might be harder to come up with good ways to naturally incorporate their interests...

Well, The Creating Connections workbook and ebook might be just what you need! It's all about using an autistic or hyperlexic child's interests and passions, no matter how different they are, from lawn mowers to elevators!

Creating Connections ebook cover

Get your copy of the Creating Connections ebook

Hopefully with the tips and suggestions above you feel much more confident using special interests in autism and hyperlexia. Good luck!

Tips for using special interests in autism and hyperlexia (as well as things you shouldn't do!)

Continue reading "Tips for Using Special Interests in Autism & Hyperlexia"