Thursday, March 23, 2017

15 Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism

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Practical tips and strategies to help support your hyperlexic and/or autistic children during mealtimes.

Food sensitivities are quite common in children with hyperlexia due to their sensory issues or feeding issues associated with their autism. As a result, they may appear to be picky eaters, preferring to eat only certain types of food.

Furthermore, sensory issues may make it difficult for them to stay seated for the duration of the meal. Or poor fine motor skills and lack of understanding hidden social rules may contribute to these kids preferring to eat with their fingers than mastering utensils to eat.

These 15 mealtime strategies for kids with hyperlexia and/or autism should hopefully inspire you with some new ideas to try if your child is struggling during mealtimes. These strategies, as well as hundreds of others, can also be found in my Beyond the Letters book.

Mealtime strategies for kids with hyperlexia and/or autism from And Next Comes L

Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism

It is important to note that the strategies below are ones that we have personally tried and/or had success with at some point. They work for our family, but may not work for yours, but hopefully it can give you some new ideas to consider.

1. Let your children help with the meal planning, preparation, and/or cooking. They are more likely to eat what they picked out for lunch or supper if they are involved in the process.

2. Let your child assemble their meals with build your own supper ideas such as make your own pizza night or build your own salad night.

3. Teach them the hidden rules of mealtimes so that they can learn what is and isn't expected of them during mealtimes.

4. Keep food items separate to encourage kids to explore foods and textures at their own pace. Divided plates work great for this, but offering pasta sauce on the side, for example, can help kids to not get overwhelmed by combining sensory textures.

5. Use a wiggle cushion or fidgets to help fidgety kids stay seated during mealtimes. Or use tape to put their favorite letter on the seat of the chair and encourage your child to sit right on their chosen letter!

6. Use their interests to encourage new seating arrangements, trying new foods, etc. You can read our experience here about how we used numbers and games to encourage J to sit in a new spot at the kitchen table.

7. Offer utensils at every meal, even if they don't end up using them. Gently encourage them to try using them too. See tip #12 about investing in alphabet cutlery too as a way to entice them to use utensils.

8. Model how to use utensils to cut food and transfer food into your mouth.

9. Write social stories about current mealtime struggles from how to use utensils, trying new foods, not eating with your hands, cleaning up, washing up before eating, etc.

10. Sneak foods they don't like into other items on the menu that they do like. I personally love to add things like hemp seeds, nuts, avocados, etc. to smoothies. Or I add extra veggies and puree them into pasta sauce.

11. Make letter and/or number shaped foods. Or if they are into planets, then make planets! Basically, use their interests to entice them to eat their meals. Thank goodness for cookie cutters in basically any shape possible!

12. Invest in some fun bowls, plates, cutlery, place mats, cups, or napkins that reflect their current interests. Ideas include: ABC plates, planet place mats, etc. Something similar to these alphabet dishes will work awesome!

13. Make checklists of foods to eat during meals. Kids with hyperlexia respond well to written checklists and can check off things they eat as they go! This strategy works really well for lunch boxes too! Better yet, invest in a lunch box with a chalkboard. Here's a pro tip: put the most important foods to eat first because guaranteed your child will eat things in the order they see them on the checklist.

14. Use a visual schedule to guide kids through the routine of mealtime from washing up, eating, cleaning up, and helping with dishes.

15. Write out what is expected of them. Kids with hyperlexia thrive with written visual instructions so don't be afraid to write down explicitly what is expected of them like "use a fork to eat your pasta" or "stay seated while eating."

BONUS STRATEGIES: Find more practical strategies like this in the book Beyond the Letters.

Other Ideas You'll Love

This post is part of a monthly series called Parenting Children with Special Needs. This month's topic is mealtime and you can find the other posts regarding this topic below.

Nutrition for Childhood Trauma | The Chaos and The Clutter 
Mealtime strategies for kids with hyperlexia and/or autism from And Next Comes L