Making sure a person with autism eats right

Parents can help by employing various strategies to get their children to eat a more diverse diet.

What you need to know:

  • Feeding issues can be a major problem for autistic children, and the consequences can be serious if the child ends up with nutritional deficiencies. Parents can help by employing various strategies to get their children to eat a more diverse diet.

Autism is a condition related to brain development. It affects how a person perceives and socialises with others. It is hard to tell whether someone has autism until you interact with them. 

Lutigard Musiime, a holistic nutritionist at Spoon Foundation, says learning, thinking and problem solving abilities of autistic children range from the gifted to severely challenged. Although there is no cure, she says, one can be trained to understand and take care of these children. According to, children with autism often have sensory challenges. As a result, they can have specific food aversions that prevent them from getting the number of nutrients they need to be healthy. If your child is a picky eater, you might find that introducing healthier food options can sometimes be next to impossible.

More research and extensive studies have been recommended to prove the connection between autism, diet, and behavior. The autism research community has not ruled out the possibility that diet can affect symptoms of autism, nor have they reached a definite stance on the issue.

Austic children often have reduced eye contact, lack of response to their names, lack of concentration and a repetitive order. This usually makes some prefer a particular food thus refusing to eat if this food is taken away.

“If a child loves to eat white rice and brown beans, when you change and give them yellow rice, they will throw a tantrum. In this case, a balanced diet may be difficult to achieve,” Musiime says. 

Repetitive behaviour

Because autistic children often repeat behaviours or have narrow or restricted interests, this will affect their eating habits. It will also affect their food choices, which can lead to health concerns.  They can be sensitive to colour and texture of certain foods and they will totally avoid some foods or even whole food groups.    

What to do

Talking to a professional who understands an autistic child’s behaviours will help. For example, a nutritionist can gradually introduce new foods to their diet.

Focus issues

Because they have difficulty focusing on a task for a long period, they may end up not eating enough. It is hard for this child to sit down and eat a meal from start to finish. They are also prone gastrointestinal conditions where one either has diarrhoea or constipation because of favouring one type of food.

What to do

A guardian should focus on small but frequent meals. If a child can only concentrate for five minutes, they can at least have three spoonfuls of food in those five minutes. But instead of three main meals a day, one can break the meals down to five small meals,” Musiime says, adding that a parent can also make ‘finger foods’ or foods that can be eaten on the go. One can place food in places the child frequents such as walkways, on the table or in the sitting room.


Musiime advises pregnant women to always go for antenatal care, especially in the first trimester where the child’s brain development begins.

What type of diet is best?

In an article published by Fox News, holistic health counsellor Jacqueline Banks recommended providing food that contains anti-inflammatory properties to maintain a healthy gut. This includes fatty fish, such as salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as walnuts and flax seeds.

When it comes to the meats and animal products, Banks says grass-fed or pastured is better as it provides higher nutrients and does not contain harmful hormones and chemicals. Fruits and vegetables should also be organic and should be cleaned thoroughly. Natural fruit juices or smoothies are also an easier way to add more nutrients to your child’s diet.