Finding feeding products that engage a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be challenging. But if you are aware of their unique sensory needs, picking the right product can make the difference between eating and outright food refusal. Here are a few ideas that may encourage you to give silicone a try!
Silicone + Sound: Many children on the autism spectrum have sensory overload when it comes to sounds in their environment. Some of these kiddos can’t verbally explain how these sounds are disruptive to their learning or, in some cases, are painful. Their non-verbal communication may be tantrums, withdrawal or even self-injury. Since silicone is quiet and calming (as compared to metal, glass or plastic), I choose to use silicone dishware in my feeding therapy sessions.
Reducing environmental noise when a child with ASD is eating can have a profound effect on mealtime. Here are a few ideas:
- Reduce the use of loud appliances during mealtime (e.g., blender, microwave, vacuum cleaner)
- When dining out, avoid restaurants that have noisy crowds, intercom systems or loud music playing
- Reduce startling noises during mealtime (e.g., doorbell, phone ringing, banging doors)
- Consider trying earplugs, headphones, or beanies that can cover the ears
- Try using silicone plates, bowls and cookware
Silicone + Smell: A lot of the children I work with have an over-reactive sense of smell. They tell me (while gagging) that there is a lingering smell from past meals on their plastic reusable plates, especially when they are heated or reheated. And sometimes (to a parent’s dismay) that is why they refuse to eat (even their favorite foods).
Decreasing pungent smells when a child with ASD is trying to eat can have a positive influence on food consumption. Here are a few ideas:
- Try using dishware that is made of food grade silicone. Silicone does not harbor any bacteria or smells, which makes it a perfect sensory experience for children sensitive to smells. Products like the Happy Mat can be used to heat food in the microwave or oven and then safely serve on the table!
- Ask your child about the smells in the school cafeteria, restaurants, church, etc. to see if that may be why they are not eating in these environments.
- Observe your child breathing during meals, is he/she breathing through their mouth (instead of their nose) in an attempt to try to mask the smell?
Eating issues can be complex for children with sensory challenges and/or ASD. Feeding therapy strategies vary, but I find that the sensory aspects of silicone can help children with sensory issues find more enjoyment at mealtime. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series, when we address touch, taste and vision! What sensory aspects of silicone is your child’s favorite? Share your pics and comments with the hashtags #ezpzfun #sensory.
Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Specialist for ezpz