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How ABA Can Help Picky Eaters with Autism

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Parents of children with autism may find mealtime to be a stressful experience, especially if their child is a picky eater. Children with autism often have sensory sensitivities that make it difficult for them to tolerate certain textures, tastes, and smells. In addition, other challenges such as heightened senses of smell, taste, and texture, as well as oral motor difficulties, can make certain foods unappealing and difficult to chew and swallow.

In the realm of autism treatment, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is a widely recognized approach that leverages positive reinforcement to impart new skills and behaviors. In the context of selective eating habits, ABA can be an effective tool for enabling children with autism to develop a more diverse palate, become more open to trying new foods, and ultimately regain their enjoyment of mealtime.

How ABA Therapy Works For Picky Eaters With Autism

In the field of ABA therapy, it is possible to customize the therapy according to the specific needs and preferences of each child. A technique often used for children with autism who have particular food preferences is called "food chaining," which involves introducing new foods that bear resemblance in taste, texture, or appearance to the foods that the child already enjoys. For instance, if the child likes mashed potatoes, an ABA therapist might recommend other mashed vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes, which can help broaden the child's food choices while still maintaining some level of familiarity.

This technique can be an effective way to address picky eating habits in children with autism.

Another technique that is commonly used to deal with picky eating habits among children with autism is positive reinforcement. This technique involves incentivizing good behavior by rewarding it with positive feedback, attention, or a small token of appreciation like a sticker or a favorite toy. For instance, if a child makes an effort to try a new food, they may be praised or rewarded, which can encourage them to continue trying new things and make mealtime a more enjoyable experience.

Practical Tips For Parents to Implement ABA Strategies at Home

Here are some practical tips that parents can implement at home to help their picky eaters.

  1. Create a positive mealtime environment: Make mealtime a positive and relaxed experience by setting a pleasant atmosphere. Avoid distractions, such as the TV or electronic devices, and focus on enjoying the food and each other's company.

  2. Involve your child in food preparation: Involve your child in the food preparation process, such as grocery shopping or helping to prepare meals. This can help them become more comfortable with new foods.

  3. Offer foods in different forms: Offer foods in different forms, such as cooked or raw, to help your child become more comfortable with different textures.

  4. Be patient: Changing eating habits takes time, so be patient with your child and celebrate small victories along the way.

Encouragement and Final Thoughts

It is common for children with autism to be selective about what they eat, but it is not a lost cause. ABA therapy can be a helpful method to assist picky eaters with autism in becoming comfortable with new foods, broadening their food choices, and enjoying meals once again. By developing a positive mealtime atmosphere, offering a range of foods, utilizing positive reinforcement, and seeking guidance from trained experts, parents can help their picky eaters with autism reach their full potential and enhance their dietary habits.


Remember to remain patient and celebrate small successes along the way.


With dedication and support, your child can become a more adventurous and nourished eater.



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