As the school year rolls out, over 50 million children and their parents are getting ready for the most important time of the day: lunchtime!
Lunchtime at home with your child on the spectrum may be contrary to what they experience at school.
With the recommendation of giving students at least 20 minutes to eat their food (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics) most students, especially in public schools, are ushered into the cafeteria, sit to eat their lunch and ushered out of the cafeteria in 20 minutes or less!
For an autistic child, the hustle and bustle of lunchtime can cause sensory overload along with the distinct food sensitivities they may have.
Here are some simple easy tips to help with lunchtime at school for your child:
Prepare Your Child’s Lunch
There are many things to think of when you are meal planning for someone on the spectrum.
More specifically, there are those on the spectrum that have gluten sensitivities.
Gluten is a substance found in cereal grains, especially wheat, that are responsible for the elastic texture of the dough. Products like bread, bakery, pasta, and rice are known for their high gluten content. Because these are very common ingredients in kid-friendly lunches such as sandwiches, wraps, macaroni and cheese and pizza; most public lunches may not always take these sensitivities into consideration.
Additionally, a person with autism may have sensory aversions as well. A person with sensory aversions is one who does not eat foods related to texture, smell, temperature, appearance and/or taste. This is different from a preference of food or an indifference to a particular food.
Usually in the case of sensory aversions, if a person is forced or made to eat the food they refuse to eat, they become distressed and the result could be a meltdown.
Preparing your child’s food is the best case scenario to ensure your child gets a nutritious meal while at school that aligns with their food preferences.
Practice Lunchtime Scenarios.
When changes occur with anyone on the spectrum especially a hectic change, it is never a bad idea to model the change before it occurs.
During the summer before school starts or on the weekends after school has begun, schedule a meal time similar to a traditional lunch schedule at school: brief, orderly as possible and packaged in a box or bag.
This could be a fun activity for the family and you could even give it a special night such as, “Lunchbox Dinner Night,” to alleviate negative connotations with lunchtime at school.
This will familiarize your child with the lunch culture they will experience throughout the week at school and give them the space to adjust successfully.
Create a Cue Card.
A small lunchtime note packed in their lunch bag or sewn in a cloth one can offer clear reminders to your child of what to do during lunchtime.
Steps such as:
- Take 4 bites of your food.
- Drink water.
- Tell your friend your favorite food.
- When you are done:
- Put your food in your bag.
- Close your lunch bag.
- Good Job! You Did it!
A small cue card of this sort reinforces the stability and order that a child on the spectrum desires as it aligns with what has been practiced already at home and now reminded on the cue card.
To an AU-Some Lunch All Year Long!
Lunchtime does not have to be a dreadful process this year. It can be an opportunity to learn and grow as a parent as well as learn more about your child’s ability to manage and successfully adjust to change.
Looking for a tasty trail mix to make for your child? Watch the latest, “On the Spectrum,” D.I.Y. Trail Mix Episode.
For more free resources visit here for your downloadable copies today!