Sensory Issues: WARMING FOOD FOR AN AUTISTIC STUDENT

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Janice: I am working with a grandmother that has a 6 year old grandchild that is being served in special education under autism. As with many autistic students, he has many sensory issues concerning the foods he will eat. He only eats one brand of chicken nuggets. They have in the past sent the nuggets to school and his teacher (he is in self-contained class) has graciously agreed to heat them for 45 seconds. At some point the principal has gotten involved and said that heating isn’t allowed. His mother was given a meeting with the county nutritionist and was told to buy a particular thermos to send the warm nuggets in. They bought the $30 thermos. Not only did he not eat the nuggets because they were soggy but the thermos never came home and no one seems to know where it is. His mother has quit her full-time job so that she can come and bring him hot nuggets each day.

The cafeteria manager has offered to provide nuggets daily for the child but just not the brand he will eat. The county says that nutrition is not an IEP component even though this sensory issue IS a part of this child’s disability.

At this point all I can think of to tell family is to file a complaint with the state. What IDEA regulation or special education rule has this violated?

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Jill G

I encourage the family to finds someone who specializes in feeding issues associated with autism (usually an OT or SLP). This individual should be able to develop a plan for introducing new foods, to be used at home and school.

If the family has in-home behavioral support, ask that the feeding plan be worked into it. Also ask that the school implement the plan, and that this be written into the IEP (you can use the advice in the guide to help advocate for this).

My son’s plan was simple enough – we just rewarded him taking very small bites of new items (such as from school lunch or our dinner) with things he did like and lots of positive praise. The key to its success was the school’s willingness to use the same strategies we were at home.

Jill G

Janice –

My son also has autism. When my son was younger, we struggled greatly with food sensitivity. He also had a chicken nugget faze, then moved on to hot dogs, then beefaroni.

For a long time he had Ensure by prescription because I struggled so much to get anything in him. I’m happy to say that now, at age 14, he eats almost anything put in front of him – even if he clearly doesn’t like it very much – with *very* few exceptions.

The suggested guide offers some great advice on how to deal with the “now” – getting the school to heat the nuggets – but I urge you, mom, and grandma to also consider the future. Chicken nuggets certainly won’t meet a lifetime of nutritional needs, and may be making some autism-related issues (e.g. GI problems) worse.

USDA has a Guidance Manual “Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Programs”.

Get the link to the manual and read this post, IDEA and Kids with Special Dietary Needs: https://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/idea-and-kids-with-special-dietary-needs/