Autistic families learn to cope with eating

By Holly Renner


The Heart of Texas Autism Network knows how to pay it forward in the Waco community.

The network aims to provide resources for those with autism in hopes of ensuring a richer life filled with work and independent living. From 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Monday the network will host an event called “It’s Not Just Picky Eating” on the ninth floor in the Baylor Social Work building at 801 Washington Ave.

The event will include a panel of professionals who will teach parents with autistic children how to cope over the holidays when introducing new foods.

Anita Karney, president of the network, said eating issues are very significant for families with autistic children.

“People with autism have many sensory issues, and some of those sensory issues revolve around eating,” Karney said. “Sometimes they’re extremely sensitive to textures, smells, taste, appearance – there are multitudes of things you experience when you sit down to a meal.”

The event is free and open to family, friends, professionals and individuals living with autism.

Families in need of childcare must register on the Heart of Texas Autism Network website by Thursday. All other attendees do not have to register. Monday is the first time “It’s Not Just Picky Eating” will be held, but Karney has hopes for it happening again since it is such an important and relevant issue.

The panel will consist of medical professionals from Providence Healthcare in Waco. Karney said occupational and physical therapist Debbie Haddad, speech pathologist Becky Martin and dietitian Laurie Cortina will talk about what extreme selectivity in eating looks like and how families can cope with introducing new foods around holiday time. The panel will provide various exercises parents can do to help their children learn to accept the new foods.

Karney said the network offers meetings every month, covering various topics geared toward helping those with autism, as well as the family members.

Karney said for those with autism, the world can be chaotic and confusing with incomprehensible stimuli, so there is a need to have consistency and structure when it comes to food.

To some children with autism, serving different cereals each morning, for instance, can cause a problem because it is not the same food to that child, Karney said.

“If you are sensitive with smell or taste, some of these foods can be pretty gross and they will refuse to eat it,” Karney said. “Being able to help a child learn to tolerate and deal with difficult foods is huge.”