Good nutrition is critical from infants to teen to adults in order to sustain healthy growth and development. A healthy diet needs to meet the changing nutritional needs of a growing child and should prepare him/her for maintaining healthy eating habits lifelong. As Parents and/or caregiver We are obliged to inculcate healthy eating habits in children that meets their nutritional requirements and leads to proper growth as they are in a stage of continuous mental and physical development. But as children grow, they develop their own individual personality, tastes and preferences to everything around them including food. An exposure to various tastes, textures, combinations of food leads to development likes and dislikes towards certain food stuffs. Thus, making child meet their supply on nutrients is very difficult and thus requires a strict nutritional regime & discipline.
If you are a parent to special need child, then this becomes all the more difficult owing to complexities involved. For example, a child with autism spectrum disorder may have a deep negative reaction to textures, tastes or colours. Children with Down syndrome, prefer softer foods because of difficulties encountered when chewing or swallowing. Special need Children are often on prolonged medications which affects their food habits & weight gain. A child’s ability to consume is also a key factor in nutrition; Children with Cerebral Palsy often struggle, choke or worse on providing food hence absolute care is to be taken while feeding them. Issues like acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disorder, Dysphagia, misaligned teeth, gum swelling, etc. can also impact a child’s nutritional plan as it dominantly affects the selection of foods. Some children can be overweight / obese due to mobility issues, reduced calorie usage or some might be underweight due to speedy metabolism, swallowing issues etc.
Overcoming the nutritional challenges in the children with Special Needs is a complex issue which needs co-joint efforts of family, pediatrician, therapist & nutritionist. It is very necessary to overcome the specific barriers children have, to help them create a healthy relationship with food & proper nutrition as nutrition & child development go hand in hand.