special needs child to gain weight

How can I get my special needs child to gain weight?

How can I get my special needs child to gain weight?

Picky eating has been one of the major concerns in children belonging to ASD. Parents have suffered a lot of pain and stress while feeding their children. The Most common homemade food among these children is rice and dal. They also love fried snacks and crisps. Sensory aversions towards foods are another reason for not being able to eat a variety of foods and the amount of food needed in a day. Hence, decreased calorie intake becomes the obvious reason. So how can you get your special needs child to gain weight?

Being one of the Indian autism dietitians has given me the opportunity to help so many children excel in their academics and careers along with adjunct therapies. In this article, I will share diet modifications that you can implement immediately and see improvements in weight gain.

5 areas you can focus on to get your child to increase weight are:

1. Calorie intake check

Making sure your child is eating the required calories per day is the most important factor and is the solution to weight gain. It begins with understanding your child’s BMR, physical activity, and stress factors. Once you are sure about the calories required per day add an extra 200 – 300 kcal depending on how underweight your child is. To increase the intake of food for weight gain there are associated problems or habits that hinder your child’s intake. The following points explain just that.

2. Work on a variety of foods

There are various reasons for not being able to eat a variety of foods. The solution is to treat the cause before increasing the calorie intake. A variety of foods are classified into food groups like cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds, meats & eggs, and other food groups.

3. Neophobia

Fear of trying new foods or being a choosy eater makes it difficult for you to increase your child’s intake of foods. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to get your child to eat foods that are soft or slippery. Do not lose hope because of your child’s current preferences. There are solutions for most problems like these. Always keep an open mind in these situations and follow the right strategies. Finding similarities or linking a food that is acceptable and preparing a new food the same way makes the new food more acceptable.

4. Sensory food aversions, weak oral muscles, or poor muscle tone.

The biggest barrier for a child to eat a balanced meal is your child’s sensitivity to the texture, taste, smells, and colors of food. In this case, your child may tend to avoid certain foods or entire food groups, have difficulty biting hard foods, prefer only mashed foods, have disinterest to eat foods because of unpleasant sensations while eating, needs a distraction to eat food, cannot handle too many colors or texture in one meal,  difficulty in swallowing and many more sensory or oro motor issues.

 5. Last but not least solving the pickiness

A great way to tackle pickiness is to start from outside the kitchen. You need to create a bucket list of activities with your child. Some examples are:

  • Visit the supermarket especially to shop for new food/ingredients.

  • Research the food like where it is grown.

  • How to prepare that food?

  • Visit a farm eventually.

  • Also, other activities can help your child connect with food.

Another way to tackle picky eating would be by making meal times a routine. Children with ASD struggle with meals because of various stress factors like a busy kitchen, the way furniture is arranged, a messy houses or even bright lights. You can reduce your child’s stress or tantrums by serving meals at the same time every day. Children cannot read the time hence routines help them understand the time of the day.


To conclude, you can get your child to gain weight only when your child eats more than his or her caloric requirements per day. It is difficult to do so when your child is a picky eater or has other symptoms or diseases that could reduce the quantity of food.  Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders tend to have difficulty focusing on a task for a long period. Hence, completing a meal may be a little difficult for them and they eat well with a distraction that is with television or any other screen.

This is fine for some situations, when your child is hungry but irritated and cannot focus on eating, the screen can help them complete their meal. Otherwise, you need to provide a low-pressure environment for your child to become a more flexible eater. You must focus on positive ways to help improve your child’s intake of food. Make sure you follow the above tips which will surely show improvements in your child’s weight.

Still feel it’s not working. No worries. I am here to help with your child’s nutritional status. Book now.

Suhana Shriyan
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  • Mitika

    My 3 years old is very excited to see fruits and vegetables in the market or at home but never eats them. She never taste the fruits but keep on telling its tasty. We encourage her by eating in front of her she feels excited to see us eating but never show interest herself. Initially she used to atleast taste the food once and then say yes or no but now simply say no. Can you suggest something???

    • Suhana Shriyan

      Hi Mitika. It’s great that she shows interest in fruits and vegetables. She must have picked up the word tasty from a family member, friend or a youtube video. What you can try doing is cutting the fruit into different shapes and serving just 1-2 pieces initially. If you feel her fruit and vegetable intake is low, I can help increase her chance of eating more foods.

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