Healthy Sensory Treats for Children with Autism

By raluca.olariu@…, 3 April, 2023
girl eating apple

Food sensitivity, selectivity, and food allergies are common challenges faced by many children with autism. These often result in gastrointestinal symptoms, including pain and cramps.

Children with autism can also end up having unhealthy eating habits due to their limited diets. These habits can lead to low levels of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, as well as poor overall health.

It's important for parents of children with autism to create healthy alternatives to their typical favorites. This will help ensure that they receive the nutrition they need while also still enjoying tasty treats.

This article discusses food selectivity in children with autism and presents some ideas for healthy sensory treats that may help to encourage a balanced diet.

What's the research saying about food selectivity in children with autism?

According to a study, children with autism often present atypical sensory processing which leads to atypical oral sensory sensitivity. For these children, it may be more difficult to eat certain foods and they may refuse a wide variety of vegetables. The same study suggests that food selectivity in autistic children may be addressed with oral sensory processing strategies. 

Due to impairments in sensory processing, children with autism are often described as picky eaters, and managing their atypical eating patterns can be difficult for parents. Food elimination based on preferences, consistencies, and other sensory issues can cause dysfunctional nutritional levels and deficiencies.

Gastrointestinal issues are also present in many autistic children which can affect their diets. These include abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and other stomach issues that make it difficult to eat certain foods.

What are some healthy sensory treats for children with autism?

Children with autism and especially, oral sensory seekers, tend to have a preference for food with a lot of texture, although this may differ from kid to kid. 

Some of the healthiest sensory treats for children with autism can be:

  • Fruits like apples, pears, or grapes
  • Vegetables like carrots, celery, and bell peppers
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, and cereal
  • Yogurt cups with granola and fresh fruits
  • Popcorn or chips served in moderation (preferably homemade)
  • Smoothies or shakes made from milk, yogurt, and/or fruits
  • Homemade energy bars with oats, dried fruits, and nuts
  • Homemade muffins with oat bran or whole wheat flour

  • Fruit leathers and other dried fruit snacks


Other Sensory Challenges Faced by Children with Autism

Children with autism often face other sensory challenges beyond food selectivity. Sensory processing issues can affect the way they interact with their environment and experience the world around them. These may include sensitivities to noises, smells, touch, and visual stimuli.

Many children with autism have difficulty modulating sensory input, meaning that they may be either over- or under-responsive to certain sensations.

It is important for parents to create an environment that is conducive to their children's sensory needs. Setting up a sensory room with various items, aides, and activities can help them cope better with certain sounds, smells, textures, and visuals. Furthermore, providing calming strategies such as ear plugs or a weighted vest can also be beneficial in helping them regulate their senses.

Calming exercises such as deep breathing, mindfulness, and yoga can also be helpful for children with autism who experience sensory overload.

Sensory Products for Autism

There are multiple tools for reducing sensory overload for children with autism. They include toys, blankets, swings, and other items aimed at targeting the five senses.

Tactile toys such as squashes, sand timers, and fidget stretches are great for tactile stimulation. Visual aids such as light boxes, visual timers, and a variety of sensory boards can help to regulate the sense of sight.

Auditory tools like music blocks or noise-canceling headphones can be used to reduce noise sensitivity. Scented items like stress balls and aromatherapy diffusers can help to regulate smell sensitivity, while swings, weighted blankets, and pressure vests can be used for proprioceptive input.


Eating is just one of the many sensory challenges faced by children with autism. Although eating sensitivity can be a serious challenge faced by children and parents alike, there are ways to manage this autistic symptom. Healthy snacks that provide sensory stimulation for children with autism are a great starting point. 


Photo credit: Unsplash.