Snack Monster

Several of my friends with autism are obsessed with snacks. Families and teachers report their efforts to limit snacks lead to explosive behavior. One youngster began sneaking out into the kitchen to steal bags of chips or cartons of ice cream, hiding them in his room. Let us look at some ideas to help successfully tame the snack monster.

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Off-limit snacks. Some individuals with autism have dietary restrictions that make some foods off-limits.The only way to effectively stop our friends from eating off-limits foods it to simply remove them from the house. Without any comments, announcements, or fanfare, simply quit purchasing those foods. So, for example, if a teen has dietary restrictions related to sugar, then cookies, ice cream, chips, sugared pop, candy, and other sugar snacks must not be in the house.

Limited portions. The other critical step in decreasing the volume of snack consumption is to decrease the size of portions. Rather than having a big box of snack crackers, nuts, or seasoned pretzels on the shelf, break the package into small portions. The smaller snack-sized zip-lock bags work well for this.

Nagging. Whether your youngster has autism or not, nagging is not an effective behavior management tool. We tend to say things like, “You don’t get any more Oreos because they aren’t on your diet,” or “No more snacks for you, young man. They are bad for your health and ruining your dinner,” or “Starting tomorrow, you are going on a diet. No more ice cream or cookies for you.”

Choices. Instead, have a box with a variety of allowable in snack-sized ziplocks. Let the youngster pick his choice periodically, and avoid limiting snacks too harshly.

Stealing. There is only one fool-proof way to stop stealing – any foods that are off-limits must be totally unavailable. If a youngster cannot eat sugared foods, for example, it is not appropriate to have a half-gallon of ice cream or a package of Oreo cookies reserved in the kitchen for other family members.

TIP FOR THE DAY: The only effective way to decrease stealing and unhealthy eating is to completely remove the temptation by making off-limits snacks inaccessible. And remember to have a choice of healthy snacks readily available for your friend to enjoy.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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