HELP: My Child with Autism Won’t Give Up a Baby Bottle

My six-year-old son has autism and refuses to drink from anything other than his bottle. He has tried a sippy cup a few times but just won’t give up the bottle. What can I do?


HELP: My Child with Autism Won't Give Up a Baby Bottle

Hi Julie,

Inflexibility and difficulty with change is SO common in kids with autism. They like things the way they’re used to them and shifting anything about their routine can throw everything into disarray! I have faced this issue with many clients. Whether it’s going from a bottle to a sippy cup, a sippy cup to a straw, a straw to an open cup, or even from one favorite cup to a variety of cups, change is hard! Here are some ways you can promote drinking from a sippy cup or a regular cup:

1. Put your child’s favorite drink into the sippy cup and put a non-preferred drink in the bottle.

For your son this may look like putting milk into the cup and water or a bitter juice into the bottle. Doing this will help pair the new cup with an old, familiar favorite. At the same time, it will make his bottle less appealing to him.  This technique helps make the sippy cup more interesting and attractive while making the bottle less enticing.

2. Reward drinking from the new cup.

Just like teaching any other new skill you can reward your son for using his cup by giving a treat, affection, praise, toy, or whatever it may be that motivates him.  Start with a small expectation like just putting his lips to the cup. If he doesn’t actually drink, that’s okay, reward him anyways. Immediately give him whatever it is you’ve decided on. Once he’s okay with that you can make it a little harder such as trying to take at least five sips.

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Again, if he doesn’t actually drink, that’s OK. Reward him anyways. Eventually the goal would be to get him to take a real sip and earn a mega, massive, huge reward from you. Maybe it’s his favorite candy. Maybe it’s the iPhone. Whatever the reward, make it something special that he doesn’t get regularly and give it to him right away.

3. Get rid of all the bottles.

You may not like this idea, but hear me out. As long as bottles are an option for him he will likely never choose a cup. Think about it: why would he out-of-the-blue choose a cup when all his life bottles have worked just fine? He is not going to suddenly change his mind. By just taking the bottles away as an option you are giving him no other choice but to learn the cup. It may be hard at first, and there may be a few days of tears and meltdowns, but I promise you he will eventually learn to just use the cup.
To help this transition go smoother you can also choose cups that are his favorite color or have his favorite characters on them. You can also try giving him the choice between several cups so that he can share some control over the situation. By offering him 2 or 3 cups and letting him pick which one to use he may be more likely to use it.

I hope these help and wish you the best of luck!
 Learn more about Angelina and her blog, The Autism Onion, at or

This article was featured in Issue 47 – Motherhood – An Unconditional Love

Angelina M.

Angelina M., MS, BCBA, LMFT works as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, specializing in assessing and treating children and adolescents with autism, down-syndrome, and other developmental delays. She began her career in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2006, following her youngest brother’s autism diagnosis, and has since worked with dozens of children and families. She also writes a blog about her experiences as both a professional and a big sister. Her brother, Dylan, remains her most powerful inspiration for helping others who face similar challenges.  Learn more about Angelina and her blog, The Autism Onion, at or

  • Avatar owen hughes says:

    My 6-year-old daughter with Autism is also addicted to her baby bottle. She only drinks milk. She refuses water and juice, even milkshakes. Two occasions we have tried to go cold turkey with her and both times she ending up in hospital being sick and dehydrated. I am now scared of this happening again but also desperate for her to drink from anything but the bottle. Her teeth are suffering. We remove the bottle from sight when she is not drinking and we offer her sensory chews. Her 2-year-old sister is refusing to give up her bottle, we believe she is copying her big sister.

  • Avatar Anne-Marie Collins says:

    My 5 year old son has autism. And only takes a bottle of milk at night, and it’s rotten his teeth. Any 1 any ideas wot I can give him instead of a bottle. I have tried every kind of cup but he refuses to use them at bedtime.

    • Avatar Angelina says:

      Hi Anne-Marie,
      Besides the strategies listed above in my article I would also recommend putting only a small amount of milk in the bottle and the rest into another cup. This will make the bottle less motivating because he will only get a small amount of milk. Also, it’s important to note that typically by age 5 children are getting the nutrition they need throughout the day and do not need a bedtime glass of milk. Talk with your doctor about whether or not it is necessary to continue providing milk before bedtime. If you give the milk simply as part of the routine try changing the routine to something super motivating that your son does not already get to do. For example: 5 minutes of cartoons before bed, 5 minutes of iPad before bed, back scratches or a massage before bed, etc. Replace the bottle with a different and more age appropriate bedtime activity. Hope this helps! -Angelina MS, LMFT, BCBA

  • Avatar Molly says:

    pls help me to get rid of my child – label tearing behavior from the all kinds of bottles. wherever he sees he has to do that which is very annoying and disturbing for others.

  • Avatar Jessica Franco says:

    I am writing this based off my nephew. My nephew is 3 and only drinks elecare through a bottle. She has tried several different cups and refuses to even drink and has a complete meltdown. He doesn’t eat much sense he has a sensory issue and just has fries, Cheerios or vege sticks. How can you go about this in a situation like this where they have to get the milk but won’t take it unless it’s in a bottle.

  • Avatar Lisa says:

    I have a relative with a 6 year old girl autistic child who only bottle feeds. Her mother recently tried changing the bottle and she refused to take it. The old bottle was given back to her but because her mother had told her that she threw away the bottle she is refusing the old bottle also. She is being force fed with a syringe right now. Any suggestions?

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