Autism and Selective Eating

Autism and Selective Eating

Autism and Selective Eating

It is common for children with autism to exhibit extreme selective eating patterns and to eat a particularly restricted range of foods. This can range from excluding whole groups of foods, e.g. not accepting any meats or fish, to selecting foods only based on their colour, shape, texture, smell etc.

It is not unusual for some children to accept only specific brands of a particular food for example.

This can lead to significantly stressful and protracted mealtimes for the child and family with at times considerable impact on family life along with concerns around sufficient macro- and micronutrient intake to meet growth and nutritional requirements.

A study completed in 2000 explored the eating habits of children with autism including a parent study of children with autistic spectrum disorder. 67% of parents surveyed described their children as ‘picky eaters’ with 69% reporting that their children would not try new foods. 60% reported that their children would possibly try new foods, but would then refuse to eat them.

A 2019 study examining the eating behaviours in children and adolescents with autism, ADHD, other disorders and typical development revealed similar results, and demonstrated atypical eating behaviours in 70% of children with autism in comparison to 13% of children with other disorders and 4.8% for typical children.

For children with autism who presented with atypical eating behaviours, 25% had 3 or more atypical eating behaviours (versus 0% for children with other disorders or typical development).

In this study, the most the most common eating behaviours for autism were identified as limited food preferences (88%), hypersensitivity to food texture (46%), eating only one brand of food (27%), pocketing food without swallowing (19%) and pica (which is eating non-food items such as paper (12%).

Despite the challenges, once the individual drivers of the selective eating have been identified by an expert practitioner, there is a lot that can be done to extend the range of foods that will be accepted alongside a range of strategies to reduce the stress and anxiety associated with mealtimes.

Does your child have autism, ADD/ ADHD and/or Sensory Processing disorder and is their diet sufficiently restricted to be causing concern? Are mealtimes increasingly stressful and/or all-consuming?

Please get in touch and let me help you progress your child’s eating and the range of foods they may be willing to eat.

References for this article:

  1. Mayes, Susan Dickerson, and Hana Zickgraf. “Atypical eating behaviors in children and adolescents with autism, ADHD, other disorders, and typical development”. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 64 (2019): 76-83.
  2. Williams, P.G., Dalrymple, N., & Neal, J. (2000). “Eating habits of children with autism”. Pediatric Nursing, 26(3), 259-264.

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