Children with Autism Are More Likely to Experience Feeding Problems
Four Tips to Help Parents Manage This Common Issue
By Emily Kate Rubio, M. A., BCBA
Did you know up to 90 percent of children with autism and developmental disabilities experience feeding challenges, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology (Kerwin, 1999). Children with autism often struggle with food and taste sensitivities. This can result in developing preferences and aversions to certain textures and the refusal to try new foods. For example, some children may prefer starchy, crunchy foods; whereas, other children may only choose more basic textures like applesauce and yogurt or cakes and breads.
Feeding problems can range from mild to significant. Mild feeding difficulties exist when a child has some food selectivity and/or refusal to try new foods, but the foods in his/her diet still meet basic nutritional needs (i.e., will eat some fruits or vegetables, some healthy proteins and starches). Feeding problems are considered more moderate when a child refuses a whole food group, like all fruits or vegetables, and only incorporates a few foods in his/her diet. Feeding problems are more significant when a child only eats one or two foods, relies on formula or other drinks to supplement his/her diet, and normal growth and development becomes a concern.
Inappropriate mealtime behavior is often the first sign of feeding problems. Parents might start to notice their child is pushing food away, gagging, leaving the table, throwing food or utensils from the table, crying, whining, complaining and arguing.
If your child is a poor or picky eater, or engages in inappropriate mealtime behavior, consider the following tips:
It is always important to first rule out and/or treat any medical reasons for food refusal (e.g., reflux, food allergies, swallowing concerns, etc.) before beginning a program to treat food refusal. If you are concerned about your child’s eating, please contact your EAP program supervisor for individualized guidance or a recommendation on a local feeding clinic.
Reference: Kerwin, M. E. (1999). Empirically supported treatments in pediatric psychology: Severe feeding problems. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 24(3), 193-214.