Eat your fruits and veggies
A study of eating problems and patterns among children with ASD.
Eating problems are common among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). While many children have some difficulties with feeding and eating, these problems occur more frequently in children with ASD compared to typically developing children. Research estimates that 46-89% of children with ASD have eating habits that are not typical. These include problems such as: refusing to eat certain food groups or textures, poor appetite, overeating, fast eating, difficulties with chewing and swallowing, and insistence on a particular presentation of food. Aggression and tantrums are also common for children with ASD during meals. There has been limited research on the difference in eating problems in children with ASD compared to typically developing children.
What was the study?
The study compared young boys (ages 2-7) with ASD to young typically developing boys. The children’s parents were asked to fill out a questionnaire on their child’s eating behavior for the previous month. They rated the frequency of seven different eating problems in their child. These included: chewing and swallowing issues, food avoidance, picky eating, sameness behavior, repetitive behavior while eating, excessive eating, and aggressive behavior. The parents also ranked 137 foods by how often their child ate each one.
What did they find?
The researchers found several patterns between the two groups. The children with ASD had significantly more eating problems in each of the seven areas. They also ate significantly less variety of food groups (except drinks and snacks) compared to typically developing children. In addition, children with ASD got pickier and developed more mealtime rituals as they got older. However, typically developing children got less picky and had less food rituals over time. In addition, typically developing children ate significantly more fruits and vegetables than children with ASD. Toddlers (ages 2-3) with ASD ate more snacks than typically developing toddlers, but young children with ASD (ages 3-7) ate fewer snacks than typically developing young children.
How does this affect me and my child?
Children with ASD are more likely to have difficulties with eating than typical children, and these difficulties can include a wide range of behaviors. If you have a child with ASD, it may be helpful to keep a lookout for some of the problems described above. Age also plays a big role in eating habits, and it is helpful to start positive eating habits when your child is young. Feeding therapy is a component of early intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s feeding or eating, ask your SLP or consult your early intervention coordinator.
Vissoker, R. E., Latzer, Y., Stolar, O., Rabenbach, A., & Gal, E. (2019). Eating Problems and Patterns among Toddlers and Young Boys with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 59, 1–9. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2018.12.001