How to Overcome Feeding Problems in Autistic Children

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Feeding problems can be a huge issue for children with autism. A diet rich in veggies and proteins, such as fish is recommended to ensure that the child’s brain receives sufficient amounts of nutrients necessary for growth and development.

There are many instances where autistic children have difficulty eating. This is because they have difficulties with social interactions. There are some things that can be done to help these children overcome their problems with food refusal.


Food avoidance, selectivity, and “pocketing” food rather than chewing and eating it are all frequent in children with autism.

If your kid has eating concerns, a behavior therapist may help them. Your kid may learn new eating habits in treatment, such as how to try new foods and how to avoid non-food objects such as dirt.

Your child’s eating issues might also be caused by digestive issues. To successfully treat these underlying disorders, work with a nutritional therapist or physician.

Autism is a term used to describe a condition in which a person has been diagnosed

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disease that begins between the ages of 6 months and 4 years old and expresses itself in a variety of impairments in communication, learning, and socialization. Around the age of two, children may be consistently diagnosed with autism.

Consult your physician if you detect any changes in your kid, such as less mobility, a loss of communication skills, a decreased interest in playing with you, or a greater emphasis on a certain object or form of play. If autism is suspected, they may give information on the condition as well as a referral to a specialist.

If a professional confirms the diagnosis, they may assist you in finding a behavior therapist to assist your kid in managing autistic symptoms and improving behaviors. The most common treatment for autistic symptoms is applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy.

Feeding Issues Are Common in Children With Autism

The most common signs of autism are difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, social isolation and difficulty socializing, and cognitive impairments.

Food and eating difficulties are another prevalent sign of autism in many individuals. Unusual eating habits might include the following:

  • Eating a small number of foods.

  • Specific foods are avoided, mainly due to texture or temperature concerns.

  • Making rituals out of eating.

  • Food is “pocked” in the cheek rather than swallowed.

  • Experiencing digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea?

  • Consumption of non-food objects such as pebbles or mud (PICA).

According to research released in 2019 by Penn State College of Medicine, 70 percent of children with autism had unusual eating practices, such as those described above. This was 15 times greater than their neurotypical counterparts’ incidence of eating and food-related difficulties.

Feeding troubles are so widespread in autistic children compared to neurotypical children, according to the research, that they may constitute one of the diagnostic criteria for ASD.

Feeding Issues in Children with Autism: Research 

Many children with autism develop food aversions, preferences, and feeding issues around the time they are diagnosed. When a kid is approximately a year old, parents may notice some minor changes, which become more evident as the youngster grows older.

Early research on children with autism discovered that by the time they were 24 months old, or 2 years old, their diets had become severely limited. A group of 79 autistic children was compared to a control group of over 13,000 neurotypical youngsters in one research.

Without therapy, a child’s diet at 54 months (4.5 years) may become limited to the point of being totally different from the rest of the family’s diet. The research also discovered that children with autism were more likely than neurotypical children to develop food allergies.

Autism-affected children were shown to eat less:

  • Vegetables

  • Salads

  • Fruit that is still in season

  • Sweets

  • Carbonated beverages

There were no documented weight disparities between the two groups of children in the research, despite substantial dietary restrictions, especially in children who concentrated on processed foods or carbs. Despite this fact, consuming such a limited diet may cause developmental problems such as decreased bone density. It has the potential to cause chronic ailments later in life, such as diabetes or hypertension.

Pica is an eating disorder in which a person consumes something that is not commonly considered food and has no nutritional value. Pica was also shown to be more common in children with autism than in the control group in the research. This habit commonly appeared between the ages of 8 and 54 months.

Autism-Related Nutritional Problems

Children on the autistic spectrum may have a variety of dietary problems, including:

  • Malnutrition is defined as a lack of adequate nutrition.

  • Excessive consumption of certain nutrients, often known as overnutrition.

  • Deficiency in micronutrients.

  • Toxicity caused by pica.

  • Dehydration.

A 2018 research confirmed that young children with autism had much greater rates of eating issues than a neurotypical control group. Around the age of three, speech therapists and psychologists discovered feeding difficulties in autistic children. 

  • In comparison to 7.1 percent of their colleagues, over 23% displayed texture selectivity.

  • In comparison to 11.8 percent of their friends, roughly 24.5 percent were discriminating about meals based on kind.

  • More than 10% of students are increasingly refusing meals, with none of their friends noticing.

  • In comparison to 3.5 percent of their colleagues, over 14 percent ate till they were filled.

As children get older, feeding issues will become more obvious. Some children with autism may fixate on one certain kind of food or texture of food, such as pasta or chicken nuggets, while their neurotypical classmates gradually introduce new items to their diets. Others may refuse to quit eating baby food or may not be able to wean themselves off of bottle feeding.

Many children on the autistic spectrum suffer from digestive issues, which may express as food avoidance or selectivity, temper tantrums over food or meals, the selection of just specific safe foods, or the creation of food rituals.

Young children lack the speech abilities to convey their dissatisfaction with a dish or how it makes them feel. Children with autism are more likely to be unable to interact with their parents or caregivers, which might exacerbate food and eating difficulties.

Feeding Issues in an Autistic Child: What to Do

Working with a behavior therapist on the particular behaviors the kid shows, rewarding them for trying new foods, spreading out their diets, or modifying eating routines, is one approach to feeding challenges.

Some underlying health conditions, such as stomach pain and dietary allergies, may need to be addressed. Before the kid can improve their behavior, physical concerns must be addressed.

  • The most prevalent treatment for autism is applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. Its goal is to promote beneficial behaviors while reducing bad ones. Starting therapy with an ABA therapist as soon as feasible can assist your kid in making more persistent good behavioral adjustments, especially those related to eating. When it comes to food-related concerns, it’s preferable to start ABA therapy around preschool or earlier. After addressing underlying physical issues, the ABA therapist may concentrate on rewarding more experimental eating and assisting your kid in developing better eating habits.

  • A specialist’s assistance: A nutritional or gastrointestinal physician can help you figure out what’s causing your child’s suffering or bad behavior. A physician may devise a prescribed diet to help your child’s gastrointestinal function, including relieving constipation caused by the restrictive diet he or she followed. Using this prescriptive diet, you and your doctor may begin to add or eliminate items that seem to be creating problems, while also providing a more balanced diet to ensure your kid is not deficient in nutrients. This method may also be used to check for food allergies or other sources of pain. If some meals give your kid distress, you may begin to grasp why from a physiological standpoint and encourage him or her consume items that will not upset his or her stomach.

  • Diet planning with a nutritionist: Your doctor may recommend you to a nutritionist who may assist you in developing a meal plan for your kid. This nutritionist will make sure your kid is receiving all of the nutrients he or she needs, as well as provide tips on how to broaden your child’s pallet.

A Multi-Pronged Approach to Helping Your Autistic Child

Nutritional inadequacies may harm a kid’s growth and development, and these issues can be exacerbated in an autistic youngster. Discuss the best approaches to overcome eating issues with your child’s doctor and other professionals.

They can assist you in putting up a therapy team to deal with these challenges. An ABA therapist, a dietitian, and other specialists in this field will usually make up this team.


Autism is a developmental disability that impacts the way an individual behaves and interacts with the world. One of the biggest challenges for autistic children is feeding. Autistic children often have difficulty eating and swallowing, which can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. To overcome feed problems in autistic children, it’s important to find ways to make meals more enjoyable for them. Reference: autism eating too slow.

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