Picky Eating: How Common Is It, And Is It More Prevalent in Children With Autism?

A recent study from The Journal of Pediatrics discovered that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders are more likely to be picky eaters and may be at risk for suboptimal nutrition¹.   Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders were found to have increased occurrences of food refusal and more limited food repertoires.  Other research has estimated that one third of mothers felt their infant had feeding difficulties in the first four months of life and one in four mothers at routine pediatrician visits expressed concerns with their child’s feeding skills².  The statistics show nearly 25% of typically developing children and 80% of developmentally delayed children will demonstrate characteristics of a feeding disorder³.  Anecdotally it appears that more and more kids are becoming selective about their diets.  While picky eaters are difficult to feed, it becomes a larger issue when the amount of selectiveness increases and they become problem feeders.  Problem feeders often have severely restricted food repertoires (less than 20 foods), fall apart at mealtimes especially when presented with new foods, and will refuse entire categories of food textures.  Parents of problem feeders report their child may restrict their diet by any of the following characteristics: color, brand name, presentation style, shape, or texture.  Without effective intervention, the consequences of a feeding disorder can lead to further health complications and increased family tensions.

The management of feeding disorders should involve a team of professionals to evaluate and treat the child and family.  Specialists such as gastroenterologists, dietitians, psychologists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists with expertise in feeding disorders will provide medical management, nutritional counseling, behavioral strategies, oral-motor and feeding therapy, and parent education and support.

Tell us what frustrations do you experience at mealtimes? 

Tell us, does your child display any signs of picky eating and if so, how do you handle it?

1 Bandini LG, Anderson SE, Curtin C, Cermak S, Evans EW, Scampini R, Maslin M, Must A.   Food Selectivity in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typically Developing Children. J Ped. 2010 April; Article in Press DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.02.013

2 Lewinsohn PM, Denoma JM, Gau JM, Joiner TE, Striegel-Moor R, Bear P, Lamoureux B. Problematic Eating and Feeding Behaviors of 36-Month Old Children. Int J Eat Disord. 2005 November; 38(3): 208-219.

3 Manikam R, Perman JA. Pediatric Feeding Disorders. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2000 Jan; 30(1): 34-46

5 replies
  1. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Abby, thank you for sharing this professional insight. I have 5 kids of my own and can tell you that one of them waas such a picky eater when he was very young and it was a telling sign that I knew I had to look into. He ended being quite a hypersensitive child in many ways, and the intolerance to many tastes and feels in his mouth was one of them. We have to listen and look at all of the “red flags” our kids give us from a very young age.

    Reply
  2. Raquel Bassuk
    Raquel Bassuk says:

    I agree with picky eating being a red flag. It is easiest to ignore these and wait “the baby will outgrow it”; however, the earlier we pay attention and intervene apppropriately, the better the chance for improvement and even cure with comprehensive therapeutic services. I have five children and have always practiced what I preach.

    Reply
    • Abby
      Abby says:

      Raquel,
      Thanks for posting! Yes, throughout my experience, when pediatricians tell parents to wait for the child to “outgrow” his/her picky eating, parents listen to this advice. The problem is that as a child develops, there are “windows of development” that are optimal times for a child to develop certain feeding skills. If those windows are missed, then the child will have a more difficult time learning these skills. You are exactly right when you say, “the earlier we pay attention and intervene appropriately, the better the chance for improvement!”

      Reply
  3. Chani (Ann) Richter
    Chani (Ann) Richter says:

    I have an 8 yr old son who is in the spectrum of autism but is ,thankfully, emerging. He never displayed resistance to normal healthy food. He does, however, love candy and would eat it all day if it were available. Nothing unusual.

    Reply
    • Abby
      Abby says:

      Ann,
      I’m so glad you shared your story. Thank you! You are right when you say it’s nothing unusual for your child to want to eat candy. Children do often have a preference for sweet tastes and candy will certainly meet that need! It sounds like you do a great job of offering your child a healthy diet. Do you have any suggestions for parents of children that might not like healthy foods as much as your child?

      Reply

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