Food Issues and Families Living with Autism

There are few things more stressful than a child who has food issues. These issues are as variable as our autism spectrum, but most families living on the spectrum struggle with meal times in some way. It might be an ongoing battle to expand your child’s food choices. Or perhaps the issue is helping her stay calm and focused at mealtime, because behaviors can also lead to poor eating.

Regardless of the specifics, many parents live with a constant concern about their child’s eating habits (or lack thereof). Those concerns are being officially recognized by a meta analysis of all published, peer-reviewed research relating to feeding problems and autism, done by researchers at Marcus Autism Center and the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. About time, right?

They found that children with autism are five times more likely to have feeding problems, including severe food selectivity, tantrums during meals and ritualistic mealtime behaviors.

The result of those eating issues lead to a significantly lower intake of calcium, protein and other nutrients which can lead to malnutrition, slow growth, social deficits and poor academic performance. It puts kids with autism at risk for long term complications including poor bone growth, obesity, cardiovascular disease or other diet-related diseases in adolescence and adulthood.

One concern of the researchers is that kids with autism who are on alternative diets are not getting adequate nutrition. The researchers highlighted the fact that elimination diets may exacerbate some of the nutritional deficiencies (such as calcium) our children may already face.

Even with the possibility of serious medical issues, as well as the concern of many parents about their child’s eating habits, eating issues are not often addressed by research in the autism community. This study is significant in that it shines a light on a problem all too many families deal with daily. The researchers hope that by providing this analysis on nutrition and feeding issues health care providers will respond by providing more and better guidance to families.

Another possible positive result of this analysis could be a greater focus on research concerning eating and nutrition in the autism community. The Marcus Autism Center is now using these findings to expand the research program for children with autism and feeding disorders seen through its Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program. And I, as a parent, look forward to learning what this new focus will teach us.

Need help with eating issues? Read our “Growing a Foodie” series.

Author: Margaret

Margaret loves to read and take long walks. She parents a child with autism and is dedicated to sharing what she's learned with other parents.

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