Eating Disorders In Autistic Children

Eating disorders are relatively common in autistic children. It is important to deal with them early to avoid any malnutrition and complications.
Eating disorders in autistic children

Eating disorders in autistic children are common. They can have many causes, although they are generally secondary to the characteristic changes of this disorder. They often have varying degrees of intensity.

Keep in mind that autism spectrum disorders are a group of disorders of the central nervous system that affect brain function. Its occurrence is usually in childhood, and problems in neural function lead to problems in areas of social interaction and communication skills.

Factors associated with eating disorders in autistic children

Eating is often affected in autistic children. Its causes are as follows:

  • Changes in sensory perception, resulting in hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to certain textures, tastes, smells or colors.
  • Limited interest.
  • Repetitive behavior.
  • Lack of ability to integrate sensory perceptions completely.

Autism can thus affect a child’s diet in different ways. Read on to find out what the primary eating disorders are in children with this disorder.

Primary eating disorders in autistic children

Boy looking at salad

Eating is one of the most affected aspects in children with autism, although children are generally susceptible to eating disorders.

Limited diet

Due to the limited selection of foods and the strong aversion that some of them may evoke, the diet of children with autism may be limited. They can reject certain foods, an entire food group, foods with a certain color or texture and so on.

They also tend to have a preference for a type of cooking or serving. Generally and without it being the norm, autistic children tend to prefer red, yellow and orange foods and they usually reject grainy and viscous textures.

2. Not eating enough

Children with autism have trouble focusing on a single task for a long time. It is therefore difficult for them to stay seated at the table during an entire meal.

When added to the limited range of foods that we mentioned above,  their diet ends up being inadequate when it comes to energy and nutrition.

In addition, there may be problems in establishing power roles and acceptance of imposed boundaries. It is thus the children who take full control of their eating, as they choose what they want to eat, what they do not want to eat and in what quantities.

Disgust at food caused by negative classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is the presence of the response to stimuli, which takes place as a result of an experience. As a result, it is common for autistic children to feel disgust at or reject certain types of food if their previous experience with it was negative.

Negative experiences can be:

  • Stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
  • Discomfort caused by anger or difficulty eating.

In addition, their negative memory can be transferred to similar foods, and this reduces the variety of foods that they are willing to eat.

Woman feeds little boy

A traumatic experience when trying certain foods for the first time can lead to permanent rejection of them.

4. Problems related to medicine

Some of the drugs used to treat autism spectrum disorders have an impact on children’s diets. They  can cause a reduction or increase in their appetite and can prevent the absorption of some vitamins and minerals.

This is why it is important to know the side effects of the treatments and discuss them with the professionals who work with the autistic child.

Frequent stomach discomfort

Autistic children often have some symptoms related to the digestive system and food. These include:

  • Stomach pain.
  • Heartburn.
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation.
  • Acid reflux.
  • Air in the stomach.
  • Vomiting.

In any case, one should realize that the occurrence of these symptoms is not caused by autism but by the eating disorders that come from it.

Limited intake of some fruits and vegetables can lead to a diet that is low in fiber. The child is thus more likely to develop problems with constipation. They will also end up with problems chewing and a deficiency of certain nutrients which leads to indigestion and flatulence.

However, you need to pay extra attention to the frequency and intensity of these symptoms. You should  evaluate the possible occurrence of an allergy or food intolerance, for these are very common in childhood.

Child tends to stomach due to pain caused by eating disorders in autistic children

Digestive problems are common in children with autism and can lead to eating disorders.

Intervention in eating disorders in autistic children

You should act immediately when you are faced with an eating disorder in a child, especially if they have autism. You may not consider it a priority, but  lack of nutrition in childhood often leads to malnutrition.

It is a problem for a child’s proper development and growth. A meta-analysis of scientific studies found that the diet of autistic children contains less protein and calcium than that of “normal” children.

Thus, one has to deal with problems associated with eating that a child may have in order to find the appropriate solution for them. In addition, specialists emphasize the need for a diet tailored to each child (adapted to their preferences) and to maintain control over their nutritional status.

Only in this way can they improve their diet and prevent any future problems related to poor diet.

Eating disorders in children with autism require attention

Lastly, it is essential to deal with eating disorders in autistic children early on in order to avoid complications during their development. Any eating disorder is therefore a reason to talk to a pediatrician, nutritionist or other health professionals.

Thanks for reading.

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