Can Little Kid’s Food Habits Signal Autism?

Autism: – Autism is a serious developmental disorder that refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. It impacts the nervous system and thus, affects cognitive, emotional, social, and physical health. Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD. Range and severity of symptoms vary widely, thus, it can be a minor problem or disability that requires full-time care in a special facility.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, today’s one in 54 children in the United States affected by autism. Usually, autism appears by the age of 2 or 3, but, some associated development delays can appear even earlier and can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.[1,2]

In this document, Section-1 will discuss the factors, types, and symptoms related to autism spectrum disorder. Section-2 will emphasize the unusual eating habits of children that May Be Early Sign of Autism. Section-3 will discuss strategies that can be used at home as a treatment for autism.

Section-1: Factors like genetics, environmental influences, or even a combination of both can cause Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Development of autism spectrum disorder can also be influenced by several other factors such as:

  • Sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal disorders (GI), seizures, or sleep disorders.
  • Mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and attention issues.[2]

Section-1.1: Types of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Asperger’s syndrome, Autistic disorder, Childhood disintegrative disorder, and Pervasive development disorder (Atypical autism) are different types that fall under the category of Autism spectrum disorder.[2]

Section-1.2: Common Symptoms of Autism:

  • Lack of eye contact.
  • A narrow range of interests or intense interest in certain topics.
  • Not listening to other people.
  • Highly sensitive to sounds, touches, smells, or sights which is ordinary to other people.
  • Doing things on a repetitive basis.
  • Facing trouble to adapt to changes in routine.
  • Delay in spoken language.[2]

Section-2: Unusual Eating Habits of Childs that May Be Early Sign of Autism: –

Section-2.1: Various research suggests that unusual eating behaviors in young as one- or two-year-old Childs may be an early sign of autism. According to researchers of Penn State University, unusual eating behaviors are five times more common in kids with autism as compared to other disorders like ADHD and learning disabilities and 15 times more common than in “typical kids”.

According to a study on 2000 children (the average age was 7), 70 percent of kids with autism have unusual eating behavior as compared to 13 percent with other disorders and 5 percent of typical kids. The most common atypical eating behavior is limited to food preferences (88%).[3,4]

Section-2.1: Unusual Eating Behaviors In Kids With Autism Include: –

Hypersensitivity to food textures: – Kids which are to be more sensitive to foods with smooth and creamy textures like pudding, foods that need a lot of chewing, and food that have lumps are signs of autism. Hypersensitivity to food textures is common among 46% of children with autism. [5,6,7,8]

Severely limited variety: Children with autism are resistant to trying new foods (sometimes referred to as food neophobia), and a vast majority of children have a very limited number of foods they would eat. They gravitate toward bland and neutral-colored foods. Most commonly liked foods by children with autism are grain foods like macaroni, pancakes, pizza, PBJ, and chicken. Children with autism desire to maintain sameness in food and dislike changes. Children with autism rarely limited their diets to vegetables, potatoes, meats, eggs, fish, or cheese because of a severely limited variety of food preferences. An exception like a child who ate raw lemons and another who ate pepper by the spoonful was also reported in some children with autism.[5,6,7,8]

Rigid brand preferences: Children which only accept one specific brand of food such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or McDonald’s French fries are also signed of autism. Rigid brand preferences are common in 27% of children with autism.[5,6,7,8]

Pica: Eating items that are not food, such as crayons, soap, and Play-Doh is common in kids with autism. Pica is common in 12% of children with autism. Pica is only exhibited in children with autism.[5,6,7,8]

Regimented mealtime rituals: – Smelling food before eating it and demands that the food should be presented in a certain way like served on a specific plate or with foods not touching each other. Other unusual atypical behaviors include eating food only if served in a particular way, such as eating a banana only if it is peeled after given to the child.[5,6,7,8]

Underdeveloped oral-motor musculature: – Kids with autism may lack the muscle development that it takes to chew foods like steak or hamburger because of their strong preferences to almost exclusively eating soft foods.[5,6,7,8]

Section-3: Strategies To Try At Home As A Treatment For Autism: –

As such, there is not any known cure for autism, but there are a small number of people who have been diagnosed and then later moved off the spectrum. Various strategies can be used as therapy at home for treatments options include: –

  • At every meal and snack time, offer a protein, vegetable or fruit, and starch along with a small number of her favorite chips.
  • Make food fun.
  • Review the mealtime routines.
  • Don’t wait for hunger pangs.
  • Offer a meal or snack every 2.5 hours.
  • Introduce a visual schedule.
  • Try some movement before meals.
  • Take the mood out of the food.
  • Try serving food family style.
  • Offer the same food to the child as the rest of the family is eating, even if you think she’ll refuse it.[9]

Conclusion:

Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impacts the nervous system and thus, affects cognitive, emotional, social, and physical health. Autism mainly occurs in one or two years of age and unusual eating behaviors are an early sign of autism. Unusual eating behaviors are five times more common in children with autism as compared to other disorders like ADHD and learning disabilities. Unusual eating behaviors that are the early signs of autism include hypersensitivity to food textures, severely limited variety, rigid brand preferences, pica and regimented mealtime rituals, etc. As such, there is not any cure for autism but it can be treated using some strategies at home like make food fun, introduce a visual schedule.

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