Feeding or swallowing disorders in children with an autism spectrum disorder

As parents we rarely think of the steps involved in eating because it is a process that babies learn from birth. Eating or feeding and how your child does it, is very important as many children have feeding and swallowing disorders that require medical intervention.

As children grow and gets older, the type of food they eat will change – from milk to solids. Children may push food back or they might even gag when they are served new textures. Children may also have favourite foods and they could prefer certain tastes or textures.

Having a child with an autism spectrum disorder makes parenting even more challenging when it comes to feeding. More often than not, feeding or food sensitivities or challenges are directly associated with the child’s Autism.

Truth of the matter is that there are some autism challenges that cause feeding-challenges, such as sensory processing disorder. Repetitive or restrictive behaviours patterns can also lead to food preferences but not all feeding challenges are related to your child’s ASD.

The quicker a feeding or swallowing disorder is identified the better. So let’s look at a few tell-tale signs that a parent or teacher should know about:

  • A small child that chokes when eating
  • A child that coughs during mealtimes
  • A child that is not gaining weight appropriately or a noticeable fluctuation in weight (both up and down)
  • A child that is losing weight
  • Toddlers or young children that appear very lethargic
  • Young children that refuse liquids or food on a continued basis
  • Excessive tiredness or fatigue

Paediatric feeding disorders are common and research shows that it can affect up to 1 in every 4 children. This statistic is much higher when dealing with a child on the autism spectrum. 8 out of every 10 children with developmental delays are known to have a feeding disorder.

If your family mealtimes are super challenging and if you suspect that your child may be struggling with chewing, feeding, swallowing or anything else, seek help from a medical professional.

Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.