Is my child’s feeding or food challenges a part of his AUTISM?

Is my child’s feeding or food challenges a part of his AUTISM?

In order for us to answer the question: “Is my child’s feeding or food challenges a part of his autism?” we have to understand the individual child.  Feeding challenges do not form part of the diagnostic criteria of autism but most children with autism spectrum disorder face challenges relating to feeding or eating.

Whilst the specific feeding challenges that autistic children have can vary from child to child, some of the most common challenges observed include:

  1. Selectivity of food intake – most children with autism exhibit highly restrictive or selective eating patterns. These patterns can be related to the textures of the foods, the taste of the food, or even the shape or colour of the food items.
  2. Sensory sensitivities – sensory integration challenge mostly goes hand in hand with autism and these SI challenges can be clearly seen during meal times. Often children with autism have hypersensitive or hyposensitive behaviours towards foods and/or textures meaning that they either have an aversion to certain textures, tastes, or colours of they eat anything and everything and can’t seem to stop eating.
  3. Oral motor difficulties – children that seem to store food in their cheeks, or struggle to chew and swallow food have difficulty with their oral motor function. Weak or uncoordinated oral muscles may lead to challenges in handling different textures resulting in challenges with biting, chewing, and/or swallowing food.
  4. Repetitive or a ritualistic pattern of behaviour for the autistic child means predictability and routine. It is another reason why so many autists exhibit rigid eating patterns.  These types so ritualistic patterns could mean refusal to eat unless they sit in a particular chair have a specific plate, or even the type and placement of utensils.  Any disruption in the child’s ritual can cause them distress and resistance towards eating.

Other elements that can cause feeding challenges in autism include transition challenges.  Children with autism struggle with change in general and a change in the child’s environment or a change in the food type or texture can also trigger resistance to the meal or a new type of food.

We recommend feeding therapy to help young children overcome some, if not all these feeding or eating challenges.  In the event that the child does have a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder, we recommend that you consult with an experienced and reputable autism school, autism early intervention specialist, and/or autism speech therapist (also known as a speech-language pathologist or speech-language therapist) in your area of residence.

The one thing that is important to remember is that feeding challenges will not resolve by themselves.  They need intervention and the earlier you get help for your child the better the long-term prognosis.


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.