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Understanding and Approaching Feeding Disorders in Children with Autism

A pediatric feeding disorder (PFD) is defined as “impaired oral intake that is not age-appropriate, and is associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skill, and/or psychosocial dysfunction.” At the International Pediatric Feeding Disorder Conference, PFD’s were discussed for their occurrence in children with autism and how it can mask medical issues associated with these disorders due to underlying behavioral, communication, and sensory challenges. Compared to the 4.8% likelihood of PFD’s in typical children, autistic children had an alarming rate of 70.4%. Below are the different ways in which PFD’s are effected in autistic children and ways to manage them. 

Medical Aspect: 

Includes any impaired structural function of the GI, cardiorespiratory, and neurodevelopmental systems 

Solution: Physicians should help families observe the child’s behavior and identify patterns and symptoms that could point to a medical issue 

Nutritional Issues: 

Includes malnutrition, overnutrition, micronutrient deficiency or toxicity, and dehydration. 

Solution: Identify deficiencies early on and develop a plan to improve nutrition and intake, as well as the child’s overall appetite and interest in eating 

Psychosocial Domain: 

Includes psychosocial disorders, developmental, social and environmental factors, and mental and behavioral issues in children and their caretakers 

Solution: Parents must make modifications for portion size, types of foods, and how to engage with the child, and not just write off their child’s behavior as part of the spectrum. If there is a concern for autism, early on, they should review that with their physician. 

Understanding and approaching feeding disorders in children with autism 

Feeding Skill Deficit 

Includes impairments in oral and pharyngeal sensory-motor functioning and altered oral experiences such as injury, neurological deficit, and limited feeding experience 

Solution: Parents can assist with the feeding of the child and take advice from the physician in order to decrease the stress of apraxia or weakness 

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