Many children with autism are picky eaters, but “feeding problems” are a serious issue. A child may be extremely selective about what food he or she will eat, or refuse food altogether. The child may vomit or gag when food is presented. A variety of negative behaviors may have also developed around food and eating, such as major meltdowns whenever a parent is presenting the child with food. Feeding disorders typically involve extreme selectivity and sensory-related aversions to food tastes and/or textures. Sometimes they also involve difficulty with chewing and swallowing.
Feeding, eating and swallowing issues are often tricky and hard to categorize by both physicians and parents alike. A speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, or a developmental specialist can rule out a Feeding or Swallowing Disorder.
These are some general guidelines. Please consult with a professional.
A child that has a Feeding Disorder has difficulties with eating, sucking, chewing and swallowing different categories of food as well as different textures of food, resulting in the child’s refusal to eat and try new foods.
A child who has a Swallowing Disorder (Dysphagia) has difficulties with either moving and/or sensing their tongue, lips, jaw, or cheeks to swallow food, liquids, and pills accurately and safely from the mouth to the stomach while keeping their airway protected.
A child who is a Picky Eater, eats at least 30 foods but can be fussy about eating particular textures, food groups or trying new foods.
Children with autism can also have feeding issues that can be addressed by a BCBA. The aim is to reward and encourage positive behaviors, building up from small successes to bigger ones, while eliminating negative behaviors. For example, the first step is to get a child to tolerate having an empty spoon touched to their mouth. The child can learn new food patterns as they build on successes.