The Nutritional Problem Among People With Autism

Obese woman squeezing her belly fat


In people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, nutritional problems are common, 46 to 89% would suffer from it. This includes people who eat and drink healthy stuff like tea such as Tea Burn (check out Tea burn review for more info about this). How the problem occurs in concrete terms became clear during the symposium “Autism & Difficult eaters” that took place in Antwerp on 14 March.

At least 5 times more risk of autism

How many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) suffer from nutritional problems depends on various factors, including the age category. According to various research, the percentage is between 46 and 89%, as Dr. Petra Warreyn (UGent) indicated during the symposium. It has been found that the risk of nutritional problems is at least 5 times higher in people with ASD.

Selective eating behavior is the most common problem (70% of the nutritional problems in ASD), based on the type of food, the texture, the taste, the color… Other common problems include:

  • Rumination or hoarding (18%), PICA (15%)
  • Problems with oral motor skills (15%)
  • Problems around the eating situation: time and place, presentation and crockery… (40%)

The number of feeding problems in people with ASD is therefore noticeably higher, yet Marleen D’hondt (speech therapist, UZGent) indicated that only 3% of this group develops worrying nutritional problems.


ALSO READ: What Is Autism


A complex event for every child

Marleen D’hondt also elaborated on the processing of stimuli during the eating event. Eating and drinking are complex processes for every child. In addition to the physiological need to eat and drink, from an early age, it is also a moment to:

  • learn about attitudes and behaviors
  • develop skills (e.g. oral motor skills)
  • be together and improve communication
  • discover the sensory sensations

For children with ASD, this situation can be even more difficult, because there are just as many stimuli.

In the various presentations, examples have been discussed that show that the nutritional problems in autism can indeed express themselves in different ways. People with ASD sometimes eat too little or too much, are sensitive to the smell, color, or texture, forget to eat and drink or have just no break, only eat a limited number of different foods, only want to eat if they have certain tableware or if someone knows is sitting next to them …

Search for the cause

These nutritional problems mainly have a major impact on the family and can lead to stress and frustrations. The problem can be addressed by analyzing it first (where does it come from? What underlying psychological or physiological aspect lies behind it (sensory integration problem, gastrointestinal problem, problems with executive functions…)? In this way, it is best to look for a solution.

Observing and analyzing this is also essential for Pats Boeykes (speech therapist, ZNA UKJA Antwerp). Because every child is different, the situation must be studied separately. An individual approach works best.

“Set the bar low,” Ingrid De Ceuster (dietitian) said during the symposium. “Set long-term goals with small and achievable intermediate steps,” she continued. To guide the difficult eater, the following things are important:

  • focus on and confirm what does work,
  • individual approach tailored to the patient,
  • work in consultation with the difficult eater,
  • moving away from the fixed values and norms,
  • looking for individual needs,
  • regularly adjust expectations…