Feeding Disorders May Lead to Nutritional Deficiencies for Children with Autism

In yesterday’s article, we looked at the connection between digestive disorders and autism. Today we follow up with a discussion of the feeding disorders that frequently occur in children with autism can lead to nutritional concerns. A recent meta-analysis and literature review regarding this subject was conducted by the Marcus Autism Center and the Department of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The review looked at 17 studies that compared feeding problems and nutrition in children with autism to children without autism. The results of the studies reviewed were statistically analyzed, and this analysis found that children with autism experienced significantly more feeding problems than children without autism.

When nutritional intake was analyzed, it was found that children with autism had a significantly lower intake of calcium and protein than children without autism. The researchers feel this study emphasizes the importance of greater focus on nutritional issues for children with autism, as well as the need to assess eating concerns during routine check-ups.

The literature on nutritional factors for autism has also been reviewed by James B. Adams, PhD, Director of the Autism/Asperger’s Research Program at Arizona State University. In his publication Summary of Dietary, Nutritional and Medical Treatments for Autism, Dr. Adams reviewed the scientific literature and included the results of over 150 research studies into a review that recommends evidence-based treatments for autism. The publication lists the treatments in the order that they would typically be prescribed, and the first treatment on the list is to improve a child’s diet.

The summary of the research on diet concludes that most children in the United States do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, leading to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. This publication recommends 3-4 servings of vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruit per day, as well as 1-2 servings of protein. It also recommends reducing or avoiding added sugar, junk food, fried foods, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and preservatives. Organic foods are recommended as they contain a lower level of pesticides.

The Autism Society reports that nutritional deficiencies are common in children with autism. Many children with autism have sensory issues that cause them to avoid certain foods because they are sensitive to the smell, texture, and taste of those foods. The society recommends boosting the quality and digestibility of foods. Ways to do this include increasing the amount of nutrient rich foods, such as vegetables, in a child’s diet. Vegetables can be disguised by pureeing them and adding them to foods that the child likes, such as meatballs, pancakes, muffins, and other similar foods. Juicing vegetables and fruits and including them in popsicles or smoothies is another way to help children with autism eat these foods.

The society also recommends adding supplements to a child’s diet to make up for nutrients lost due to food disorders. Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, probiotics, and enzymes that aid with digestion are all helpful. If a child’s intake of dairy products is reduced, it is important to supplement their calcium intake as well.