Unusual eating behaviors may be sign of autism in children, study finds

Credit: File photo via Pixabay.com

Credit: File photo via Pixabay.com

How a child eats may indicate signs of autism spectrum disorder, according to new research from the Penn State College of Medicine.

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The study, recently published in the journal Research Autism Spectrum Disorders, is based on data from 2,102 children, 1,462 of whom have been diagnosed with autism. Researchers sought to examine how eating behaviors differ between children with and without autism using standardized parent interviews conducted by licensed psychologists.

According to the study, 70.4% of children with autism had atypical eating behaviors, such as limited food preferences, hypersensitivity to food textures or pocketing food without swallowing. About 13% of children without autism but with some other kind of disorder (ADHD, language disorder) reported similar behaviors. But only 4.8% of children considered “neurotypical” (without a disorder) had unusual eating behaviors.

That means atypical eating behaviors are 15 times more common in children with autism compared to neurotypical children.

“This study provided further evidence that these unusual feeding behaviors are the rule and not the exception for children with autism,” Penn State Children’s Hospital Keith Williams said in a statement.

Penn State psychiatry professor and lead researcher Susan Mayes noted such behaviors are common in 1-year-olds with autism and urges parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician about an autism screening.

Ultimately, the earlier autism is diagnosed, the sooner the family can consider beginning a treatment plan with a behavior analyst, she added. Research shows early treatment during preschool years can help children on the spectrum better understand necessary life skills.

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children in the United States has autism. While more people than ever before are being diagnosed with ASD, "it is unclear how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis," the CDC notes.

There is no known cure for autism, but steady treatment is known to be helpful.

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