Autism is a developmental disorder that can vary in terms of severity and is predominantly characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication. These kids also depict repetitive patterns of behavior and thought. A spectrum of diseases of both physical and psychological is associated with autism, one of them being pediatric feeding disorder or PFDs

What are Pediatric feeding disorders? (PFDs)

According to Feeding Matters (which is a pediatric feeding disorder advocacy organization) PFD is an “impaired oral intake that is not age-appropriate and is associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skills and/or psychosocial dysfunctions.”

PFDs are not rare among children with autism and, medical problems related to these disorders could be ignored due to the implicit behavioral, communication and sensory challenges.  The prevalence rate of feeding issues in autistic children differs, with one study finding atypical eating habits and feeding difficulties in 70.4 percent of autistic children versus the 4.8 percent of normal children.

The medical component

Children with autism more prone to eating are more likely to develop feeding issues because of the medical component of PFD that involves compromised functional structure of the gastrointestinal, cardio-respiratory and neuro-developmental systems. Studies showed significant vitamin intake deficiencies arising from lower consumption of food or vegetables and demonstrated that children with autism had zinc, calcium, and fiber deficient diets. Deficiencies in macronutrients cause problems with attention, learning, motor skills and function and fiber deficiencies associated with constipation issues.

Sensory systems and the role they perform in feeding and discovering how to consume new food are important aspects of pediatric feeding deficits. Studies have shown that they have abnormalities in how they perceive and interpret stimuli that can influence their way of learning and consuming new foods and cause them to restrict their consumption of foods they recognize.

Another skill set required for feeding is postural stability, or the ability to retain an upright posture. Autistic children with difficulty in maintaining their posture often concentrate their motor skills on keeping themselves upright, rather than on movements needed for feeding, chewing and swallowing. This makes feeding more difficult.

How to help children with PFDs

Doctors should help families examine the behavior of the child and recognize patterns and symptoms which may point to a medical problem so that no medical difficulties are skipped or ignored Hence, it is important to recognize deficiencies and come up with a plan to increase nutrient intake, as well as their general appetite and eating desire. Because the child has not yet been diagnosed with autism parents do not make sufficient changes to the child’s ability deficiencies, like portion size, food types and how they interact with the child.

This leads to a discrepancy between both, the task’s demands and the skills of the child, and the child generally does not have the language abilities to convey this discrepancy because they are too young or have communication difficulties. Therefore, to express this imbalance, they use problematic actions such as throwing food and running away at mealtimes or throw a tantrum.

Children’s food choices also reflect their sensory-motor skills, so health care professionals and parents must track those preferences in order to determine their ability deficiencies and find strategies to remedy them.