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Keywords:

  • autism spectrum disorders;
  • caregiver feeding practices;
  • eating behavior;
  • obesity

Abstract

Objective

This pilot study compared children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and typically developing children (TDC) on weight-related outcomes and caregiver-reported child eating behaviors and feeding practices.

Design and Sample

Cross-sectional study. Caregivers of 25 children with ASD and 30 TDC, ages 4–6.

Methods

Caregivers completed validated questionnaires that assessed child eating behaviors and feeding practices. Children's height, weight, and waist circumference were measured.

Results

Children with ASD, when compared to TDC, showed significantly greater abdominal waist circumferences (p = .01) and waist-to-height ratios (p < .001). Children with ASD with atypical oral sensory sensitivity exhibited greater food avoidance behaviors, including reluctance to eat novel foods (p = .004), being selective about the range of foods they accept (p = .03), and undereating due to negative emotions (p = .02), than children with ASD with typical oral sensory sensitivity. Caregivers of children with ASD with atypical oral sensory sensitivity reported using food to regulate negative child emotions to a greater extent than caregivers of children with typical oral sensory sensitivity (p = .02).

Discussion

Children with ASD, especially those with atypical oral sensory sensitivity, are at increased risk for food avoidance behaviors and may require additional support in several feeding domains.