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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Picky Eating by Autistic Kids Won't Affect Growth

Study Shows No Impact on Nutrition and Development for Kids Who Are Choosy About Diet

No Effect on Nutritional Status continued...

"There are many ways of making up an adequate diet, and although nutritionists usually advise 'plenty of variety' in foods eaten, a less varied diet can be adequate," Emmett says.

"If the behaviors are very extreme in a minority of ASD children there could be a chance of nutritional inadequacy, but our study is saying that this is not the case for the majority," she says. "Parents who are worried about this should see their family doctor or ask to see a trained registered dietitian."

Daniel Coury, MD, chief of developmental behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the medical director of the Autism Treatment Network, says that the findings are reassuring for many parents. "If parents are concerned about nutritional intake among their children with autism because they eat a selective diet, it looks like most are getting adequate nutrition," he says.

The Autism Treatment Network is a network of 14 centers across the U.S. and Canada focused on developing standards of care for treating children with autism spectrum disorder.

"There has been concern that food preferences reflect parents' food preferences [meaning] if mama doesn't liked broccoli, she won't serve broccoli, and this study suggests that intrinsic food selectivity in children on the spectrum is probably related to the spectrum, not their parents' eating habits," he says.

This too should help vindicate parents who may blame themselves for their children's food or feeding issues, Coury says.

Picky Eating Is Not a Red Flag

None of this should suggest that finicky eating is a sign of autism, he stresses.

"If you have a picky eater or a child that is difficult to feed, this does not mean that they have autism or even are at increased risk," Coury tells WebMD. "The children in this study were more likely to have feeding issues, but if a parent of a 4-month-old or an 8-month-old is trying to get their toddler to eat baby food and their baby is refusing, I would not worry."

Autism is more of a big-picture diagnosis, he says.

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