Author(s): Alan Emond
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the feeding, diet and growth of young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). METHOD: Data on feeding and food frequency were collected by questionnaires completed at 6, 15, 24, 38 and 54 months by participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. A food variety score was created, and the content of the diet was calculated at 38 m. The feeding and dietary patterns of 79 children with ASD were compared with 12 901 controls.
RESULTS: The median ages of ASD children were 28 months at referral and 45 months at diagnosis. ASD infants showed late introduction of solids after 6 months (p = .004) and were described as “slow feeders” at 6 months (p = .04). From 15–54 months ASD children were consistently reported to be “difficult to feed” (p < .001) and “very choosy” (p < .001). From 15 months, the ASD group had a less varied diet than controls, were more likely to have different meals from their mother from 24 months, and by 54 months 8% of ASD children were taking a special diet for “allergy.” ASD children consumed less vegetables, salad and fresh fruit, but also less sweets and fizzy drinks. At 38 months intakes of energy, total fat, carbohydrate and protein were similar, but the ASD group consumed less vitamins C (p = .02) and D (p = .003). There were no differences in weight, height or BMI at 18 months and 7 years, or in hemoglobin concentrations at 7 years.
CONCLUSIONS: ASD children showed feeding symptoms from infancy and had a less varied diet from 15 months, but energy intake and growth were not impaired.