Autism spectrum disorder feeding problems
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by difficulties with communication, interaction and social imagination. ASD can also affect a child's eating, drinking and swallowing.
Our speech and language therapists can not only work with children with ASD to increase their communication skills but can provide input to help their eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties.
What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a child’s day to day functioning. It affects the way a child interacts and interprets the world. There are two main areas children with autism have difficulties with, they are:
- Social communication and social interaction
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities
This can affect children's speech, language and communication and it can also affect some children's eating, drinking and swallowing.
Read more about Autism spectrum disorder
What causes feeding problems in autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
The cause of autism spectrum disorder is still unknown, there is research to suggest that there are genetic, physical, psychological and neurological factors that affect brain development. However, feeding problems that are caused by ASD can be due to many of the characteristics of autism.
A lot of the feeding problems can be seen as behavioural, as they closely link to the repetitive and restrictive characteristic seen in autism. Sensory sensitivity, common in autism, may also cause feeding problems. Other physical disabilities or developmental delays that may exist alongside ASD may cause feeding problems.
What feeding problems caused by ASD can speech and language therapy help with?
Children with ASD may experience many problems with eating, drinking and swallowing that speech and language therapy can help with including:
- Recognising internal feeling surrounding eating e.g. feeling full or hungry.
- Difficulties with oro-motor movements for eating, drinking and swallowing.
- Anxiety and stress surrounding mealtimes.
- Aspiration and dysphagia (unsafe or ineffective swallow).
- Eating environment.
- Lack of communication during eating and drinking.
- Supporting independence with eating and drinking.
- Helping the child to eat and drink safely.
How can SLT for Kids help a child with ASD feeding problems?
Speech and language therapy has several benefits for a child with ASD and feeding difficulties and their family, including:
- Reducing stress and anxiety during feeding.
- Identifying sensory needs.
- Allowing child more opportunity and ways to communicate during feeding.
- Helping the child understand social rules around meal times.
- Help child identify their own feelings.
- Improving oral motor movements.
- Preventing aspiration (intake of food into lungs) due to unsafe and ineffective swallow.
- Identifying environmental issues and changing these.
- Helping families to make mealtimes fun.
What would treatment for a child with ASD feeding problems involve?
Speech and language therapists use various treatment and assessments to treat a child with feeding problems caused by ASD including:
- Assessment of child's abilities, preferences, skills and their environment.
- Identifying sensory preferences and providing advice to parents and carers.
- Therapy activities surrounding communication during mealtimes may involve:
- Helping the child to identify and express their internal states (feeling of hunger or being full).
- Effective communication of what they want and need (including likes and dislikes).
- Understanding the social rules of meal times through social stories.
- Oral motor strengthening exercises.
- Providing structured timetables and social stories to reduce anxiety over feeding.
- Implementing visual support for the child and their family.
- Providing family with advice and strategies to use during feeding.
- Referring to another professional if required.
- Techniques and support to family and carers to ensure safe eating and drinking.
- Helping the child to be an independent eater.
- Supporting the child with their positioning for eating and drinking.
Our speech and language therapists can also provide input for the child wherever they will usually have their meals to support family with making the environment mealtime friendly.
How do I arrange an assessment for my child with feeding problems caused by ASD?
To arrange a speech and language therapy assessment for autism spectrum disorder feeding problems with one our speech and language therapists please call 0330 088 2298.
ASD is a lifelong disorder that affects an individual’s behaviours and ability to communicate, this can affect a child’s eating habits and preferences. Feeding problems in ASD can be caused by behavioural aspects of the condition or sensory sensitivities. Speech and language therapy can help children with ASD to manage or improve their eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties.
If your child has autism spectrum disorder that has caused feeding problems and you think they would benefit from seeing one of our specialist paediatric speech and language therapists, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0330 088 2298.