Young children exhibit feeding disorders when they are unable or refuse to maintain an adequate oral intake of food. Sources estimate that as many as 70% percent of children with ASD experience some type of feeding difficulties during infancy or early childhood; with as many as 36% classifying the problems as severe (Romero 2016). Children who develop feeding disorders are at risk for weight loss, malnutrition, lethargic behaviors, impaired intellectual and social-emotional development, and growth retardation.
At the Knapp Center, we utilize ABA strategies (behavioral techniques) to address the following feeding problems:
- Need for sameness with dietary choices
- Heightened sensory awareness with dietary texture and flavor choices
- Limited food preferences
- Working through refusal behaviors of new foods
Our feeding programs are embedded into our daily schedule, whereas children may have 1-2 feeding sessions per day where they are exposed to different foods. We utilize research-based techniques for increasing food repertoires, such as pairing food, systematic desensitization to the new food, modeling, visual supports and functional reinforcement. For some children who are significantly underweight, we may present food options much more frequently throughout the day with the goal first being to increase weight and nutrition, and then increase expanding food repertoires.