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Autism and Eating Disorders -- Is
There a Hidden Connection?
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November 10, 2010, last updated May 5, 2013

By Sophie Reed, Contributing Columnist and Susan Callahan,
Health Editor




Autism is not just a single condition.  The term "autism"
actually covers a range of developmental disorders that
usually start to appear before age 3.  Asperger's syndrome,
pervasive development disorder and autism spectrum
disorder are all terms used to describe "autism".

How many people have autism?The number of children who
suffer from autism is subject to debate. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention report  that 1 in 150 children
in the United States will develop autism or an autism
spectrum disorder by the age of eight.  However, a 5-year
study led by Dr. Young Shin-Kim of the Yale Child Study
Center, estimates that as many as 1 in 38 children (2.64%)
worldwide may suffer from autism.  One puzzling feature of
autism that has been reported by many parents is the
seemingly common appearance of eating problems in
children who are later diagnosed as autistic.  Parents report
that these children are slow eaters, fussy eaters or
picky
eaters.  But when is an early eating disorder just a normal
phase in development and when does it point to something
serious? Is there a connection between autism and eating
disorders?


Fussy Eating Is Common Among Children

Show me a child under the age of 10, and chances are, I'll
be able to show you an occasionally picky eater. There's a
reason that chain restaurants and mom-and-pop joints offer
kid's menus, schools have "pizza day" once a week, and
Lunchables fly off the shelves come September. Finding
something, anything, for many youngsters to eat can be
incredibly frustrating for parents. Even those who try to
focus on the organic and nutritious sometimes throw up
their hands and opt for a peanut butter and jelly (with the
crust cut off) instead. (Read more about
causes and
remedies for picky-eating.)


It is important to know that, sometimes, picky eating can
mean something more. When dealing with healthier children,
nutritionists have plenty of tips for how to address picky
eating. Mayo Clinic experts recommend working around a
child's maturation and inclination towards trying new food.
This might mean cutting new food items into more exciting
shapes, switching breakfast for dinner (but still adhering to
a regular food schedule), or leading by example with one's
own diet. But sometimes, being a picky eater isn't the core
problem; it's actually the symptom of something more
troublesome.


The Connection Between Autism and Eating Disorders

1. Anorexia and Autism May Be the Same Disorder.

Scientists have long wondered why anorexia and females
with autism share certain brain chemical markers. Now, a
2010 study from the Primal Health Research Centre in
London has suggested that anorexia may in fact be a female
aspect of autism.  

The researchers examined data and discovered that both
anorexics and females with autism have impaired abilities to
process a chemical compound called "oxytocin". As a result,
autistics and anorexics have low blood concentrations of
oxytocin, compared to normal children.  

Other data revealed that both autistic females and females
with anorexia nervosa have strikingly asymetric functions
with similar left brain preponderance.

The accumulation of brain chemical similarities lead the
researchers to conclude that " anorexia nervosa might be
considered a female variant of the autistic spectrum. A
plausible interpretation is that prenatal exposure to male
hormones might protect against the expression of this
disease: girls who have a twin brother are at low risk for
anorexia nervosa, compared with girls who have a twin
sister, and with controls".


2.
Picky Eating has Been Linked to Autism.




























While some studies have disputed whether or not there is a
link between picky eating or eating disorders and autism, a
wealth of recent academic information points to a legitimate
connection. Between 1991 and 1992, researchers at the
University of Bristol examined the eating habits of 13,000
youngsters between the ages of six months and four years
of age. Parents were given extensive questionnaires to fill
out, which allowed for researchers to see patterns in food
preference and eating habits before the subjects were even
old enough to speak.

Sure enough, the study managed to show early patterns of
particularly fussy eating in those children who were later
diagnosed with autism. That fact is important, because
parents were not on the lookout for picky eating as it related
to the diagnosis yet. Experts consider two years old, or
around the time a child begins to speak, the point at which a
diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is usually considered
feasible.

The Boy Who Would Only Eat Yellow

if you are a parent of a child with eating difficulties, this
story might sound familiar.  In 2008, a study led by Dr.
Kimberly Schreck of Penn State University tried to answer
the question, once and for all, whether children with autism
had different eating behaviors when compared with
non-autistic children.

The researchers noted that, in their clinical practices, they
had encountered children with particularly unusual eating
choices. One such boy would only eat food that was yellow.
He would only eat McDonald's French fries or chicken
nuggets. Another child would only eat food when it was
placed on his Thomas the Tank plate, and then only when he
sat at his picnic table.

After looking at dozens of these cases and sifting out the
children who later developed autism, the researchers
reached this conclusion. Yes, all children can exhibit picky
eating behaviors. But, among children who later develop
autism, you will see significantly more examples of picky
eating and the range of food they will eat will be
"significantly narrower" than those of non-autistic children.

What Can You Do to Expand the Eating Choices of an Autistic
Child?

For parents of autistic children who are already feeling the
strain of working around particular food preferences,
whether it be color or texture related, the news that autism
might play a part in how one eats is nothing new. But while
older studies like one conducted by Dr. Linda Bandini from
the EK Shriver Center at the University of Massachusetts
Medical School said that limited food sources might result in
trouble, those researchers at the University of Bristol drew a
far more uplifting conclusion from their data.

The incredibly encouraging news from the University of
Bristol study shows that even if the youngster in question is
only willing to eat seriously limited food choices, the proper
amount of nutrients and energy are still being consumed.
This means that picky eaters with autism grow at the same
rate as their classmates, are not more inclined to experience
nutrition-based trouble like anemia, and are receiving the
proper nutrients to feel good otherwise. For any parents
who have already been through every possible trick, from
airplane noises to lax rules on dining times, this is great
news and one less problem to worry about.

While it's helpful to know that autistic picky eaters aren't
lacking nutrients, it's still worthwhile for parents to take
proactive steps designed to improve the quality of food
being consumed, especially in formative years when one's
body is learning how to process nutrients and developing
favorite flavors. One simple way of improving eating habits is
sticking to a schedule, meaning that meals happen at the
same time every single day, without excess snacking in
between.

For integration of new food items, be aware that baby steps
are necessary. Begin with favorite food items and new food
items being consumed by other members of the family,
stressing the point that the particular new item is delicious
without forcing it onto a child's plate. At the next meal, place
the item onto the child's plate, but don't insist on him or her
eating it--it's just about getting used to something with a
new smell or texture being close to trusted food items.
Eventually, the same steadfast approach to introducing
something unfamiliar can lead to the child touching the food
item for the first time, picking it up, feeling its texture, and
eventually trying a small bite.

This might seem like a particularly arduous process, but the
fact is that if it manages to end in success even 50 percent of
the time, it's a huge improvement and a major step forward
for any autistic child. Of course, it's also incredibly important
for parents to use positive reinforcement, and to not make
mealtimes additionally stressful. A relaxed environment for
trying new things generally results in more success and less
trouble with fussy eating or eating disorders later in life. And
that same relaxation ends up applying to parents, too,
meaning more energy to tackle other autism-related
problems.


Related:
Foods That Fight the Onset of Schizophrenia
Child Constipation -Causes and Cures
/How to Eat Healthy/ Foods to Fight Depression / Salmon
Health Benefits/ Fish Oil /Top 10 Foods That Fight Anemia /
How Much Is Too Much Salt?
/Sugar-The Disease
Connection / Are Diet Sodas Bad for Your Health? / Ideal
Breakfast for Diabetics / Ideal Breakfast for Arthritis
/
Healing Foods Links /  Foods That Shrink Your Waist /
Foods That Lower Cholesterol/ VLDL-The Other Cholesterol/
Foods That Reduce Blood Pressure

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