Children with Autism Meet Growth Milestones Despite Limited Diet


picky-eatersHow many times have you heard yourself say, “You have to eat your fruits and vegetables so you can grow to be big and strong?” Too many times to count? Many parents can relate to the topic of picky eaters.  Parents of a child with autism often have an even more difficult time due in part to their child’s ritualistic behaviors and an aversion to new experiences. Recently, AbilityPath sat down with Barbara who works tirelessly to ensure her 9-year-old son with Autism gets the calories and nutrients he needs. Like many AbilityPath parents, Barbara can recall OT sessions, supplemental milkshakes, social stories, and visual schedules as part of her efforts, but now parents can focus their efforts elsewhere! A new study conducted by the University of Bristol in the UK, suggests that parents of children with ASD symptoms may not need to worry about proper growth. The long-term study followed 79 children in the UK with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and nearly 13,000 neuro-typical children born in 1991 or 1992 to the age of 7. Questionnaires were completed at 6 months, 15 months, 2, 3, and 4 years old and although children with ASDs had less variety in their diets than their peers their average intake of calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates were similar to their peers’. The study also reported no difference in average height, weight, body mass index, or in iron levels between the two groups. Of course, parents with concerns about their child’s eating habits should talk to their doctor and can ask for a referral to a dietician if they’re seeking additional advice. Children with autism tended to eat fewer vegetables and fruit than their peers, but they also drank less soda and ate fewer sweets! Overall, researchers noted two differences:

  • Children with ASDs averaged less vitamin C
  • Children with ASDs averaged less vitamin D

These differences were not large and according to Dr. Pauline Emmett, a senior research fellow at the University of Bristol in the UK, they are “unlikely to be important for the majority of the children.”

“We think that these are reassuring findings, and that in general, parents of children with ASD symptoms need not worry that their children will not grow properly,” Emmett said.

AP Expert Cassy Christianson OTR/L Recommendation

This report must come as a relief to many parents. I have worked with children with autism who have complicated food jags such as only eating white foods like pasta chicken and bread.  It can be very hard to add variety to their diet but it is not impossible. Given the information on low levels of Vitamins C& D, I recommend talking to your pediatrician to see if adding a vitamin supplement is warranted. Please see AbilityPath’s article: “10 Healthy Foods For Your Picky Child”. (

Reuters, “Autistic kids grow normally despite limited diet,” July 20, 2010