Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Allergy Unit

Student research

Food Acceptance and Food Rejection in Children with Autism:
Behavioural factors that affect dietary choices

Elda Pinto
Master of Science (Nutrition and Dietetics), University of Wollongong
Supervisors: Velencia Soutter, Anne Swain
November 2004

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To investigate dietary variety and preference of children with autism, and to determine whether food fussiness and dietary choices are behavioural factors of autism.

There has been growing interest in the relationship between autism and diet. Parents and even diagnostic sources have assumed that feeding problems have been more severe for children with autism than for those without autism, yet minimal effort has been concentrated towards determining if there is a relationship between autistic behaviours, food fussiness and dietary choice.

Two groups were included: an autism group (n=73), and a control group (n=40). Food fussiness was measured using the Child Eating Behaviour and Appetite Scale (CEBAS) and the Conners' Rating Scale. The CEBAS allowed for children's favourite foods to be listed so that colour and texture preferences could be counted using their frequency within the list. The Food Frequency Questionnaire measured children's food intake. The groups were compared using t-tests with p <0.05 to indicate any difference between behavioural influences on food intake and overall food intake.

For each aspect of eating behaviour analysed through the CEBAS and the Connors' Rating Scale, significant differences were found. There were no significant differences between the groups for each of the main food groups. Autistic children often ate a lesser variety than the control group, and preferred white coloured foods. In regards to texture, the autism group preferred softer textures.

Children with autism seemed to exhibit food fussiness more than those without autism. The number of specific foods eaten within each food group supported that children with autism had less food variety in their diet, demonstrating the repetitive tendencies and need for sameness commonly reported in autistic children.