Expanding Feeding Programs for Children with Autism

A recent pilot (38 children) study (WG Sharp et al. J Pediatr 2019; 211: 185-92) examined the effectiveness of a less intensive feeding program to help children with autism and food selectivity.

Background:  Many children with autism are extremely picky eaters.

  • They may limit their diet to a ‘beige diet’ consisting of foods like chicken nuggets and fries.
  • They may insist on only pureed textures
  • They may demand only specific foods and limit to specific brands

To normalize these diets, typically intensive structured feeding programs are needed.  However, these types of programs are costly, and not available in all communities. Parental training though the MEAL (Managing Eating Aversions and Limited variety) Plan was studied by the authors.  This program consisted of 10 core and 3 booster sessions.

Key finding:

  • At week 16, positive response rates on the Clinical Global Impression Improvement scale was 47.4%for the MEAL plan compared to 5.3% in a control parent education plan.

My take: This pilot study shows that less intensive programs may be helpful in children with autism and feeding problems.  However, even with this more limited MEAL plan, a multidisciplinary team with a dietitian plan for each child along with behavior management strategies was needed.

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