By Dana Eshelman, RDN
Nicole Withrow, PHD, MS, RD is an Assistant Professor and Dietetic Internship Coordinator at University of Northern Colorado. She presented her research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the third membership meeting of the year.
ASD affects 1 in every 88 children in the United States. Autism is presented as a spectrum disorder due to the variety of symptoms and degree of intensity within each category. ASD is characterized by core deficits including social interactions, speech, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. The repetitive behaviors and restricted interests are why we often see children with ASD have selective food choices. They desire foods to taste, look, smell and feel the same as they remember these foods.
Often times, children diagnosed with ASD have co-occurring diagnoses. These includes learning disabilities, heightened generalized anxiety, problematic eating behaviors, gastrointestinal issues, sleep problems and obsessive compulsive behaviors. Children may become more selective with food choices as a result of adverse gastrointestinal symptoms and eating behaviors, which can inhibit proper growth and development. A child’s heightened generalized anxiety can detract parents and caregivers from introducing new foods into their child’s diet. A child with normal development may accept a food when being exposed ten times via whereas a child with ASD can take thirty to forty times.
Diets such as the elimination diet, the FODMAPS diet, and the gluten-free and dairy-free diet have all been explored in decreased autism behaviors. There has been no conclusive evidence saying specific dietary changes impact children with ASD. Nevertheless, it is important to continually offer a variety of foods and meals and snacks to deter children with ASD from having a selective diet.
Dana is a newly Registered Dietitian at InnovAge. She graduated with her Bachelors of Science in Nutrition from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs in May 2015. One year later, June 2016, she completed her dietetic internship at UCCS. In her free time she enjoys lifting weights, trying new, one of a kind restaurants, cooking, running, hiking, going to concerts & yoga. She is thrilled to a part of the DDA Board of Directors and help spread her passion for food and nutrition.