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Mealtime a Challenge for Some With Autism
Date:2/3/2010

Those with the disorder prone to restrictive, obsessive eating habits

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- If you think your child is a picky eater, consider what Ryan Kemp's parents faced when he was a child.

Instead of eating a few crackers, Ryan, who is autistic, would polish off box after box and grow agitated if his parents tried to take it away. If they weren't watching, he'd eat entire jars of tartar sauce.

At various times, Ryan was obsessed with a single food item -- peanut butter and bacon among them. If his parents tried to limit his intake, Ryan would compulsively pull his hair and pinch his arms to the point of bleeding.

"I remember him as a child. He loved cherry tomatoes. I'd see his towhead out in the garden picking them off the vine, and he wouldn't come in until he'd eaten all of them," said his father, Pat, who recently left his job as a General Motors executive to become the executive vice president for awareness and events at Autism Speaks, a New York City-based non-profit group.

For the parents of children with autism, dietary issues, including obsessive eating or excessively picky eating, are an all-too-common facet of the neurodevelopmental disorder. Though there are no good statistics on the prevalence of eating issues among children with autism, experts say they hear from parents grappling with mealtime issues often, said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks.

Some research has suggested children with autism are more likely to have nutritional deficits of certain vitamins and minerals, which might be caused by their restrictive diets. Some could be attributed to children going on gluten- and casein-free diets (wheat-free and milk-free) that some believe help with autism, Dawson said.

"In typically developing children, eating problems are relatively common, affecting 20 to 40 percent of kids," Dawson said. "In children with autism, eating
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