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

problems are even more common, can be very severe and can take many different forms."

Brenda Legge's struggle with her son's food aversions -- and her desire to reach out to other parents grappling with a similar problem -- led her to write the book, Can't Eat, Won't Eat: Dietary Difficulties and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

Legge said her son's food issues were apparent even before she realized he was autistic. He refused to breast-feed and would hardly eat baby foods, recalled Legge, a writer who lives in London. As other children's food choices widened, his narrowed, she said.

"The list of foods he would tolerate was tiny compared to the list of foods he took an instant dislike to," Legge said. "If something was the wrong color, shape or texture, he would reject it. If it got as far as his mouth and tasted funny, he would reject it. If a manufacturer changed the look of food packaging, he would reject it. If he didn't like the smell of something, he would reject it."

Autism is a complex disorder and so, too, are the reasons for the dietary issues, Dawson said. Many autistic children have a strong need for consistent routine or "sameness," Dawson said. "They want things exactly the same way and that includes the food they're eating," Dawson said. "To introduce a variety of food or to have changes in food may cause stress and anxiety."

Children with autism can also have sensory sensitivities, making them averse to certain textures or tastes. Some autistic children, for example, will eat only soft foods, or only crunchy foods or swear off entire food groups, Dawson said.

Motor difficulties, such as problems with eating or swallowing, can affect some children. Autism is also associated with gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and diarrhea, leading some kids to avoid eating.

That doesn't mean the issues are insurmountable, however. Dawson recommends having children evaluated at
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