Pediatric Feeding Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Up to 80% of children with autism spectrum disorder experience mealtime difficulties or feeding problems (Elsayed, Thompson, Conklin & Watson, 2022).

What is Pediatric Feeding Disorder? A pediatric feeding disorder (PFD) is characterized by an impaired oral intake that is not age-appropriate and is associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skill, and/or psychosocial dysfunction. An impaired oral intake refers to the inability to consume sufficient food and liquids to meet nutritional and hydration requirements.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts the typical development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and cognitive function. (, 2022)

Autistic individuals often show food refusal and food selectivity that is associated with sensory processing (Elsayed, Thompson, Conklin & Watson, 2022).

What is sensory processing? Sensory processing is the way the body registers, processes, and organizes sensory information which helps individuals appropriately respond to environmental demands (e.g., mealtime)

Examples of how food refusals, food selectivity, and mealtime difficulties may look in autistic children with PFD.

  1. Food selectivity based on texture, such as a preference for smooth or soft foods
  2. Food selectivity based on color, such as a preference for brown/beige foods
  3. Food selectivity can limit exposure to textures that require chewing which may negatively impact chewing skills
  4. Delayed oral motor skills (e.g., delayed chewing skills).
  5. Sensory sensitives such as limited nutrition
  6. Sensory sensitives such as child’s tolerance for sitting at a table
  7. Routines/Rigidness such as refusing to eat nonpreferred foods

A pediatric feeding disorder is individualized for every child. The examples provided in this blog are not an extensive list.

Pediatric feeding disorder impacts 1 in 37 children under the age of 5 in the United States. A feeding questionnaire from Feeding Matters can be found here: to help identify if your child needs intervention. Talk to your pediatrician about your concern with your child’s feeding skills. Call Sidekick Therapy Partners to schedule an evaluation with our feeding therapist.

Samantha Shaffer M.S., CCC-SLP


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorder. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from

Elsayed, H. E., Thompson, K. L., Conklin, J. L., & Watson, L. R. (2022). Systematic Review of the Relation Between Feeding Problems and Sensory Processing in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. American journal of speech-language pathology31(6), 2875–2899.