autism and mental health
Eating Disorders in ASD
Eating disorders (such Anorexia and Bulimia) tend to be characterised by a preoccupation with weight, an intense fear of becoming fat, and a disturbance in the way in which someone perceives their own bodyweight or shape. For more information about eating disorders, please visit https://www.camhsnorthderbyshire.nhs.uk/eating-disorders/
Eating disorders in ASD
Some young people with ASD may have a specific eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia but this is relatively rare.
However, eating a limited diet is commonly reported in young people with ASD – this is where young people will only eat a limited range of food. This can understandably cause stress to parents and carers as you may worry that they are not getting adequate nutrition.
What we do know is that despite eating a limited range of foods, young people with ASD often eat enough food to maintain their energy intake and a healthy weight.
why is eating a restricted diet common in asd?
Attention to detail and difficulty with change is characteristic of people with ASD. Changes to the way food is presented or positioned can be problematic as they can have set ideas of how a food should look, or smell.
Many young people with ASD have black and white thinking and can follow rules rigidly. For example, a young person may stop eating certain foods following a ‘healthy eating’ lesson at school.
Many people with ASD have obsessions. If certain foods, or calorie counting, are an obsession, this could lead to a rigid diet.
It is common for people with ASD to rely on routine and sameness. To eat well, they may need to have meals at the same time every day, be seated in the same position at the table, or always use the same plate or cutlery.
People with ASD may prefer processed foods as they are predictable, designed to look and taste the same each time. In contrast, there will always be natural variation in fresh food.
Sensory issues are common among people with ASD; being over or under-sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. This can affect a person's experience of meals and relationship with food.
When to seek help
If you are concerned about your young person’s eating behaviour or that they are losing weight, please seek advice from your GP.
They may refer you to the ‘Joint Feeding Clinic’ which is run by a dietician and specialist speech and language therapist, or you may be referred to the Eating Disorder service within CAMHS.
Further support, advice and self-help
Young Minds gives free, relevant, practical information about a range of mental health issues in children and young people. It has information about feelings and symptoms, conditions and looking after yourself. It also has some specific information about self-harm and what to do about self-harm.
National Autistic Society provides free information and advice about autism. It has easy to read pages appropriate for young people and provides clear guidance for families on how to manage some of the challenges present in autism.
Autistica gives information about autism and related conditions. They are involved in ongoing research projects to help those with autism and their families to lead long, healthy and happy lives.