Objectives: The study investigated the feeding difficulties among Greek preschool age children with ASD.
Methods: A questionnaire, constructed by the interdisciplinary team of the Day Centre for Children with Developmental Disorders (Messolonghi, Greece), was answered by the parents of 25 children diagnosed with ASD on the DSM-IV criteria, with age ranging from 2 yrs to 5 yrs 11mths (mean 4,3 months). They were matched closely one-by-one for age and sex with a control group of 25 children with typical development. The questionnaire consisted of 40 questions under five entities: developmental history, feeding during infancy and possible difficulties, current feeding habits and possible problems. The two groups were compared using non-parametric statistics (chi-square test).
Results: The main finding of the study was that children with ASD at the early ages of 1 to 3 yrs progressed at a slower pace in: ‘abandoning the bottle to take fluids’ (p<0.001), ‘using a straw to sip’ (p<0.001), ‘starting to use the spoon’ (p<0.001), ‘starting to chew’(p<0.002) and ‘starting to drink from a glass’(p<0.003). There were no significant differences in the other measures e.g. avoiding certain foods, time to take a meal,
Conclusions: The results of the study indicate that at an early stage of development children with ASD may present signs of dysphagia. These findings are consistent with observations in the clinical practice at the Day Centre among children at the ages of 2 to 3 yrs. with feeding problems who usually require therapeutic intervention. The present findings raise the questions whether: there is a relationship between early dysfagia and severity of autism, and whether early eating difficulties are associated with speech problems (developmental dyspraxia).
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