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Picky Eating in Children With Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities: When to Be Concerned

Picky Eating in Children With Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities: When to Be Concerned

It’s quite common to see picky eating in children with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DDs). In fact, it’s common in all children. However, it’s more likely to become a health concern in children with I/DDs, as the total diet can be significantly more limited and the extreme choosiness can be much longer lasting, rather than a passing phase.

The situation is invariably frustrating, but it’s important to recognize when your child’s well-being may be at risk. Below are some signs that you should be concerned about picky eating in children with intellectual or developmental disabilities. And that means it’s time for an appointment with your pediatrician, occupational therapist, behavioral psychologist, speech-language pathologist, or other appropriate healthcare professional.

Most instances of picky eating are due either to oral-motor problems or to sensory problems. The former are related to physiological problems that create difficulties with the physical aspects of eating, such as self-feeding, chewing, or swallowing; the latter relate to some characteristic of food, like its texture, temperature, color, or smell. Determining which type of problem your child is experiencing is obviously important to successfully remedying it.

Signs It’s Time to Address Your Child’s Picky Eating

  • Your son or daughter is excluding more and more foods over time, rather than becoming less restrictive
  • Your child refuses to eat one or more entire food groups
  • There are obvious nutritional deficiencies in your kid’s diet
  • You notice signs of a nutritional deficiency (though these of course can be related to other medical conditions); some include failure to grow, pallor, bouts of lightheadedness, fatigue, lethargy, brittle hair and/or nails, concave nails, scaly patches, hair loss, unusual food cravings, difficulty breathing, constipation, irregular heartbeat, and slow-healing wounds
  • Your kid experiences significant or rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Your child develops restrictive eating rituals (e.g., only eating foods of a certain color, texture, shape, etc., or just one specific brand)
  • Your son or daughter gags, spits up, or vomits while eating
  • Your kid refuses to feed him or herself
  • If picky eating gets to the point that it disrupts family life or interferes with your child’s ability to share meals with others
  • The family’s eating becomes centered around the child (trying to avoid or dealing with tantrums, meals taking excessively long, etc.)

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