Recent studies show that individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer from malnutrition. Children who suffer from the disorder are especially at risk, since poor nutrition can often lead to them being either overweight or underweight. Both of these conditions contribute to a poorer quality of life and a reduced lifespan.
An article entitled “Nutritional Status of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Do We Know Enough?” looks into several studies that have investigated the nutritional needs and status of individuals on the autism spectrum.
Selective eating habits
Although the cause of this malnutrition is not set in stone, researchers believe that it may have to do with habits that are typical for autistic individuals. For example, children who have autism are known to have very selective eating habits. They are often afraid to try new foods that they don’t know, or are hypersensitive to particular ingredients. This limits the amount of food that they can incorporate into their diet.
As a result, many children that fall on the autism spectrum tend to be overweight or obese. Although the dietary restrictions above are certainly a cause, a lack of physical exercise may also contribute to the problem. Autistic children are often restricted in their ability to take part in physical activities due to motor deficits. One study showed that older children with autism are at increased risk of adopting a sedentary lifestyle.
On the other side of the coin, many autistic children tend to be underweight as well. While this is not as common, the cause is more than likely due to similar dietary restrictions and preferences.
The authors of the article believe that identifying autism spectrum disorders is the first step in making sure that these children get the help that they need. Research suggests that lower folate, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12 levels in children could point to the presence of an autism spectrum disorder. Parents should also be aware of abnormal growth rates in their children, as this is another sign.
By identifying the disorders early on, researchers hope that more intervention strategies can be adopted to make sure that autistic children receive the help they need. This includes adapting foundations for good nutrition and exercise. The authors end their article by stating that we need to ensure that all individuals on the autism spectrum, both old and young, are treated with the same urgency and focus.
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