Why Do Autistic Children Need to Lose Weight?

Autistic children usually suffer from problems related to behavior, communication and social interaction. Therapies for autism are usually directed towards these problems, but fail to focus on other concerns surrounding autism.

Aside from the above behavioral problems of children, autistic individuals may also have problems regarding nutrition. There may be difficulties surrounding an autistic child’s diet that may lead to under eating as well as overeating. Between the two, overeating is the major problem in autism.

Reasons for Weight Gaining in Autism

Most autistic children are observed to be overweight because of overeating. There are a lot of reasons surrounding autism as a cause for being overweight. It is important that caregivers as well as health care providers understand these mechanisms in order to undertake essential measures to maintain the ideal body weight of autistic children. Reasons for gaining weight include:

  1. Physical

In individuals with autism spectrum disorders, the hypothalamus may not function properly. As a result, a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have the inability to know when they are already full, leading to overeating. The hypothalamus is an important part of the brain that regulates food intake and the feeling of satiety.

  1. Coping Strategy

Some autistic children use over eating as a coping strategy. ASD usually provides children with various sources of stress such as sensory integration dysfunction, problems in communication and social interaction. When they are under stress or have a low self-esteem, they resort to food for comfort.

  1. Obsession

Children with ASD may also have obsessive behaviors that focus their interests on these matters. In autism, children may also include food intake or food itself as one of their special interests. This leads to overeating and subsequent weight gain.

  1. Sensory

Children and adults with ASD may also have sensory integration dysfunction. This condition affects how people adapt to different sensory stimulations. In line with this, children with autism may see food as something that provides sensory satisfaction, contributing to over eating and weight gaining.

Since autistic children are more prone to becoming overweight, proper supervision of their diet is very important. Maintaining an ideal body weight prevents other potential complications of autism.

Children with autism have greater risks of developing heart disease than the rest of the general child population. Maintaining an ideal body weight prevents the possible development of heart diseases.

Ways to Prevent Overeating and Weight Gain

There are a lot of strategies that can be implemented in order to control over eating and prevent weight gaining in autistic children. These include:

Adjusting the environment

Controlling the environment is the simplest way of preventing overeating. Caregivers should limit children’s access to foods by putting locks on cupboards and fridges, keeping foods in out of reach places and avoiding leaving foods out in accessible places.

Autistic children also respond very well to visual reminders so putting no entry signs on fridges and cupboards may help in preventing them from accessing these areas of the house. With these measures, children with autism will only be able to consume foods at scheduled meal times.

Provide visual reminders regarding food intake

As discussed earlier, children with ASD have good response to visual reminders. Based on this, employing the following may help reduce food cravings and food intake:

  • Showing empty saucepans to help them understand that the food has all gone.
  • Displaying the time of the next meal.
  • Having food charts to allow them to differentiate healthy foods from unhealthy ones.
  • Using visual emotional tools to help them express their needs.

Children should also have behavioral therapy to help them adapt more effectively.

About The Author

Dr. Amarendra, the author writes on weight loss programs, news and discount coupons. The weight loss diet programs include Weight watchers and Nutrisystem, and you can read full review, discount coupons at Weight Loss Triumph.

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13 Responses to Why Do Autistic Children Need to Lose Weight?

  1. Alisa July 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I have to say that I really question this person’s knowledge of Autism and the specialty diets to assist many on the spectrum. I am uncomfortable with the fact taht he’s related to a weight loss program but with no training, that I can see, in the Autism field. Where is his expertise coming from?

  2. Jen July 26, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    My son’s biggest issue with weight gain has been due to the side effects of his meds. I’m very curious why that isn’t on the list as all of my son’s doctors have indicated it is a very common side effect.

    • Cande September 8, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

      I am having the same issue with my son – 11 lb gain in the 3 months since starting the med. Now I worry it has become a habit and I am having trouble controlling it. I have more than one child so it makes it hard.

      • darryl a June 1, 2016 at 7:08 am #

        have you tried exercise for your child. basic weight bearing movements like pushups and pullups

  3. Tammy August 5, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    My son would eat 24/7 if I let him. I don’t, of course. I watch the amount he eats, and the foods. I limit junk food to special treats, and try to incorporate fresh vegetables into his meals.

  4. Tracie September 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    I agree with Alecia with regard to questioning who is saying a child with autism, or anyone, should loose weight. Ironically, I am a speech therapist and also a certified personal trainer with a nutrition certification, so I do appreciate the father’s article as well as the concern of those with the comments. I am passionate about both of my careers and feel blessed to be able to fuse the two together to create a wonderful program in support of those with autism, and other special needs, who really do need a foundational understanding and methodology of how food and exercise attribute to our well being and education which filtrates into our communities.

    • Monica October 20, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

      Hi Tracie, I am also a speech therapist and work with special needs students. One of my students that is diagnosed with Autism is obsessed with food. He is having very severe behavior problems due to his wanting to overeat all of the time. We are looking for answers to help him. His behavior is so severe that when he acts out the fit goes on for about 90 minutes. He is raging the entire time and the only thing he really wants is food. He resorts to biting, kicking, pinching, hitting, and scratching. We then have to rely on our CPI training to help him clam down. Almost every fit is due to the fact that he is not allowed to get food at innapropriate times or when a meal or snack is being served he is not given as much as he wants.

  5. bizymom June 5, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Many of the listed “reasons” are the same for neurotypical individuals! Why isn’t healthy eating and exercise listed as solutions? Autistic individuals, like all people, deserve to be taught the habits and skills that will help them be healthy for their lifetime. Visuals and therapy are only part of the equation!

  6. Emom June 13, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    “Children with autism have a greater risk of developing heart disease”…..How so? Never heard that one.

  7. mattie October 15, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    I thimk he has alot of good points and you should take what you need from this article. Don’t be so nit picky though…geez.

  8. demetree ellison November 14, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    Thanks for sharing very useful.

  9. MariaT February 18, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    Live with a six foot 300 pound teen of 13 and try this stuff. They eat to compensate for low serotonin and for sensory alertness. A pack of gum might work better

  10. A Mom October 23, 2016 at 2:35 am #

    My 10 yr old son with autism is also overweight. He has always eaten extremely healthy and is physically active. He has never been on medication. There are many others with the same problem. Sooooo….?

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