The Complex World of Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

December 13, 2021

ARFID Can Overlap in Children with Autism

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) is an eating disorder that can appear similar to anorexia nervosa, except for one large difference. Kids with ARFID are not concerned with their body image, weight, shape or size. Instead, children with the disorder have an extreme anxiety about the taste, texture, color, or even movement (think Jell-O) of food. Since all of these food issues revolve around the sensory experience of eating, it should come as no surprise that many children with autism can fall into the ARFID category. The hallmark of ARFID is restriction or avoidance of certain foods or groups of foods in a way that is so extreme that it interferes with the child’s daily life and health. Frequently, children with ARFID lose an unhealthy amount of weight, or they fail to gain weight and grow as they get older.

The warning signs of ARFID include:

If ARFID is suspected, it is important for the child to receive a thorough evaluation from an eating disorder specialist. Since ARFID is a relatively new diagnosis, treatments are still being developed. One treatment that is currently available for the disorder is called exposure therapy, which involves exposing the child to the foods they avoid in carefully controlled amounts so that they can discover that those foods aren’t actually dangerous.

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