Sensory Issues and Mealtime… What the research says…..

eating sensory issuesDo you have a child with sensory issues? Does it affect what he or she eats during mealtime?

For Research Tuesday, I decided to take a further look at how sensory issues affects mealtime. I would like to share an article written in June 2011, titled Association of Sensory Processing and Eating Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The study’s focus was to examine the relationship between problems of sensory processing and the number of eating problems in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you are reading this and  your child does not have autism but a sensory processing disorder, you will still find the results helpful with respect to mealtime.

According to Nadon, Feldman, Dunn and Gisel (2011), “Approximately 25% of all children experience eating problems during early years of life, but this number may rise to as high as 80% in children with developmental disabilities”. The participants in the study were ages 3-10 years old, were diagnosed with either Autism, PDD, or Aspergers Syndrome and 95 children participated. A variety of tools were used to determine eating problems such as a questionaaire developed by five occupational therapits with extensive experience with children with ASD and an adult with autism. There were two other tools used including the Short Sensory Profile and the Eating Profile. The parents of the children with ASD were asked to fill out the tools as best as they could. There were some interesting results related to the study:

1. “Children with tactile sensitivity had significantly more eating problems than children with typical performance” (Nadon, Feldman, Dunn and Gisel, 2011)

2. There was a direct relationship of tactile sensitivity to the number of eating problems.

3. Certain sensory modalities may influence the the number of feeding problems. In the study, the authors found that the children classified in the tactile sensitive category showed problems with drooling, social behaviors at mealtime and unusual food preferences.  More specifically, children who are showed to be “sensory defensiveness” were most likely to be less inclined to explore food through their hands. They might even have a hard time with specific utensils, children around them and the routine clean up after the meal.

5. Those children with taste and/or smell sensitivities had increased number of eating problems and more preferences with regard to food options. This type of sensitivity affected children in a more profound way than tactile defectiveness.

6. According to Nadon, Feldman, Dunn and Gisel (2011), the children who were under responsive/seeks sensation were not significantly associated increased eating problems.

7. In the study, they found that there were stronger correlations with eating problems with regard to visual and auditory sensitivity. For example, if the room is very noisy, an oversensitive child would mostly likely have eating problems. The same goes with an overly visually stimulating room. In a previous school I used to work in, there was a quiet room with few visual distractions set aside for children who had difficulty eating. This helped the children tremendously with regards to their mealtime.

Helpful TipsDoes your child with sensory issues have difficulty eating their meals at mealtime? Check out this article in the Sensory Focus magazine called Listen To Your Food by Bobbi Sheahan.  Bobbi Sheahan describes what she calls “Lesson of the Lettuce” which means “When you’re dealing with sensory issues, things may not always be what they seem. You may think that your child is rejecting a food because of its taste, when it’s actually the texture he finds objectionable. I think of this as The Lesson of the Lettuce; in short, maybe I’m missing the point by assuming that I know what is objectionable to my child” To check out this free article and great tips for parents, click here. To learn more about the Sensory Focus Magazine and a subscription, click here.



Geneviève Nadon, Debbie Ehrmann Feldman, Winnie Dunn, and Erika Gisel, “Association of Sensory Processing and Eating Problems in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Autism Research and Treatment, vol. 2011, Article ID 541926, 8 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/541926

Sheahan, Bobbi. “Listen To Your Food.” Sensory Focus Magazine (n.d.): n. pag. Sensory Focus Magazine. Spring 2013. Web. 12 May 2015. <>.




  1. […] For most of us, mealtime is a heaven-send. Food cures cases of the grumps. The varieties of flavors and textures trigger positive chemical releases in the brain. Filling your stomach creates a sense of satisfaction and overall contentment. What’s not to enjoy? Well, anyone who knows a picky eater, especially if you’re the parent of one, you know that mealtimes can be everything but pleasant. And it goes one step past picky when you’re dealing with a child that struggles with eating because of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). […]

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