A new study highlights the significance of food and eating issues as a potential screening tool in complex conditions, like Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Penn State Professor of Psychiatry, Susan Mayes, found considerably distinct eating behaviors in children with autism, when compared with their neuro-typical peers. Her team studied more than 2,000 parent interviews and found that 70% of the children with complex conditions like autism, restricted their diet in numerous ways.

At The Center for Discovery®, our Food Exploration Discovery (FED) Program assists individuals who present with mealtime and feeding challenges by improving their relationship with food.

Jessica Piatak, OTD, OTR/L, and Kristina Carraccia, MS, CCC-SLP, co-coordinators of the FED program, have also found that children with autism, often have extremely limited diets that typically consist of highly processed foods, with limited fruits and vegetables. Families of these children frequently have difficulty introducing new foods due to the child’s rigid mealtime routines and behavioral overreactions when these foods are presented. These children also present with underlying issues related to feeding which may include over responsiveness to sensory input (touch, taste, smell, etc.), difficulty with oral motor skills with accepting various textures, and overall motor difficulties.  These issues may portray themselves as behavioral difficulties at mealtime (e.g. aggression, food refusal, etc.).

“The majority of individuals we service with autism present with multiple eating behaviors upon admission that impact their acceptance of a well-rounded diet. These may include rigid mealtime routines, stress and anxiety around mealtimes, and an extremely limited repertoire of foods that they accept,” explained members of the FED team.

For more information on the FED Program, please reach out to Richard Humleker, VP for Development, at For general FED questions or to submit a form, please click here.