Autism Eating Habits & Behaviours

Featured Image by Pixabay, Pexels

Eating is an essential part of life. It provides us with energy and strength to keep active throughout the day, it gives us nutrients for growth and repair, and it can help prevent certain diet-related illnesses.

People with autism, however, may find eating difficult. They might only stick to one food group, eat non-edible items (i.e., pica), and feel uncomfortable eating with others.

If you have autism and struggle with eating, please read this blog post to see how it can help you.

How does autism affect eating?

Sensory issues with food

Autistic people can be under-sensitive or over-sensitive to the following sensory stimuli:

  • Sounds
  • Sights
  • Smells
  • Tastes
  • Touch or texture

All five or six of these stimuli can fit into the category of food.

People with autism may not like the taste, smell, texture, colour, or temperature of certain foods or drinks. These factors can trigger sensory issues in these individuals. This is known as food aversion.

Some autistic people who also have hypersensitivity could dislike food that has lots of chunky bits in. One way to resolve this issue is to puree the food. This should make the food easier for a hypersensitive autistic individual to eat.

In the Sesame Street picture book, We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3, Julia, who has autism, does not like the temperature of the hot chocolate that Elmo and Abby Cadabby drink. To resolve this issue, Alan, the owner of Hooper’s Store, gives her some cold chocolate milk instead.

Sensory preferences can vary from person to person. While someone with a sensitive palate can only cope with bland or soft food, someone else who has dulled sensations may prefer foods with strong flavours and crunchy textures to give them some stimulation.

People with autism may also not like foods of different textures touching each other on a plate, such as baked beans and toast. This could mean that they dislike food of different textures mixing with one another.

Autistic people could prefer one brand of a certain food to another, such as a supermarket’s own brand of a certain cereal because it does not taste as sweet as the leading brand.

Trouble eating at a table.

A table is an ideal place for many people to eat. It supports food on a plate and can make it easier for people to eat their food with cutlery. Eating with others at a table is also very sociable.

People with autism can find it difficult to sit at the table during mealtimes. They may struggle to sit for long periods of time or interact with others and prefer to eat alone. Younger people with autism can also struggle to grasp certain rules, such as sitting up in their chairs and not playing with their food.

An autistic person can find sitting in a hard chair at the table uncomfortable. Adding a cushion to the chair can solve this problem.

People with autism at the table may:

  • Eat with their mouth open, too loudly, too quickly, or too slowly.
  • Slurp drinks and liquid-based foods, such as soup.
  • Slouch when sitting down.
  • Make a mess with their food when eating.
  • Wipe off food with their sleeve rather than a napkin.
  • Not engage in conversations.
  • Talk whilst eating.
  • Snack too often; therefore, they won’t want to eat a larger meal.
  • Play with their food.
  • Argue, or have meltdowns, at mealtimes due to not enjoying the experience.

Struggling with misophonia.

Image by Mike van Schoonderwalt, Pexels

Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable. This depends on the circumstances. Those who have misophonia may find that a sound “drives them crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and needing to flee.

In terms of eating, while some autistic people may eat with their mouths open or too loudly, those who have autism and misophonia may not like it when others eat with their mouths open to amplify the sound of eating.

If people with autism are hypersensitive to chewing noises, they may prefer to eat at home rather than in public places such as cafes or restaurants. They can also be hypersensitive to the following sounds:

  • Crunching
  • Lip-smacking
  • Slurping
  • Swallowing

People with misophonia can not only be hypersensitive to eating-related sounds, but they can also be hypersensitive to the sounds food and drink packaging, such as crisp packets rustling and drink cans crushing, can make.

According to Sounds Like Misophonia, around 20% of the British population may have heightened sensitivity to eating-related sounds. It is not known how many of these people have autism, misophonia, or both.

In a study that took place in Amsterdam, 81% of those who were studied were affected by eating sounds.

Strangely enough, while dog owners with misophonia may not be bothered with the sounds of their dog eating or drinking, they are more likely to be bothered with the sounds other people make when they eat or drink.

Underdeveloped oral muscle development

Autistic people who struggle with eating can have poor oral muscle development. These people may have trouble controlling their mouth muscles to chew and swallow whilst eating. This trouble with chewing and swallowing can be a part of oral apraxia.

While verbal dyspraxia can affect speech, it can also affect eating. Oral apraxia is caused by the mouth not doing what the brain tells it to do due to motor planning difficulties.

Those who struggle with eating safely can have muscle weakness or sluggishness. This is known as dysarthria.

There can also be a delay in the development of the musculature for eating.

When an autistic person with poor oral muscle development tries to eat, their brain sends a message to their mouth muscles, but the muscles either don’t receive the message that instructs them to chew or swallow; or misinterpret the message. The oral muscles then do not move or move in the wrong way, which makes eating difficult for the person.

People who have low muscle tone in their lips, tongue or jaw can also struggle with eating or drinking. They can find it hard to eat with their mouth closed. Those with weak lips can have difficulty drinking through a straw and lose control of liquids while trying to drink.

Weak muscles can affect a person’s gag reflex or cause them to choke, which makes eating an unpleasant experience for the person.

How can eating issues caused by autism be treated?

Image by Yaroslav Shuraev, Pexels

Besides pureeing food for those who don’t like chunky food and providing a cushion to make eating at a table more comfortable, eating issues caused by autism can be treated in the following ways:

  • If the autistic person dislikes fruit or vegetables, they can be hidden in food such as bread, muffins, and pasta sauce.
  • Rewarding the autistic person with a prize if they try a bite of food they don’t usually eat.
  • Finding foods that are like the person’s favourites. For example, if the person likes chicken nuggets, you can encourage them to try chicken burgers or fish fingers instead.
  • Offering the person a choice of foods so they can pick the ones they like the look of the best.
  • Writing a social story, which can be about the person sitting at a table, having different foods on their plate, and eating one bite of every food for instance.

Medical professionals such as dentists, dieticians, psychologists, paediatricians, occupational therapists, and counsellors can also help with eating issues that autism causes. A GP can refer the autistic person who has eating issues to any of these professionals.


To conclude, sensory issues, trouble with eating at a table, struggling with misophonia and poor oral muscle development can affect eating habits and behaviours of those with autism. Ways to treat these issues include hiding fruits and vegetables in food, rewarding the person, giving the person similar foods to their favourites, offering them a choice of foods, writing a social story, and getting their GP to refer them to a range of medical professionals to help them with their eating issues.

If you think you have autism, please try our autism quiz. Please note that the quiz is not intended to diagnose autism. Only a qualified medical professional can make a formal diagnosis.

Blog Author

April Slocombe