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Picky eater or sensory disorder?

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When you have a picky eater who self-limits his food choices to the extreme, you may begin to wonder: Is there more going on here? For some children, it is a case of more than simply not liking one food or another.

Sensory processing disorder occurs when children are not able to process tastes, smells, sights, or sounds normally. In many cases, their brains over-react and they become hyper-sensitive to the smallest variations in stimulation. These sensory issues can be common in children with autism or ADHD.

If you have a child who is a simply a picky eater, he may be particular about what he eats: a certain brand of pasta, only one kind of bagel, only one kind of fruit, etc. His tastes may shift over time but he may remain (even as an adult) insistent that he likes things a certain way, his way.

However, what you probably won’t see in someone who is merely a picky eater is the element of fear or physical illness that comes from trying something new. A child with a true sensory disorder will likely gag or even vomit if forced to try a new food.

Other symptoms of a sensory processing disorder include extreme pickiness about food and the way in which it is served (what can be mixed, what temperature, etc.), difficulty in chewing or swallowing, and an insistence on baby food or pureed foods past age two. Children with this disorder may also have an extreme fear or resistance to brushing teeth and going to the dentist. Additionally, they may be extremely sensitive to smell and may resist new foods (or even other people’s houses) with strong smells.

If you suspect your child has a sensory processing disorder, you should check in with your physician and possibly get a referral to an occupational therapist who has expertise in feeding issues. To read more on the topic, go to the Sensory Processing Disorder site, or the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.