About Feeding Disorders

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Feeding therapy at the Marcus Autism Center

Meeting the challenge of pediatric feeding disorder.

Pediatric feeding disorder is a disruption in eating or drinking that may cause medical problems, compromise growth and development, and potentially impact the child physically, emotionally, intellectually, or socially. Applying the US Census Bureau’s 2017 population estimates, approximately 51,000 children in Arizona and over 2.3 Million children under the age of 5 nationally experience severe pediatric feeding disorder annually.1

Feeding is a complex process involving 26 muscles, six nerves, and the coordinated interaction among several of the body’s organs and systems.2 In children, this occurs in the context of the parent–child dyad. A disruption in any of these systems places a child at risk for a feeding disorder.

Pediatric feeding disorder may:

  • be related to developmental or physiological delays
  • cause feeding or swallowing to be painful
  • be related to a lack of age-appropriate feeding skills
  • result in choking, gagging, aspiration, and vomiting
  • lead to refusal to eat, disruptive behavior at mealtimes, rigid food preferences, or other nutritional concerns
  • be mild to severe


These children are more than fussy babies or picky eaters. Eating, drinking, and digestion may become painful and create negative experiences, leading to problems such as limited food options, inadequate growth, lack of age-appropriate feeding skills, and other nutritional concerns.

Early intervention is vital. Because every child is different, diagnosis and treatment benefit from a team approach. The team must include the family and may be comprised of the following:

  • Physician
  • Psychologist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Speech & Language Pathologist
  • Nurse
  • Registered Dietitian
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Other specialists as needed


Pediatric feeding disorder are a heterogeneous group of problems that may present in various ways. More than 300 other conditions put children at an even higher risk, including autism, congenital heart defects, food allergies, prematurity, genetic disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions. These problems can lead to delayed diagnoses and inappropriate interventions.

1. Manikam R, Perman JA. Pediatric feeding disorder. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2000;30(1):34-46. Reau NR, Senturia YD, Lebailly SA, Christoffel KK. Infant and toddler feeding patterns and problems: normative data and a new direction. Pediatric Practice Research Group. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 1996;17(3):149-153.

2. Bass, N.H. and Morrell, R.M. The neurology of swallowing. In: M.E. Groher (Ed.), Dysphagia, Diagnosis and Management. Butterworth–Heinemann, Boston, MA, 1992, pp. 1–29.