The relationship between sensory sensitivity, food fussiness and food preferences in children with neurodevelopmental disorders
Heightened sensitivity to sensory information has been associated with food fussiness in both atypical and typical development. Despite food fussiness and sensory dysfunction being reported as common concerns for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, the relationship that exists between them, and whether they differ between disorders, has yet to be established. The current study aimed to examine sensory sensitivity as a predictor of food fussiness in three different neurodevelopmental disorders, whilst controlling for comorbidity amongst these disorders. Ninety-eight caregivers of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD; n = 17), Tourette Syndrome (TS; n = 27), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; n = 27), and typical development (TD; n = 27) were compared using parental reports of child food fussiness, food preferences and sensory sensitivity. Children with neurodevelopmental disorders were reported to have significantly higher levels of both food fussiness and sensory sensitivity, with children with ASD and TS also showing significantly less preference for fruit than children with TD. Importantly, higher levels of taste/smell sensitivity predicted food fussiness for all four groups of children. In addition, taste/smell sensitivity fully mediated the differences in food fussiness between each group of neurodevelopmental disorders compared to the TD group. The findings highlight that food fussiness is similar across these neurodevelopmental disorders despite accounting for comorbidity, and that greater sensitivity to taste/smell may explain why children with neurodevelopmental disorders are more likely to be fussy eaters.