Feeding Disorders Program

feeding-with-play-buttonThe Feeding Disorders Program at Marcus Autism Center is one of only a few facilities in the country to offer empirically supported, intensive day treatment for children with feeding disorders. Regardless of whether a child has autism or a related disorder, the Feeding Disorders Program provides interdisciplinary assessment and behavior treatment of children between eight months and 21 years of age with feeding disorders.

Feeding disorders affect a child’s ability to properly function at home, school and other social settings, impacting physical, social and psychological development. Common signs and symptoms of a feeding disorder include:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Feeding tube dependence
  • Bottle or formula dependence
  • Mealtime tantrums, or mealtimes exceeding 40 minutes
  • Distress and anxiety with new foods
  • Inability to increase textures
  • Inability or refusal to feed oneself
  • Extreme pickiness (eating fewer than 12 foods)


Staff members evaluate the factors contributing to feeding problems, develop individualized treatment plans, train caregivers to implement procedures and provide long-term follow-up care. The most complete and efficient treatment involves a team of specialists, including:

  • Occupational therapists—Focus on reducing hypersensitivity to gagging or textures while building skills related to chewing and self-feeding
  • Behavioral psychologists—Use behavior analysis or related techniques to design a structure to help children and parents during mealtimes
  • Nutritionists—Ensure children are getting balanced nutrition, guiding adjustments to supplemental tube feedings or feeding formulas
  • Physicians and nurses—Monitor the impact of health and development on a child’s feeding practices


The Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program offers many levels of service to address each child’s unique feeding needs.

  • Feeding Clinic—Provides interdisciplinary assessment allowing the team to make general recommendations for further evaluations and interventions at Marcus Autism Center or in the community.
  • Day Treatment Program—Offers a medical program for children who require intensive daily therapy without 24-hour medical supervision, including intensive feeding sessions, sensorimotor training, psychosocial family support, and medical and nutritional monitoring.
  • Outpatient Program—Serves children with feeding disorders who can be treated by less intensive therapy, e.g., one hour, once a week, with one discipline, or children who graduated from the Day Treatment Program needing additional assistance.


  • Treatment goals—Eighty-five percent or more of goals set by parents and the treatment team are reached by completion of the Day Treatment Program.
  • Parent satisfaction—Parents gave high ratings for program satisfaction (4.9 out of 5), program effectiveness (4.3 out of 5) and treatment acceptability (4.6 out of 5).

Patient Successes

  • Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) eat an average of only three foods upon admission, but they leave eating 19 foods, including at least four fruits, four vegetables, four starches and four proteins.
  • More than half of new patients have feeding tubes, and 79 percent of those patients are tube-dependent. By discharge, 59 percent of patients need the feeding tube for less than half of their calories; 24 percent of patients no longer need tube feedings.
  • On average, tube feedings are reduced from 88 percent of a patient’s daily calories upon admission to 47 percent by completion of the Day Treatment Program.
  • Children accept and swallow bites quickly 84 percent of the time.


If you are interested in having your child evaluated by our team, you must obtain a physician referral and complete the steps to make a new patient appointment.

Forms and Resources