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Nutrition-Related Issues Common to Developmental Disabilities

Amy Long Carrera, MS, RD, CNSC, CWCMS
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
01/27/17  2:27 PM PST
developmental disabilities

Developmental disabilities can make it hard to meet the nutritional needs of children. Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Down syndrome and other chronic conditions may affect the way a child consumes and uses nutrients. Use this guide to identify some of the common nutrition-related issues associated with these conditions.


Nutrition-Related Issues Common to Selected Developmental Disabilities

Developmental Disability Nutrition Diagnosis Etiology/Signs & Symptoms
Cerebral palsy
Disorder of muscle control resulting from injury to the brain during fetal, perinatal, or early childhood development
Excessive energy intake
Low mobility and activity level
Reduced energy expenditure r/t antispasmodic medications
Inadequate oral intake
Lack of coordination to self-feed
Oral motor dysfunction/dysphagia
Hypertonia, Dystonia
Altered GI function Constipation
GERD, delayed gastric emptying
Medication side effects
Spina bifida
Neural tube defect with incomplete closure of the spine, resulting in nerve damage and paralysis
Swallowing difficulty Frequent respiratory infections Coughing/choking with oral intake
Altered GI function Low fluid and fiber intake
Neurogenic bowel
Overweight/obesity Unintended weight gain Limited mobility
Reduced energy needs related to short stature
Down syndrome
Genetic disorder resulting in developmental problems such as cognitive delay, short stature, gastrointestinal problems, and decreased muscle tone
Inadequate oral intake Swallowing difficulty
Weak suck with breastfeeding
Altered GI function Constipation r/t hypotonia, low activity, low fiber intake
Celiac disease
Overweight/obesity Estimated excessive energy intake
Reduced energy needs related to hypotonia

Source: Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition Services for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities And Special Health Care Needs. J Acad Nutr Diet.


This guide is intended as an informational resource. For questions about your child’s condition, please consult your healthcare professional.


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