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Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)

31 March 2022

What is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

ARFID is a relatively new diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). It is an eating disorder that can affect children as young as two years old. ARFID involves a fear or avoidance of certain foods, which can lead to poor nutrition and even failure to gain weight. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including sensory issues with food, anxiety around meal times or an underlying medical condition.

What's the difference between fussy eating and ARFID?

Fussy eating is a common and normal behaviour in children, while ARFID is an ongoing and more serious disorder. For example, children with fussy eating generally show signs of improvement over time as they become more familiar with certain foods. In contrast, those with ARFID often remain very picky eaters who do not improve their diets without intervention. Furthermore, children with ARFID may display other behaviours such as avoiding social situations involving food or having difficulty gaining weight.

What are the signs and symptoms of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

Common signs and symptoms of ARFID include food refusal, fear or anxiety around mealtimes, poor weight gain or even weight loss. Additionally, children may be overly sensitive to the smell, texture or taste of certain foods. Other behavioural patterns such as avoiding social situations involving food can also indicate that a child is suffering from ARFID. Finally, children with ARFID are often limited to a small range of preferred foods and can be resistant to trying new ones.

What do you do if you notice signs of avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

If you suspect your child is suffering from ARFID, it's important to consult a medical professional. A physician or dietician can help assess and diagnose the condition, as well as provide guidance on how to best treat it. Treatment for ARFID typically includes nutritional counselling, behavioural therapy and sometimes medication. It is also important to create an open dialogue with your child, as this can help them feel more comfortable and provide a safe space to discuss their feelings.

How is avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) diagnosed?

ARFID is diagnosed based on a clinical evaluation. This typically involves evaluating the child's medical history, physical examination and laboratory tests. Additionally, psychological assessments are used to assess the child's behaviour around food and identify any underlying emotional issues or anxiety that may be contributing to their condition. Ultimately, it is important for parents and caregivers to work with medical professionals in order to diagnose and treat ARFID appropriately.

What treatment and therapies are available for avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

Treatment for ARFID typically involves a multi-faceted approach. This usually includes nutritional counselling, behavioural therapy and sometimes medication. Nutritional counselling can help ensure the child is getting enough of the right nutrients and calories to support their growth and development. Behavioural therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be used to address anxiety and fear around eating, as well as helping the child to explore new foods. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to help with related symptoms such as depression or anxiety.

What causes avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

The causes of ARFID are not fully understood. However, it is thought that a combination of biological and psychological factors may be involved. Biological factors such as medical conditions or allergies can affect the child's appetite and ability to digest certain foods. Psychological issues like anxiety or sensory sensitivities can also play a role in the development of ARFID. Additionally, environmental factors such as parental attitudes or family situations can also contribute to the development of this disorder.

Although ARFID is not considered to be a type of autism, it is often seen in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is because some individuals with ASD may have sensory sensitivities that can affect their ability to eat certain foods. Additionally, problems with social communication and understanding cues around food can also lead to difficulties eating. Therefore, it is important to work with a medical professional to properly assess and diagnose any underlying conditions in order to provide the best treatment plan.

What financial support is available in Australia for children with Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)?

In Australia, there are a number of government initiatives that provide financial assistance to help families with the costs associated with ARFID. For example, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) provides funding for treatment and therapies aimed at improving the quality of life for children with disability. Additionally, some private health insurers may also offer cover for certain treatments and therapies related to ARFID. It is important to speak with a financial adviser or health professional in order to find out more about the options available.

How can I look after myself and my family?

It is important to look after your own physical and mental health when caring for a child with ARFID. This may involve seeking out support from family, friends or professionals. Additionally, it can help to take some time away from caring responsibilities in order to relax and recharge. Eating well and exercising regularly can also help manage stress levels. Ultimately, taking good care of yourself will ensure that you have the energy and resilience to support your child.