Sensory processing and eating behaviours in autism: A systematic review

Emy Nimbley*, Lisa Golds, Helen Sharpe, Karri Gillespie-Smith, Fiona Duffy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Objectives: The aim of this study was to assess the relationship between sensory processing and a broad range of eating behaviours across the lifespan. 

Methods: Five electronic databases of published and unpublished quantitative studies were systematically searched, evaluated for risk of bias and synthesised according to identified eating outcomes. 

Results: Across 25 studies, there was consistent evidence of a relationship between sensory processing and a range of eating behaviours. There was early evidence for the particular role of taste/smell sensitivities, as well as hypersensitivities, although future research is needed looking at different sensory patterns and modalities. There was also tentative evidence to suggest this relationship extends across development. 

Discussion: Study findings are discussed in relation to implications for sensory-based eating and feeding interventions and the development of eating disorders. Methodological and conceptual limitations are discussed and suggestions for future research are made to address these limitations. A broader investigation of multi-sensory issues and clearly defined eating behaviours, including disordered eating in clinically diagnosed samples, will allow for a more comprehensive and robust understanding of the relationship between sensory processing and eating behaviours in autism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-559
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Eating Disorders Review
Issue number5
Early online date23 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • autism
  • eating behaviours
  • sensory processing
  • sensory sensitivities


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