Kids with autism tend to be picky eaters even at very young ages, opening a window into what could be an early sign of the developmental disorder, researchers said Monday.

In a long-term study, researchers asked parents to fill out questionnaires about their kids’ diets at 6, 15, 24, 38 and 54 months of age. Children who ended up being diagnosed with autism were often slow to take solid foods, “difficult to feed” and “very choosy” about food, researchers reported online ahead of the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

What’s more, kids with autism ate fewer fruits and vegetables, but were less likely to eat desserts or drink soda.

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Of the children studied, 79 were diagnosed with autism while 12,901 were not. Neither parents nor researchers knew which of the children had autism at the start of the research.

Despite the limited diet, children with autism seemed to experience healthy development. They exhibited similar height and weight to their peers through age 7 in addition to comparable energy levels.

“The possibility of an ASD should be considered for young children who present with feeding problems, pervasive food refusal and limited food preferences,” the authors wrote, suggesting that autism screening would be appropriate in such cases.

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