Providing Nutrition Services for People with Developmental Disabilities and Special Health Care Needs

Volume 110, Issue 2, Pages 296-307 (February 2010)

This position paper has expired and it has been reaffirmed to be updated. The updated paper is in the process of being developed.


It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that nutrition services provided by registered dietitians (RDs) and dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs), are essential components of comprehensive care for all people with developmental disabilities and special health care needs. Nutrition services should be provided throughout life in a manner that is interdisciplinary, family-centered, community-based, and culturally competent. People with developmental disabilities and special health care needs frequently have nutrition concerns, including growth alterations (failure to thrive, obesity, or growth retardation), metabolic disorders, poor feeding skills, medication–nutrient interactions, and sometimes partial or total dependence on enteral or parenteral nutrition. Individuals with special needs are also more likely to develop comorbid conditions such as obesity or endocrine disorders that require nutrition interventions. Poor health habits, limited access to services, and long-term use of multiple medications are considered health risk factors. Health maintenance and avoidance of complications can be promoted by timely and cost-effective nutrition interventions. Public policy for individuals with special needs has evolved over time, resulting in a transition from institutional facilities and programs to community living. The expansion of public access to technology and health information on the Internet challenges RDs and DTRs to provide accurate scientific information for those with developmental disabilities and special health care needs. Nationally credentialed RDs and DTRs are best prepared to provide appropriate nutrition information for wellness and quality of life.