Diet Ideas for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ~Hippocrates

Autism affects nearly one out of every 68 children, according to the CDC. That's more children diagnosed with autism than with diabetes, cancer, and AIDS combined.

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

When parents are confronted with their child being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can be a time of confusion and anxiety. They are usually keen to initiate treatment procedures as quickly as possible. This is definitely recommended too, as early intervention leads to higher success rates with the treatment, as they are accurately aligned with the needs of the child.

But parents often wonder if there is more they can do. One such question that parents often seem to have is regarding the optimal diet to provide to their child. During the course of our experience providing evidence-based treatment to children with ASD, we have encountered success stories with a specific diet.

But, how far does this diet actually help? Should you consider adopting such a diet for your child as well? Will your child respond well to a change in the diet?

These are some questions we will be addressing in this blog.

A healthy and well-balanced diet is important for every child, as it greatly impacts how they learn, manage and process their emotions. Just as a child’s treatment for ASD varies according to individual needs and severity, diet specifications can also vary based on different factors.

According to the Autism Network, nearly one in five children with autism are on a special diet.

Source: Diet and Autism, WebMD

The GFCF diet

GFCF diet which stands for Gluten-free Casein-free is the most tried and tested diet we have at this point. This diet aims to eliminate the usage of casein and gluten. Most parents have observed a noticeable improvement in their child’s behavior after the elimination of these proteins.

A research review in 2009 has inferred that there isn’t sufficient proof to definitively say that the GFCF diet works. But, later in 2010, a Danish study revealed that children have reportedly shown improvement after a strict 8, 12, 24 months of GFCF diet. Hopeful findings have been emerging ever since.

Source: 8 Facts About the 'Autism Diet', Parents.com

These dietary changes may be hard to implement, but since there is a possibility that it might improve outcomes for your child and also, since the diet causes no harm, it may be worth trying.

Effect of proteins on your child’s health

There is a theory that children with ASD may be unable to break down certain proteins like casein and gluten, due to which there is a fair chance of increased intestinal permeability like having a leaky gut. These partially undigested proteins tend to leak through intestinal walls and flow into the bloodstream. When this blood reaches the brain, it might lead to problems with speech and communication skills.

Another theory states that proteins like gluten and casein may make the child a victim of unknown intolerance which leads to consistent pain and discomfort. When these proteins are eliminated from the diet, the child is more attentive, responds to therapies positively and sleeps better.

How should I help my child adapt to the dietary changes?

For parents looking to adopt such a diet, we recommend considering the following factors:

  • It can be difficult at first

Children with ASD can be picky eaters because of their sensitivities to certain flavors and smells. While starting the diet plan, it might be hard to convince your child to stop eating cheese and other restaurant bought and processed food items. It is believed that foods containing gluten and casein have a direct impact on the brain and children find it hard to accept a diet that does not contain these proteins. We recommend gradually introducing substitutes like non-dairy milk or gluten free pasta. You can try removing casein first and then gluten after a week.

  • Patience and composure is key

No two children with ASD respond to the same treatment at the same pace. Though most parents notice required progress in days, for some it might take weeks and maybe even months, and a few might never see a change. Though casein can be eliminated from the body in 2-3 days, gluten might take up to six months. Hence, we suggest giving your child at least six months on the diet.

  • Professional assistance

Before you start a diet plan for your child, it is advisable to consult a qualified GFCF dietitian and a physician. They can guide you in planning meals, snacks and give an outline of nutrients your child lacks by observing their current diet. They will also determine if your child will require supplements. Since gluten and casein are proteins and are essential for a children’s overall growth, it is important to make sure they are substituted in the right amounts with the right substitute ingredients.

  • Success relies on the parent

It may be a time of anxiety of parents, as they are very keen to see their child improve and respond better to treatment. However, patience is key here. Ensure that you plan well ahead of time, way before you even start the diet and read everything you need to know, both about the diet as well as results experienced by other parents. Assess and record your child’s behavior before starting the diet in order to make a comparison during or at the end of the diet course to gauge if it has been working.

Have you ever tried the GFCF diet for your child? Please share your observations and experiences in comments below.

Note: Post was last updated on Nov 16, 2017

#AutismSpectrum #autismspectrumdisorder #ASD #ASDNetwork #children #SchoolIntervention #ASDBehavior #ASDSupport #ASDTeaching #AutismResearch #autismdiet

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