What’s the truth about the autism and diet connection?

Get knee deep into the nitty-gritty about autism and diet. Be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised. Even scared. But for the love of your child, be informed.

The connection between autism and diet makes a profound statement about the link between other health-related issues and diet. If changing a diet can relieve the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders, how many other health issues might it improve?

Doesn’t research waver about whether autism and diet are truly connected?

Yes. Some studies weren’t big enough. Others had flaws. But some autism patients have experienced improved or removed symptoms by changing their diet. What if your child could be part of that “some”?

The Autism Research Institute considers a diet free of gluten and dairy a “crucial first step” for autism patients. It could be cornerstone in helping overcome autism or may help medical treatments work better.

Overcome. That’s a strong word.

More specifically, an article on Treatautism.ca discusses how a diet free of gluten, dairy, corn and soy has helped patients by:

  • increasing language skills (number of words spoken, complexity of sentences and conversational speech);
  • improving focus, cognitive function and ability to be “present”;
  • improving social interaction (with peers or siblings or in larger groups, initiating play and using toys appropriately);
  • reducing self-destructive behavior;
  • increasing digestion, sleep and immune function (I’m no scientist but these surely spark the other positive effects!).

Doesn’t it fill your heart with hope knowing a change in diet could free your child from some of these struggles, whether from autism or not?!

Start battling autism by changing the diet

Where do you begin?

  1. autism and diet glutenRemove gluten and dairy from the diet for at least 3 months, as recommended by the Autism Research Institute. Know that many pediatricians or general physicians do not yet believe in the connection between autism and diet. But do what’s best for you, even if that means finding a more supportive doctor. Inform everyone who takes care of your kids so they can support your effort. (I typed up a letter with instructions when my kids did gluten-free during a month of school.) It doesn’t have to be that difficult – keep reading for more relief.
  1. Keep a food journal. Start tracking the foods your kid eats and ANY symptoms. Use this free template, which lists also symptoms you may not normally relate to food. The journal is key because if your child has only an IgG (immunoglobulin G) response to a food, as opposed to a more obvious IgE response, it can take up to 72 hours for the symptom to surface.
  1. Use typical gluten and dairy substitutes in moderation. Consider giving up corn and soy, too, since they 2 of the Big Four products, typically containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs – yikes!). These may cause more symptoms. It’s better to replace gluten and dairy with vegetables including leafy greens and sweet potatoes, which provide essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin D and zinc.
  1. Consider using supplements so your child gets enough essential fatty acids and probiotics. If your child has leaky gut syndrome, talk to a naturopath about a product with L-glutamine to help heal the gut, too.
  1. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people with autism spectrum disorders may have narrow, obsessive interests, which makes getting them to eat healthier foods more difficult. Work with a naturopath or other experts to educate your child about his choices. Sometimes your kid needs to hear it from someone besides his parents!

Also consider consulting Brian Balance Achievement Centers if your child has autism or spectrum disorders. A colleague told me about this rather rigid program you have to commit to for several months at a time. It includes changes in diet, sensory activities, at-home exercises and more. But his son wanted to do another session of it because he was so happy with the results. His teenage son wanted to commit to the rigid plan.

As explained on the website, “The Balance 360 System progressively removes foods that contain gluten, refined sugar and dairy. These foods are known to have negative reactions on brain, leading to food sensitivities and inflammation, causing negative behaviors, physical symptoms and learning challenges.”

More and more centers and people are seeing relief of complex, brain-centered symptoms by changing the diet.

autism and diet

Too often, we think we are depriving kids of the food they love. In reality, they’d be happy to starve the symptoms that restrict their livelihood.

I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have a child with autism. I certainly am not downplaying the magnitude of it. Diet is not the answer to everything. And changing the diet may not help you or your child.

But it might. It could. It could make a marked difference in all the symptoms listed above, and more – whether they are a part of autism or another health-related struggle.

So isn’t it worth a try? See if your child might become part of the “some”. Read Eating gluten free made easy – what to avoid and what to eat and Eating dairy free with a busy lifestyle for practical ways to make the changes more easily. It could be life changing!



*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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