There is convincing empirical evidence that dietary intervention can help many with an autism spectrum disorder. Here are a few tips for parents of autistic children.
New Delhi: Every year, April 2 is observed as World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), an event to raise public awareness about autism as well as highlight the needs to help and improve the lives of those affected by the developmental disorder. This year’s WAAD is focusing on leveraging the use of assistive technologies for persons with autism.
First discovered in the 1940s, autism is a serious disorder wherein a child has difficulty in communicating and his social skills are impaired. It is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as the signs can be varied based on the severity of the condition. Indicators may appear by age of 2-3 years.
Experts say that early intervention can help improve communication skills and help in brain development so that the child can have a near-normal life later as an adult. Perhaps, there is convincing empirical evidence that dietary intervention can help many with autism.
Symptoms and causes of autism spectrum disorder
Few signs that a child might be autistic are – lack of eye contact, poor facial expressions, resists cuddling or holding, shows repetitive behaviour, doesn’t respond when his name is called out, is not able to express his feelings or understand other persons feeling, etc.
The exact cause of autism is not very clear as it may be associated with environmental and genetic factors – ranging from exposure to few drugs during pregnancy to genetic mutation.
Diet and Autism: What parents need to know
Children with autism may have a sensitive gut, inflammation, poor digestion, malabsorption, etc. It has been observed that children with autism have high peptide levels in the blood as compared to children without the disorder.
Generally, a gluten- and casein-free diet (GFCF) is highly recommended for people with autism, said Dr Parul Patni, Nutritionist- Lifestyle and Weight Management Expert. Gluten-free means avoiding grains like wheat, oats, barley and their products in the diet. Instead, parents can give quinoa, rye, potato flour, rice, tapioca, etc. One can also make paratha, chelas, pancakes, porridge, pulav, dosa, etc out of these flours. You may also use them as a binding agent to make a patty out of vegetables.
A casein-free diet is a diet free of dairy products like milk, curd, cheese, drinks which are milk-based or supplements which have milk powder in them. The advice here is to read the label before giving anything to the child or better still cook and prepare food from scratch at home.
Another option is to substitute milk with almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, etc. Packed milk contains carrageenans which can lead to inflammation, hence, one should try to prepare at home. There is clear advice of not using soya milk or products as soya is genetically modified and commonly have cross contamination. Also, parents need to avoid saturated fats and sugars as well apart from gluten and casein. Here are a few important diet tips for parents to follow.
- Be careful about cross contamination – e.g. using the same knife or spoon between GFCF and normal diet.
- Do not stock your kitchen with gluten-free products as most of them will be high in sugar. Honey can be a good substitute but that too in limited quantities.
- Let the child have as much as he wants to eat as long as it is within the allowed category.
- If possible, the whole family should turn to the same diet as it is easier to follow and avoid contamination.
- Avoid additives, colour, preservatives, hormones, etc in food.
- Food should be nutrient-dense as the child’s nutritive needs are higher than the counterpart.
It has been seen that if we eliminate grains and milk, there will be obvious nutritional deficiencies in children who are already poor eaters. So here the task is to give enough options and variety to the child with the main focus on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a professional healthcare provider if you have any specific questions about any medical matter.