Health knowledge and news provided by doctors.

Autism: Using wisdom with restrictive diets

Jenny Decker RN's picture
Autism in children and restrictive diets

Research find no link between autism and restrictive diets for children. Stomach problems are not linked to Autism in children.

More common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined is autism. It occurs in 1 out of 150 children in the United States today. For a disorder that was hardly ever heard of in the past, it is exploding today. Autism is extremely complex. No autistic child is the same as another autistic child. Each is unique. Autism is a group of neurobiological disorders commonly referred to as autism spectrum disorders or ASD. The spectrum is a range from the most severe to higher functioning individuals. Rett’s syndrome and child disintegrative disorder, as well as pervasive developmental disorder, are a few examples of autism spectrum disorders.

Autism is sometimes difficult to spot. It is common for the parent who perceives something is not quite right with their child to be told that all children develop at their own pace. But if the provider listens to the parents and remember that usually when the parents suspect something, they are usually correct, autism can be caught earlier. It used to be that recommendations were to catch autism before age 3. However, that has changed recently to catching the disorder as early as 6 months. The earlier it is caught, the more the child can be helped.

Follow eMaxHealth on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.

Symptoms of autism include developing normally and then losing previous abilities, resisting eye contact, social isolation, failure to reach developmental milestones such as waving or pointing. Other symptoms that are commonly present in autism include rigidity with schedule, and ritualistic behaviors, such as lining shoes up from the largest to smallest continuously. Repetitive behaviors are also observed in autism, such opening and shutting a door for hours at a time. Gastrointestinal symptoms are seen as well, including constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, discomfort or irritability, vomiting, gastroesophageal reflux, and feeding issues, such as sticking with the same food constantly, or ritualistic behaviors with eating. Diet often becomes a concern with these children.

In the past, stomach symptoms such as diarrhea became highly publicized leading people to believe that autistic individuals had a higher rate of GI problems than normal children. As a result, diets that were free of gluten and the milk protein casein were encouraged (not necessarily by medicine, but by other theorists). It was thought that this would lead to more regular bowel patterns and the child’s autistic tendencies would be improved, if not cured. Unfortunately, many theories of how to treat autism circulated around, as parents of autistic children fell into the traps, desperately wanting to help their child. According to AutismSpeaks, currently there are no effective means to prevent, treat, or cure autism.

There are many types of treatments for autism, but most have never been tested through research. Many are potentially hazardous to the child’s health. Diet restrictions can cause a nutrient deficiency and researchers are encouraging parents not to implement diets unless their child has been tested medically for the need to restrict their diet. Constipation and feeding issues are the most different GI problems associated with autism.

It is important to watch research and not fall for just anyone who states they have the cure for autism, or any other disease for that matter. Studying out the problem and what research indicates is extremely important. No one wants to endanger their child. All too often, parents with autistic children fall for the fads simply because they want to help their child. Working together with the child’s physician, parents can find safe treatments for their children with the disorder. Parents can empower themselves by being alert to fads and by being educated about autism and the treatments and research going on for autism and autism spectrum disorders.

Pediatrics (2005)



How very irresponsible of this article and medical community to deter people from applying HEALING diets for autism - which, by the way, are beneficial to MOST families who try them. For autism (or anyone for that matter), diet means making calculated (intentional) omissions and additions to one's food choices. Everyone from Hippocrates to Homer Simpson knows that food affects the body's functioning and overall health. When one desires to improve health (autism or ANY disorder), addressing diet should always be part of one's strategy. To NOT comprehend and support this should be akin to malpractice. Diet for Autism comprises omitting known problematic foods/substances and adding necessary nutrients. Multiple studies indicate that nutrient deficiencies are common with autism. Being attentive to diet (what children eat) is 100% common sense. Of course it's risky to simply restrict restrict restrict - to do so without conscious attention to the purpose and intent of what's meant to be a healing intervention is unsafe and NOT the onus of autism diets. Rather, autism diets are a Nutritional Intervention - focus on healing the body through food choices. Honestly, can anyone argue against such a principle and practice? Especially since survey after survey of parents indicate that MOST children who follow a healing diet see some improvement in their autism symptoms - which again, makes sense. Autism affects the entire body - most children have some physical ailments and symptoms (not just gastrointestinal), AND what happens in the body affects the brain. Whether or not you believe this undeniable reality (every have a glass of wine "go to your head?"), more and more parents and progressive (i.e. smart and willing to learn and listen to parents) physicians are paying attention to what children EAT and how their diets can affect their physical and cognitive healing. This is both ancient wisdom and modern learning. A nutrition expert from California has synthesized the autism nutrition information in a book called Nourishing Hope for Autism. If these so called medical experts would even just glance at it, they'd realize the depth of the scientific (and practical) rationale for autism diets. Again, this article is irresponsible. The greatest autism awareness that should be reported is the reality that children with autism can heal, they can improve, they can gain relief from physical pain that many suffer, and their life potential can be significantly enhanced...IF we allow ourselves to listen and learn. We'd never tell a diabetic that their "restrictive diet" is a problem, let's not be so ignorant with autism (or ADHD, Asthma, Cancer, etc...). By "picking up" this ridiculous Mayo Clinic report are you condoning the "Standard American Diet" for children with autism? Did you read they said? "The study found that the vast majority of both autistic and non-autistic children suffered from bouts of common gastrointestinal problems like constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, reflux or vomiting. Feeding issues and picky eating were also common. Some 77 percent of autistic children and 72 percent of non-autistic children were affected by one or more of these complaints" (from the New York Times). So, with ALL those food affected problems...parents shouldn't pay attention to food choices, because? Because it's "not easy to follow? Should Moms do nothing? Because...their children with autism aren't statistically significantly suffering more than other children? Is that a reason not to restrict, i.e. consciously choose one's diet with a healing intent? With the rates of childhood illnesses today, do you think the Standard American Diet is safe for these ailing children?
You have some very good points. As a mother of two autistic children myself, I have been there. I whole heartedly believe that diet should be a first line of at least trying anything. I want my child to be better, too. But all too often I have seen friends and others who panic and restrict diets to the point it is actually dangerous to the child. I had hoped to bring that meaning into the article that these so-called dangerous diets are out there, and to be aware and careful, mostly to be educated. I think you brought up some wonderful points. I appreciate them. I do apologize if my article came across the wrong way. However, always be mindful, that autism affects each and every child in a different way. There is still no cure. If there was, I would have my children on it in a heartbeat, because they deserve it. They are my children, and I would not want anything less. Just know that I dearly love all these children with autism, they are incredible and I am truly blessed to be a mother of two of them. Thank you for your comment.
I know someone who has a brother who is Autistic. It's hard to get to know children with this disease since they are so complex. It's pretty interesting to learn things about them though because each case is different than the other. I learned many knew things about children with these disorders from <a href="http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Manson/657586978?_fb_noscript=1">Daniel Manson</a>. It is always great to learn new things.