Can Dietary Changes Help People with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome?

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There’s no authoritative study on the issue yet. But according to Craig Kendall, author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide and a number of other sources (particularly parents of autistic kids), changes in diet can help children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome in a variety of ways. In particular, gluten-free and casein-free diets help overcome certain symptoms that result in better behavior in children.

Recent studies have shown that diet can be a major cause of problems, especially behavior problems, in children with Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Controlling the diet of children and adults with autism has, in some cases, provided nearly immediate improvement in symptoms.

According to Craig Kendall, a well-known author of books on Asperger’s syndrome, “There is no doubt that diet plays a major factor in how children and young adults cope with the symptoms of autism.” As Kendall explains, “Mothers are always commenting on my blog and newsletter posts about how important diet is. Especially a gluten and casein free diet.”

There may be some scientific merit to the reasoning behind a gluten-free/casein-free diet. Researchers have found abnormal levels of peptides in bodily fluids of some people who have symptoms of autism. Still, the effectiveness of a GFCF diet for autism has not been supported by medical research; in fact, a review of recent and past studies concluded there is a lack of scientific evidence to say whether this diet can be helpful or not. (source: WebMD).

Unfortunately, eliminating all sources of gluten and casein is so difficult that conducting randomized clinical trials in children may prove to be very difficult. But you would have a hard time arguing the point with parents of autistic children who have found the change in diet to make big improvements that translate to better behavior.

Pediatric gastroenterologist, Kent Williams, MD, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio opines that the behavioral changes may be due to dietary changes other than the removal of casein or gluten.  For example, the improvement might be due to the fact that the new diet replaces processed foods high in sugar and fat with healthier foods such as whole grain rice, fruits, and vegetables.

Tips for Parents
Kendall has some tips for parents of autistic children who are just starting a gluten and casein free diet. “Many parents have trouble getting their kids to try new foods. This is especially true of children with Asperger’s syndrome because  children with this condition typically hate change. Children with Asperger’s syndrome typically have a fixed routine and any change can cause a meltdown,” says Kendall. The author provides the following tips for parents who are starting a gluten and casein free diet.

1. Follow Through – If you are going to do the diet, make sure you can do it all the way. It’s really important to be able to do the diet 100%. So that means that if you are divorced and share custody, you’ll want to get your ex-spouse on board. You’ll want to make sure all members of your family will follow it for your child with Asperger’s syndrome.

2. Buy Local to Save Money – Doing a gluten and casein free diet does not have to be frighteningly expensive. Some think these diets cost a fortune. By buying foods from local farms, and making a lot of foods yourself out of basic ingredients, you can save a lot of money. Not everything has to come out of package.

3. Focus on Nutritious Foods – When doing this diet, don’t just think in terms of gluten and casein free. Think in terms of how you can be nutritious across the food spectrum. You are aiming to take as many toxins out of their diet as you can. So this means trying to eat organic if you can, eat lots of fresh produce, and don’t eat very many artificial ingredients or processed food. You may also need to treat other digestive problems common with autism at the same time.

Overcoming the Challenge of Picky Eaters
Unfortunately, a common Asperger’s syndrome symptom is reluctance to try new foods. Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are very picky eaters and getting them to eat nutritious foods can be a challenge. According to Craig Kendall, there are steps parents can take to overcome Asperger’s syndrome symptoms such as picky eating.

Kendall suggests that parents go slow and offer their child small pieces of food at a time. “Allow them to get used to the new foods slowly. And use plenty of rewards. If your child takes at least a bite of the new food you are offering, give him some reward. It can be as simply as a small toy or extra time to watch TV that day,” says Kendall.

According to Kendall there are many ways that nutrition can help a child with Asperger’s syndrome. “Some of the best tips that I have found come from other parents who have been in your shoes and who have figured out how to get their children to eat healthy, nutritious foods,” says Kendall. “In my books I cover many of these dietary tips and include advice from hundreds of parents who are raising children with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.” To gain more information on Craig Kendall’s books visit www.AspergersSociety.org today.

Joey Lowenstein in particular has benefited tremendously from changes in diet as well as implementing sports and meditation and the Joey Lowenstein Foundation supports these initiatives as part of it core purpose. If you would like more information or wish to support these causes, please consider making a contribution to the JL Foundation on our Donate page.

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