For a variety of reasons, children with autism may not get the nutrition they need. 1,2,3,4 Some children with autism will only eat certain foods because of how the foods feel in their mouths. Other times, they might avoid eating foods because they associate them with stomach pain or discomfort. Some children are put on limited diets in hopes of improving autism symptoms.
It is important that parents and caregivers work with a nutrition specialist-such as a registered dietitian-or health care provider to design a meal plan for a person with autism, especially if they want to try a limited diet. These health care providers can help to make sure the child is still getting all the nutrients he or she needs to grow into a healthy adult, even while on the special diet.
For example, many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are on gluten-free or casein-free diets. Available research data do not support the use of a casein-free diet, a gluten-free diet, or combined gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet as a primary treatment for individuals with ASD.5
Good Nutrition Is Important
Research shows that children with autism tend to have thinner bones than children without autism.6 Restricting access to bone-building foods, such as milk, can make it even harder for their bones to grow strong. Working with a health care provider can help ensure that children on special diets are still getting the bone-building nutrients they need.
|Gluten and casein are types of proteins found in wheat and milk products, respectively.|
Digestive Problems in ASD
Some people with autism also have digestive problems, such as constipation, abdominal (belly) pain, or vomiting. But there is no conclusive evidence that such problems occur more often in people with autism than in people without autism.7 Working with a health care provider can help ensure that a diet does not make digestive problems worse.
Ongoing research will provide more information about how children with autism grow and if they have specific nutritional needs.8
- Adams, J. B., Audhya, T., McDonough-Means, S., Rubin, R. A., Quig, D., Geis, E., et al. (2011). Nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism vs. neurotypical children, and the association with autism severity. Nutrition & Metabolism, 8(1), 34. [top]
- Arnold, G. L., Hyman, S. L., Mooney, R. A., & Kirby, R. S. (2003). Plasma amino acids profiles in children with autism: potential risk of nutritional deficiencies. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(4), 449-454. [top]
- Zimmer, M. H., Hart, L. C., Manning-Courtney, P., Murray, D. S., Bing, N. M., & Summer, S. (2012). Food variety as a predictor of nutritional status among children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(4), 549-556. doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1268-z [top]
- Herndon, A. C., DiGuiseppi, C., Johnson, S. L., Leiferman, J., & Reynolds, A. (2009). Does nutritional intake differ between children with autism spectrum disorders and children with typical development? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(2), 212-222. [top]
- Buie, T., Campbell, D. B., Fuchs, 3rd G. J., Furuta, G. T., Levy, J., Vandewater, J., et al. (2010). Evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with ASDs: A consensus report. Pediatrics, 125, S1-S18. [top]
- Hediger, M. L., England, L. J., Molloy, C. A., Yu, K. F., Manning-Courtney, P., & Mills, J. L.. (2008). Reduced bone cortical thickness in boys with autism or autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(5), 848-858. [top]
- Buie, T., Campbell, D. B., Fuchs 3rd G. J., Furuta G. T., Levy J., Vandewater J., et al. (2010). Evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with ASDs: A consensus report. Pediatrics, 125, S1-S18. [top]
- Growth and maturation in children with autism or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). (2007). Retrieved January 28, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17547689 [top]