With every child, a parent might wonder if they are getting the proper amounts of nutrition daily. With a child on the Autism Spectrum this concern grows by leaps and bounds. It is a fact that most of those with Autism can be picky eaters. This raises obvious issues with lacking certain vitamins, minerals, and protein levels.
One study from Emory University found that children with Autism are five times more likely to have mealtime challenges such as tantrums, extreme food selectivity and ritualistic eating behaviors.
They found an overall low intake of calcium and protein. Calcium is crucial for building strong bones. Additionally, adequate protein is important for growth, mental development and health. Severe autism has been linked to low levels of certain nutrients (vitamins B3, B6, C, calcium, iron and zinc).
Omega-3 fats are also known to be important for good brain function.
Good nutrition is important as poor diet can affect
mood, learning and sleep. Healthy foods give the
brain and body the nutrients that they need in the right amounts.
For children with Autism, a nutritious, balanced eating plan can make a world of difference in their ability to learn, how they manage their emotions and how they process information. Because children with ASD often avoid certain foods or have restrictions on what they eat, as well as difficulty sitting through mealtimes, they may not be getting all the nutrients they need. Nutritional Supplementation might be a must to achieve a healthy diet.
Did you know that in some cases you can get lab work done to test for vitamin levels? Vitamin D is one that is regularly tested now with Covid going around. But there are other ones you can easily get a lab test ordered to check.
On top of supplements, some people on The Spectrum respond well to special diets like the gluten- or casein-free diet which can sometimes improve symptoms of Autism. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Casein is a protein found in milk. Proponents of the diet believe people with autism have a “leaky gut,” or intestine, which allows parts of gluten and casein to seep into the bloodstream and affect the brain and central nervous system. Their belief is that this may lead to Autism or at least magnify its symptoms.
Others believe a ketogenic diet, may work well. There was a study of 30 children with Autism, the participants were placed on a ketogenic diet for six months. The diet specifically consisted of 30% medium chain triglyceride oil, 30% fresh cream, 11% saturated fat, 19% carbohydrates, and 10% protein along with vitamin and mineral supplements. This was not a really strict ketogenic diet. However, the children that stayed with the diet were able to get into ketosis. The children that stuck to the ketogenic diet “presented with improvements in their social behavior and interactions, speech, cooperation, repetitive movements or utterances, and hyperactivity, which contributed significantly to their improvement in learning.”
You may also want to consider a variation of the cyclical ketogenic diet where the ketogenic diet is followed for weeks to months and carbs are then slowly introduced back into the child’s diet. If the symptoms get worse after the reintroduction of carbs, then start reducing carbs until the child feels better.
There was another pediatric study that showed that the most common nutrient insufficiencies in children with autism were fiber, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6, and B12. So, we know from all of this that there is a very good chance your child might need a supplemental diet.
A great place to start is to first chat with your child’s doctor. The second place I would suggest sitting down with is your child’s Occupational or Speech Therapist. American Autism and Rehabilitation Center has Feeding Therapists who could help you one on one in this journey of picky eating and overall poor eating habits.
Don’t be afraid to ask. You are your child’s voice, their advocate. Help is out there. You are not alone dear friend. “Hope for your special needs child” is their motto. I can tell you firsthand, it’s true.