Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects around one in 88 children in the U.S., according to the CDC. Individuals with autism or parents of children with the disorder often notice experiences with food sensitivities and aversions.
Behavioral problems can make mealtime especially challenging. Maintaining a healthy diet is often difficult for autistic individuals.
What is Autism?
Autism can be a very complex condition, marked by challenges with social communication. For instance, those with ASD frequently struggle to express themselves. Also, people with ASD may find social interaction difficult, such as the inability to express or interpret others’ feelings.
Individuals with ASD have specific characteristics, such as:
- Having ‘special interests’ they find extremely important take up their attention.
- Making repetitive motions, such as rocking or hand flapping, and restrictive behaviors cause them to dislike change. They tend to feel more secure sticking to routines.
- Being extremely anxious due to trouble understanding what’s happening or may occur next.
- Being under-sensitive or over-sensitive to sound, light, taste, or touch.
- Having shutdowns or meltdowns (tantrums) when they seem to switch off. This is due to them feeling overwhelmed through either experiencing anxiety they find difficult to cope with or sensory overload.
Recently, there’s been emerging evidence surrounding autism and nutritional deficiencies. Lifestyle factors and nutrition may play in offering support for people on the spectrum.
Nutrition and Autism
A published meta-analysis of studies proves parents’ concerns and offers insights into autism-related nutritional deficiencies. The studies found that kids with autism have five times the risk of experiencing mealtime challenges. Ritualistic eating behaviors, intense food selectivity, and tantrums are common mealtime challenges.
The studies also show insufficient nutrition among children with ASD is more common than in individuals that aren’t affected by the disorder. Researchers in the studies found the particular challenge overall was a low intake of protein and calcium. Sufficient protein is essential for mental development, growth, and health. Calcium is vital for strong bones.
The researchers note that chronic eating challenges also impact children’s risk for poor academics and social difficulties. This could also raise the risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other diet-related diseases in adolescence and adulthood.
Alternative diets were another concern the researchers had. Many parents say that their kids with ASD symptoms improve once they eliminate gluten and casein from their diets. But, gluten- and casein-free diets can make it more challenging to maintain adequate nutrition.
This shows how important it is to evaluate the diet as part of autistic individuals’ routine healthcare.
It’s known that parents of autistic children tend to use alternative diets. It’s encouraged that these parents first speak with their children’s pediatricians before starting diets like these. While most of these alternative diets are safe enough, there’s still the potential of them causing nutritional deficiencies.
Feeding problems can be a massive issue for children with ASD. These problems can lead to severe consequences if the children have nutritional deficiencies. To help, parents can employ different autism and nutritional therapy strategies to get their kids to eat other foods. Therapists and doctors are typically involved in this whole process.
Foods to Eat with Autism
One study found that children with ASD often experience nutrient insufficiencies in:
- Folic acid
- Vitamins A, C, D, E, and K
- Vitamins B6 and B12
Because of food obsessions or preferences, certain kids may end up having too much of any of these nutrients. They often do not get enough minerals and vitamins because of their food avoidances.
To help their children with ASD, parents can ensure they’re getting the proper balance of these essential nutrients by adding the following foods to their diet:
- Beans like pinto beans, navy beans, and black beans
- Soy milk
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Almond milk and almonds
- Peanut butter and peanuts
- Dried apricots and figs
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Green peas
- Lean beef, chicken, and turkey
- Dark chocolate (occasionally)
- Tomato juice and tomatoes
- Melons like cantaloupe
- Sweet red pepper
- Onions and garlic
- Butternut squash
- Beet greens
- Citruses like grapefruit and oranges
A lot of these foods provide multiple nutrients. Therefore mixing them in various ways by planning meals can help parents provide their kids with high-quality nutrients. Gradually add new foods to their diets and help them avoid foods that can cause discomfort. It can help children create better eating habits too.
Foods to Avoid with Autism
If parents notice a particular food produces negative behaviors or stomach problems in their children, they should stop serving that food. Common foods that could cause problems in kids with ASD to include:
- High-sugar foods
- Wheat products
- Milk and other dairy products
- Processed meats
Parents should work closely with their child’s pediatrician and possibly a nutritionist to devise a meal plan. For trouble introducing new foods into their children’s diet, parents can work with a behavior therapist. A therapist can help come up with a plan to introduce fresh foods to their children in an optimal way.
Treatment for Autism
Along with autism and nutritional therapy, parents seek other types of treatments. Treatments for ASD symptoms are based on observation and experience and focus heavily on early intensive behavioral therapies. In some cases, pharmacological treatments can be effective in treating comorbid and secondary ASD features, such as:
However, there’s presently no pharmacological treatment that’s been shown to treat the core symptoms of autism effectively.
TMS for Autism
With ongoing pharmaceutical clinical trials and other interventions for core autism symptoms, early autism diagnosis and enhanced underlying ASD pathophysiology understanding are needed. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is one way to accomplish this. This noninvasive cortical stimulation technique can help diagnose ASD and maybe even gain more insight into its physiology.
Many centers worldwide are using TMS as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool. It’s been shown to be very effective in reducing ASD symptoms in ways no other treatments have been able to. Parents with autistic children or individuals with ASD can learn more about autism and nutrition and how TMS may help by contacting us. We are here to help you with all your ASD needs.