Special Diets & Other Alternative Treatments
What It Is
A popular approach among families of children with autism is to institute a gluten-free, casein-free diet, also called the GFCF diet. In recent years, a number of parents have raised questions about digestion problems pertaining to the wheat protein gluten and dairy protein casein, and whether eating these proteins aggravate autistic symptoms (sometimes referred to as "leaky gut").
How It Works
The hypothesis leads families to restrict their children's diets to avoid these wheat and dairy proteins, replacing them with other foods. There are websites and cookbooks that provide recipes, and some nutritionists and other professionals who consult about how young children who need the nutritional benefits provided by these proteins can still get them.
Important to Know
Some parents swear that the GFCF diet produces improvements in autistic kids' behavior, social interactions, and use of language. In spite of this, researchers haven't found an indication that children with autism have any more digestive issues than other kids, though studies continue. Research also has not indicated that a specialized diet provides a marked benefit to children who follow it. At the same time, researchers have found that kids on the autism spectrum may refuse to eat many foods. That can make it useful to have a child tested for food allergies to rule out problems or discomfort that he may not be able to explain.
Special diets are one of many alternative treatments that parents are exploring to help their autistic children. There is so much interest that there are groups that organize conferences to discuss them, and offer to sell products and services to help parents implement them. Unfortunately as of this writing, there is a lack of research evidence to demonstrate these alternative approaches provide measurable, lasting benefits for children with autism.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a paper which summarizes research efforts so far into alternative treatments including diets, vitamins, auditory integration therapy, dolphin-assisted therapy, chelation therapy (a process used for people who have heavy metal poisoning to remove those metals from the body) and more.
The AAP advises pediatricians to educate their patients' families about a lack of available evidence to support these approaches, while adding an interesting piece of advice: Don't immediately dismiss these efforts because you will alienate caring parents who are searching for ways to help their children.
Special Diet & Alternative Treatment Resources
- 'Leaky Gut' and the Gluten-/Casein-Free Diet, an article at the website of the Autism Research Institute, an alternative treatment center established by the late Bernard Rimland, the parent of a child with autism who also founded the Autism Society of America
- The Official GFCF Diet Support Group, one of many websites promoting the use of the gluten-free, casein-free diet
- Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, the 2007 paper put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which summarizes research so far on diets and other alternative treatments