March is National Nutrition Month. For parents of children with autism, the idea of ensuring adequate nutrition to a child who may likely have many food issues such as allergies, sensory issues, or even behavioral challenges, can be daunting.
Unfortunately, these worries have a basis: studies confirm that having inadequate nutrition is more likely in children with ASD than in typically developing children, particularly in low intake of calcium and protein. Both of these nutrients are important for growth, and protein is especially important for mental health and development.
Some parents may choose to prepare “alternative diets,” such as removing gluten from a diet. It has been reported that some children’s symptoms and even related medical issues seem to dissipate with these changes in diet. Conversely, diets such as this may only increase the challenge of ensuring adequate nutrition.
It is really important to discuss changes in diet with your child’s physician, and to evaluate potential risks, costs, and impact to your family before introducing dietary changes into your routine. Ultimately, you and your child will figure out what helps and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to try a new diet or introduce a new food, but if you don’t see a clear improvement in a few weeks, you may want to consider stopping it. Also, before you introduce any new supplements into a diet, be sure to consult with your doctor about appropriate combinations and dosages.
I recognize that I am very lucky in that Ryan is not a picky eater, nor does he have any rituals about meal times. I did not consider a gluten-free diet because I felt there was not sufficient research to support that extreme change in diet. However, I do see many of our school students with gluten-free lunches. Fortunately, there are a number of gluten-free products now available commercially at your local grocery store, which should make it easier should you wish to try this diet.
Some simple ideas I’ve come across for improving nutrition include:
- Digestive issues are common among children with ASD. If your child has digestive issues, talk to your physician about digestive enzymes and probiotics, as they can be a way to restore the balance of gut bacteria.
Try: A probiotic yogurt.
- Watch blood sugar. For children with autism who show signs of hyperactivity, this is a must. Regular snacking and drinking sugary substances – even natural sugar, glucose – without a balance of fiber to help proper absorption can trigger issues with concentration, focus and behavior.
Try: Water with a splash of cranberry juice (not cocktail!) for a little added sweetness without all those sugar grams.
- I have written before about reported positive results from introducing a variety of vitamins in the diet of children with ASD, from Vitamins B and D, to magnesium, to zinc. There are plenty of research papers sharing signs of improvement after the regular use of certain vitamins.
Try: Discussing the idea of introducing some level of vitamins or minerals into your child’s diet with your physician.
Many of these tips are great not just for individuals with autism, but for all of us. Nutrition is one of the most important factors in an overall healthy lifestyle. Do you have any great nutritional tips? Please share below!