April is national Autism awareness and acceptance month. Autism has become more widely diagnosed in recent decades making it quite common in young kids. 1 in 54 children born in the U.S. are diagnosed with Autism. I listened to a recent podcast from Dr. Mark Hyman on the Doctors Farmacy as he addressed Autism. Dr. Hyman provided great ideas on things parents can do at home to help support their children through the food they eat.
Addressing a diagnosis like Autism with food may not be intuitive. But, I challenge you to listen to that podcast to understand just how impactful food can be. Not only for Autism, but for all health conditions.
What is Autism?
First, lets learn about Autism. According to the Autism Society, “Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees.”
Every parent out there with a child, relative or even a friend diagnosed with Autism wants to find solutions and support/education to best help their loves ones live a long, fulfilled life. Let’s start with how Autism is diagnosed so you know when to seek help.
How is Autism diagnosed?
The National Institute of Mental Health notes difficulty communicating and interacting with others, limited interests or a preference for repetitive behaviors, and any other symptom prohibiting someone from engaging in every day activities most find routine (school, work, or even getting dressed) as potential diagnosable criteria.
You’ll have an idea well before you reach this point, but if you notice any of these signs and haven’t already, have your child evaluated by a doctor.
Can you prevent Autism?
Are there are ways to prevent Autism in children? “There’s no way to prevent autism spectrum disorder, but there are treatment options. Early diagnosis and intervention is most helpful and can improve behavior, skills and language development. However, intervention is helpful at any age” (Mayo Clinic).
I do appreciate the Mayo Clinic and others institutions for their science and opinion on the matter. While I am not a medically trained professional, my experience in health and wellness puts me on both sides of the discussion both agreeing and disagreeing on the prevention side. How a child develops and grows is highly dependent on their environment in the womb, birth, and foods they consume through childhood.
The podcast referenced before, digs a little deeper into the prevention side of things. Genetic factors are at play as well, so I do not discount some things are just out of our hands. However, I believe we can control a lot with our environment/lifestyle, which we address through diet recommendations later on.
I am a big believer in prevention in regards to all health issues and its my passion with my family to find ways to create healthy habits now so reduce the impacts of disease, chronic pain cancer, etc. in our lives.
What foods should children avoid if they have Autism?
So what foods we can eliminate or add to our children’s diets? Dr. Joshua Axe has a wonderful article on Autism Natural Treatments which includes things to eat and things to avoid. The main foods he says to avoid are gluten and dairy. There have been over 100 studies related to gluten and the impact on Autism patients. This research has lead some functional medicine specialists to recommend avoiding anything that includes wheat or gluten including breads, pastas, and frankly a lot of processed and/or “eating out” options.
Replace those processed foods with natural, unprocessed foods, fermented foods, and fatty fish to help the body process and remove inflammation in the body. These benefits can be to anyone suffering from multiple types of disorders.
Gluten and dairy are two of the top items I repeatedly find in my research as things people have given up or tried without and end up seeing significant improvement in their health. Both have been shown to cause high inflammation in the body contributing to things like Autism and other health conditions. Avoiding something like bread has been shown to improve symptoms in those suffering from Autism, which is fantastic!
Foods to avoid:
- Cows milk
- Food coloring
We have noticed improvements in our household from heeding some of this advice in things as small as runny noses and ear infections. If your child has Autism, you may be able to start with this list of foods to avoid for a few months and see some noticeable changes. Bonus, it costs nothing to try!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This post is not medical advice. Seek the advice of your medical professional(s).
- National Autism Association
- Autism Speaks
- Institute for Functional Medicine (find a local practitioner in your area)
- Autism Society
- The Parents roadmap to Autism
- A functional medicine approach to Autism by Dr. William Cole
- The Mind-Gut Connection