Research on the effects of certain foods, specifically junk foods, and the autistic child suggest that some behavioral issues can be curved or avoided when a healthy diet is substituted. Several studies over the last five years involved hundreds of children with autism and specific types of diets. Since actresses and their children with autism swear by the “autism diet”, the approach has received much more attention in the past two years than ever before.
The assumption is made that many children with autism lack a particular digestive enzyme that dissolves gluten and casein, two main components of wheat and milk respectively. Doctors can test for this enzyme in children’s blood, but the test is very expensive, leaving most parents with autistic children in the dark as to whether or not to try the diet at all. The diet does have some benefits to the child’s health nonetheless.
A gluten free diet excludes a lot of high carbs and sweet treats that children shouldn’t eat on a regular basis anyway. Whole grain foods are much healthier, but gluten free breads or gluten free cereals should replace the whole wheat bread used in sandwiches and toast. As for milk, the diet suggests that almond milk should replace regular milk or the child should drink calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice to avoid losing the necessary nutrients. No donuts, pastries, cake pies, or cookies are allowed unless they are made from a gluten free mix. That includes pancakes and waffles too.
Further research in the last year showed the diet had no effect when compared to a placebo control group. There was some change in sleep patterns, with the test group sleeping better on the diet, but as for extreme behavioral issues, there was little to no change. There are varying reports around the world as to the effectiveness of the autism diet. Some parents swear by it, while others have tried it and say it has had absolutely no effect on their children.
The only way parents can be sure the diet will have any effect on their autistic children is to pay for the testing that verifies their child lacks the enzyme that was central to the studies. Given that you could pay just as much for six months’ worth of gluten and casein food to test it out on your child anyway, wouldn’t it just make better sense to have the test done and avoid having to change the family diet for six months or more and find out it doesn’t work?
The test will require a visit to a gastroenterologist to explain why you would like the test done and a visit to a lab for a blood draw. If your child with autism is unlikely to sit still for any part of this process, you might want to reconsider it. Stressing an autistic child out from fear or resistance for something that’s not entirely necessary is just cruel.