Autism is a neurobiological and developmental disorder that affects 1 in 160 children. Characterized by difficulties in social interactions and in verbal and non-verbal communication, it also influences the child’s academic performance. Repetitive behavior, difficulty adapting to a changed routine, inability to learn various skills, anxiety, unusual responses to sensory changes, and sleep disorders can be seen in children with autism.
How does it affect overall health?
Autism has a negative impact on the child’s health, especially if they follow unhealthy eating habits. The tendency to junk food or the excessive consumption of high-energy foods and sugary things leads to weight gain and further to metabolic disorders. Children with autism are mostly nutritionally deficient due to their behavioral changes and diet-related issues. Poor nutrition puts you at risk of developing various metabolic diseases in later years of life. These children are easily diagnosed with calcium and protein deficiencies, which further impair their cognitive development and physical growth.
Food allergies are common in children too; allergies to seafood, eggs, peanuts, gluten, casein, nuts, soy, and fish are common. In the case of a food allergy, the product in question should not be included in the diet, but its nutritional content must be replaced by another, equally nutritious food. Proper nutrition plan is very important for a child with autism.
Diet for autism:
Diet and nutrition play an important role in everyone’s life. Feeding an autistic child is a difficult task, which puts them at risk of developing multiple nutritional deficiencies. Children with autism generally suffer from eating disorders, food intolerances, food allergies, and nutritional deficiencies. There’s no such thing as an ASA-specific diet, but based on research excluding some proteins like gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein), it works better in some cases.
So overall, it can be said that nutritional therapy for these children depends on their symptoms. Some children also suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), gas, gas, chronic diarrhea, stomach discomfort, etc. due to improper eating habits. Adequate nutrition is necessary to improve a child’s nutritional status. Continuous monitoring of their diet will help alleviate symptoms. Adequate nutritional management is required for conditions such as obesity, overweight or underweight (due to poor nutrition). Many studies also show the benefits of consuming omega 3, probiotics, and multivitamins.
A child with autism and seizure disorders can be better treated by following a ketogenic diet (a diet high in fat, moderate in protein, low in carbohydrates). A keto diet also has some side effects, so it should only be followed under the supervision of a qualified nutritionist.
Feeding an autistic child can be challenging for a parent or carer. But proper awareness, knowledge of nutritional therapies, and proper monitoring of treatments can really help you.
Tips for parents:
First of all, remember that disability sometimes also means ability.
Autistic people have special characteristics, such as the same routine, which is a good habit. So try to keep your routine healthy right from the start. Create a schedule such as a set time for eating, studying, and sleeping. Pre-planning is required to follow the same routine every day.
To know your child’s food allergies. Exclude casein (milk protein) and gluten (wheat protein) from the child’s diet. Casein-free milk can be given like almond milk, soy milk, etc. Similarly, replace foods containing gluten with sorghum, ragi, amaranth, and millet. Because we do not want to eat up their diet through exclusion.
Now observe the child’s symptoms and behavior during this exclusion period. Keep a journal to record any symptoms. This record will also help your doctor and nutritionist. After a week of elimination, slowly start reintroducing one food at a time to see its effects. Assess your child’s allergies accordingly.
Making this diet change may not be easy for parents to make, but it is the safest approach to finding out what is best for your child.
According to research, deficiencies in folic acid and vitamin D in expectant mothers are one of the reasons for developing neurodevelopmental disorders in children. To prevent supplementation of these nutrients should not be neglected.
Shivani Baijal, Senior Executive Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Gurgaon