As we learn more and more about autism and its effect on children, we also learn how everyday choices play a major role in an autistic child’s ability to function. Autism is a complex biological disorder that varies from child to child. Common issues include difficulty speaking or communicating in general, an inability to empathize with others, sensory and visual misperceptions, and behavior abnormalities that might include obsessive compulsive fixations. Researchers have yet to establish a single cause of autism, but there are a number of factors that seem to contribute to the worsening of the condition.
There is growing evidence that what a child eats affects the severity of his autism symptoms. Diet will not “cure” the problem, but it might make dealing with the condition much easier. Research has shown many autistic children experience seriously disrupted digestion, so restoring healthy digestion is an essential piece of solving the autism puzzle. For many children, a smooth digestive process means a reduction in symptoms.
Unfortunately, many parents find creating a healthy diet to be a challenge because there is so much information available. The key to helping an autistic child manage his condition with dietary improvements is learning what changes have the greatest effect on an individual. So far, five recommendations appear to produce the greatest benefits for children with autism.
Increase Intake of Fresh, Healthy Foods Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
Researchers and health experts have understood for decades how important a healthy diet is to children with autism. Dr. Bernard Rimland determined the nutritional approach to be one of the most effective for dealing with autism. Specifically, he found that supplementing vitamins B6 and C, and magnesium produced a significant improvement in the behavior of autistic children. Dr. Rimland’s research has been used in subsequent studies, all of which reinforced the importance of a healthy diet and supplementation for autistic children.
A well-balanced diet is a great source of all the vitamins and minerals children typically need, but you might want to speak to your child’s doctor about supplementing certain vitamins and minerals, such as those listed in Dr. Rimland’s study.
Balance Blood Sugar
Researchers have determined there is a great deal of mingling between symptoms of autism and those of attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. Many autistic children experience hyperactivity and an inability to focus. When blood sugar is out of balance, these symptoms increase and ringing blood sugar into balance with dietary changes appears to have a calming effect on many autistic children.
What are the best ways to balance blood sugar? Beware of hidden sugar in common foods. Obviously, candy and other sweets need to be limited, but there are many foods that cause a surprising spike in blood sugar. Read ingredient labels closely and avoid refined carbohydrates, bottled fruit juices, and processed foods.
The process of improving digestion includes dietary changes, as well as determining if other factors have affected the health of the gut. For instance, antibiotics tend to disrupt healthy bacteria in the gut. These bacteria are responsible for keeping things in balance and when they are destroyed and bad bacteria are permitted to grow, it results in digestive difficulties.
How do you improve digestive health? Speak to your child’s doctor about probiotic supplements. Avoid antibiotics when possible and make an effort to counteract the negative effect of antibiotics when they are necessary. Children with autism tend to experience bowel irregularities, so as you child’s bathroom habits begin to normalize, you will know gut bacteria is improving.
Increase Omega 3 Intake
Research shows many people with autism are deficient in essential fatty acids. One study conducted at Stirling University showed autistic children have an enzymatic defect that actually removes fat from brain cell membranes faster than normal, so higher amounts of omega 3s are needed to maintain a normal level. Additionally, health experts have also determined omega 3 supplements tend to produce an overall improvement in behavior, mood, speech, focus, and sleep problems in autistic children.
Many of the dietary sources of omega 3s are not necessarily child food favorites, so speak to your doctor about omega 3 supplements in pill form.
Determine and Avoid Food Allergies
Research has shown food allergies increase symptoms of autism symptoms. One study conducted at Tufts University in Boston sought to answer whether autism is actually an allergy of the brain. The conclusion of the study was as follows:
Activation of brain mast cells by allergic, environmental, immune, neurohormonal, stress, and toxic triggers, especially in those areas associated with behavior and language, lead to focal brain allergies and subsequent focal encephalitis. This possibility is more likely in the subgroup of patients with ASD susceptibility genes that also involve mast cell activation.
Determining a child’s allergies can be a lengthy process, but it can have a profound affect on his or her behavior. Speak to your doctor about an elimination diet or specific allergy tests that can help you determine your child’s trigger foods.