People have frequently asked whether we used any kind of dietary therapy for the Navigator. The answer was “not really” primarily because he was particular about what foods he would eat which made it hard to design and implement a diet that restricted or increased certain foods.
Over the years I have read researched-based studies about about different kinds of dietary therapies, and there is some evidence that supports successful dietary modifications for some on the spectrum.
Gluten-Free and Casein Free
Gluten and casein-free diets eliminate milk proteins and wheat and other grains from the diet to reduce proteins entering the bloodstream. The goal is to reduce some challenging autistic behaviors:
The theory that gluten-free/casein-free diets can help young children with autism comes from studies suggesting that some cases of autistic behavior result from allergies or intolerances to the proteins in milk (casein) and found in wheat (gluten, also in other grains).
Limited research does show that some children with autism can’t break down the proteins completely. Instead, fragments of them (peptides) get into the bloodstream and the central nervous system before eventually being eliminated in the urine. Several groups of researchers have identified these peptides in urine samples from children with autism. Some of the peptides are quite similar to morphine and, in theory, may be the agents that cause autistic behavior.
The full article on this topic can be found here.
When my son was younger, we tried a gluten-free, milk-free, nut-free diet. We did not notice any changes in his behavior from this change in his diet, however.
One dietary lesson for us came in the form of sugar. Over time we noticed a pattern that when we allowed a lot of sugar in high-stimulus environments – such as cotton candy at fairs, or candy at the movies – it magnified his responses.
An event that was moderately stimulating would become intensely stimulating with the ingestion of a lot of sugar. Our cues as to how he was feeling, using his coping mechanisms such as stimming, perseveration, and finally meltdowns when he could tolerate no more, would emerge sooner and more strongly.
While there is currently no research to support the premise that reducing sugar can reduce challenging behavior, one study noted a reduction in autism behaviors when sugar was reduced during pregnancy.
We observed reduced behavior even if there is no research to yet support it.
The most recent dietary change we made was adding a daily dose of probiotics. I started taking probiotics to help with allergies and saw a significant improvement – both allergies and other digestive issues – after about eight weeks.
Knowing that it was likely my child could have inherited whatever digestive issues that his mom had, and knowing that probiotics have been found to reduce some autism behaviors, it was an easy decision.
We found some that were chew-able with a flavor he liked, but it was impossible to tell if they positively impacted behaviors simply because there were so many other variables – things like adolescent development and normal changes in our household.
Also, they did not include the particular probiotic used in the research, but were the same type as I had been taking and which helped me.
Regardless, we were confident they could not cause him any trouble and would likely be helpful.
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