Dietary Intervention

Different foods can affect people in different ways. We probably all know someone who gets hives from eating a certain food or who gets a migraine headache when a specific food is consumed. Food affects our bodies.

Some research points to certain foods affecting ASD children. Here’s the theory in a nutshell. Many autistic children are affected by gluten (found in wheat, barley, and some other grains) and casein (found in dairy). The theory is that their bodies cannot properly digest those proteins, so the proteins form peptides that get into the system, make their way to the brain, and create havoc in a manner similar to opium. Many ASD children self-restrict their diets to products containing gluten or casein because the peptides are so addictive.

You can take two approaches to this type of dietary intervention: eliminate all gluten and casein from the diet or give extra enzymes to help break down the gluten and casein proteins in the diet. Some people do both; they implement a GFCF (gluten free, casein free) diet and use enzymes as a safety net to catch any unnoticed gluten or casein that happens to sneak in. Because the peptides work like opium and are addictive, some children demonstrate withdrawal symptoms when those peptides are eliminated. Unfortunately, sometimes those very withdrawal symptoms, which should be a positive signal that the peptides are being reduced or eliminated, are interpreted as a turn for the worse and the dietary intervention is stopped.

There’s really no reliable test that can determine whether the dietary change will help; you just have to give it a try. I have heard from parents whose children changed dramatically once gluten and casein were eliminated from their diets. In Hannah’s case, the change has been gradual but noticeable once we started her on enzymes. The diet or enzymes are not a cure, but they help eliminate obstacles so the child can concentrate better and learn more easily.

I must admit that when I first met a mother of an autistic child and she told me about the dietary intervention she was doing, I thought she was a little extreme, grasping at straws. Now that I have done more research and experienced some of the benefits firsthand, this would be my advice to any parent who suspects a child has Autism Spectrum Disorder: put the child on the GFCF diet and/or enzymes immediately and start ABA and RDI therapy as soon as possible (see ABA and RDI sections on this site for details). Look at it this way, if the child does not have Autism Spectrum Disorder, the GFCF diet and enzymes won’t hurt him; if he does have ASD, they could most definitely help him.

For more information on dietary intervention, read Facing Autism by Lynn Hamilton, Special Diets for Special Kids by Lisa Lewis, and Enzymes for Autism and Other Neurological Conditions by Karen DeFelice.

For information about the other therapies we’ve used, check our ABA page and our RDI therapy comments.