Nutrition guide

Autism and children: a nutritional guide

Autism is a neurobiological and developmental disorder that affects 1 in 160 children. Characterized by difficulties in social interactions and verbal and non-verbal communication, it also affects children’s educational performance. Repetitive behavior, difficulty adjusting to a modified routine, inability to learn different skills, anxiety, unusual responses to sensory changes, and sleep disturbances can be seen in children with autism.

What is its impact on overall health?

Autism negatively affects a child’s health, especially if he follows unhealthy eating habits. Inclination to junk food or overconsumption of high-energy foods and sugary products leads to weight gain and, subsequently, metabolic disorders. Children with autism primarily suffer from nutritional depletion due to their behavioral changes and eating problems. Poor diet leads to the risk of developing different metabolic diseases in the last years of their life. Calcium and protein deficiencies can easily be seen in these children, which further affects their cognitive development and physical growth.

Food allergies are also common in children, allergies to seafood, eggs, peanuts, gluten, casein, tree nuts, soy and fish are common. In case of a food allergy, the food in question should not be part of his diet, but its nutritional content should be replaced by another food that is equally rich in nutrients. A good meal plan is very important for a child with autism.

Nutrition in autism:

Food and nutrition play an important role in everyone’s life. Feeding a child with autism is a difficult task, which is why he is at risk of developing multiple nutritional deficiencies. Children with autism generally suffer from eating disorders, food intolerances, food allergies and nutritional deficiencies. There is no specific diet for ASDs, but based on research excluding certain proteins like gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein) works better in some cases.

So overall, it can be said that nutritional management therapy for these children will vary depending on their symptoms. Some children also suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), abdominal distension, bloating, chronic diarrhea, stomach upset, etc. due to bad eating habits. Adopting an appropriate diet is necessary to improve the nutritional status of a child. Continuous monitoring of their diet will help relieve symptoms. Adequate dietary management is required in conditions such as obesity, overweight or underweight (due to lack of adequate nutrition). Many studies also show the benefit of including omega 3, probiotics and multivitamins.

A child with autism and seizure disorders may be best treated by giving them a ketogenic diet (a diet high in fat, moderate in protein, low in carbohydrates). A Keto diet also has side effects, so it should only be followed under the supervision of a qualified dietitian.

Parental guide:

Feeding an autistic child can be difficult for parents or caregivers. But good awareness, knowledge of nutritional therapies, and proper treatment follow-up can really help.

Advice for parents:

First of all, remember that sometimes disability means ability.

People with autism have special characteristics such as following the same routine, which is a good habit. So from the start, try to make their routine healthy. Set a schedule like a fixed time for meals, study, and sleep. Pre-planning will be necessary to follow the same routine every day.

Know your child’s food allergies. Exclude casein (milk protein) and gluten (wheat protein) from the child’s diet. Milk without casein can be given like almond milk, soy milk, etc. Likewise, replace foods containing gluten with varieties of sorghum, ragi, amaranth and millet. Because we don’t want to deplete their nutrition by exclusion.

Now observe the symptoms and behavior of the child during this exclusion period. Keep a journal to note all symptoms. This record will also help your doctor and dietitian. After a week of elimination, slowly start reintroducing one food at a time to see its effects. Accordingly, judge your child’s allergies.

Implementing these dietary changes may not be easy for parents, but it is the safest approach to finding out what is best for your child.

According to research, the deficiency of folic acid and vitamin D in pregnant women is one of the reasons for the generation of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. To avoid supplementation of these nutrients should not be overlooked.

Shivani Baijal, Senior Nutritionist, Cloudnine Hospital Group, Gurgaon

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