Nutrition guide

Autism and children: a nutritional guide

New Delhi: Characterized by difficulties in social interactions and verbal and non-verbal communication, it also affects the child’s academic performance. Repetitive behavior, difficulty adapting to a changed routine, inability to learn different skills, anxiety, unusual responses to sensory changes, and sleep disturbances can be observed in children with autism.

What impact does this have on overall health?

Autism negatively affects the health of the child, especially if he follows poor eating habits. Inclination to junk food or overconsumption of energy-dense foods and sweet things leads to weight gain and subsequently metabolic disorders. Children with autism mainly suffer from nutritional depletion due to their behavioral changes and food-related problems. Poor nutrition leads to the risk of developing different metabolic diseases in the last years of their life. Calcium and protein deficiencies can easily be observed 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. If you have a food allergy, the food in question should not be part of your diet, but its nutritional content should be replaced with another nutrient-dense food. A good meal plan is very important for an autistic child.

Nutrition in Autism:

Food and nutrition play an important role in everyone’s life. Feeding an autistic child is a difficult task, which is why he is at risk of developing multiple nutritional deficiencies. Children with autism typically suffer from eating disorders, food intolerances, food allergies, and nutritional deficiencies. There is no specific diet for ASD, but based on research excluding certain proteins like gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein) works best 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 distention, bloating, chronic diarrhea, stomach discomfort, etc. due to bad eating habits. Adapting a suitable diet is necessary to improve the nutritional status of a child. Continuous monitoring of their diet will help alleviate symptoms. Proper dietary management is necessary in conditions such as obesity, overweight, or underweight (due to lack of adequate nutrition). Numerous studies also show the benefit of including omega 3s, probiotics and multivitamins.

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

Parent guide:

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

Advice for parents:

First, remember that sometimes disability means ability.

Autistic people have special characteristics like following the same routine, which is a good habit. So, from the start, try to make their routine healthy. Establish a schedule like a set time for meals, study, and sleep. Advance planning will be required 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. Casein-free milk can be given like almond milk, soy milk, etc. Similarly, replace gluten-containing foods with varieties of sorghum, ragi, amaranth, and millet. Because we don’t want to deplete their diet by exclusion.

Now observe the child’s symptoms and behavior during this period of exclusion. Keep a diary to record 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. Judge your child’s allergies accordingly.

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

According to research, folic acid and vitamin D deficiency 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 neglected.

Shivani Baijal, Senior Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Gurgaon