What is autism? It is a neurobiological and developmental disorder that affects one in 160 children. It is characterized by difficulties in social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication. Repetitive behavior, difficulty adjusting to altered routines, inability to learn different skills, anxiety, unusual responses to sensory changes, and sleep disturbances can be seen in children with autism. It also affects the child’s academic performance. The features of autism can be detected in early childhood, but they often go undiagnosed until years later. What is its impact on overall health? Shivani Baijal, Senior Nutritionist, Cloudnine Hospital Group, Gurgaon, said he negatively affects the health of the child, especially if he has unhealthy eating habits. She gives more details on how to counter the lack of nutrition that is the result of autistic behavior.
Adherence 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 nutrient depletion due to their behavioral changes and eating issues. Poor diet leads to a risk of developing different metabolic diseases in the last year of life. Calcium and protein deficiencies can be easily seen in these children, which further affects their cognitive development and physical growth. Food allergies can also be seen in children. Known allergies are eggs, peanuts, gluten, seafood, casein, tree nuts, soy and fish. In case of a food allergy, this particular food should not be part of the diet, but its nutritional content should be replaced by another food which is equally rich in nutrients. So, a proper meal plan is very important for autistic children in order to give them good nutrition. If the child is allergic to casein, incorporate almond or soy milk into their diet.
Nutrition in autism
Diet and nutrition play an important role in everyone’s life and in every condition. Feeding a child with autism can be a difficult task, which is why they are 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 best in some cases. Thus, nutritional management therapy for these children will vary from symptom to symptom.
Some children also suffer from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), abdominal distension, bloating, chronic diarrhea, stomach upset, etc. because of their eating habits. Adopting an appropriate diet is necessary to improve the nutritional status of a child. Continuous monitoring of the diet will help to see the effects of this particular diet. Adequate dietary management is required in conditions such as obesity, overweight or underweight (due to lack of adequate nutrition). Many studies also show the beneficial effect of including omega 3, probiotics and multivitamins in the diet of an autistic patient. A child with autism and seizure disorders may be better treated nutritionally by giving them a ketogenic diet (a diet high in fat, moderate in protein, low in carbohydrates). The Keto diet also has side effects, so it should only be followed under the supervision of a qualified dietitian.
Feeding an autistic child can be difficult for parents or caregivers. But awareness, knowledge of nutritional therapies, and proper treatment follow-up can really help. Here is some advice for parents:
- First of all, remember that sometimes disability means ability.
- A person with autism has specific habits, such as following the same routine every day. So try to establish a healthy routine for them. Establish a schedule for your children, such as a set time for meals, study, and sleep. Advance planning will be necessary to follow the same routine every day.
- Learn about your child’s food allergies. Exclude casein (milk protein) and gluten (wheat protein) from their diet. Give them milk without casein, like almond milk, soy milk, etc. Likewise, replace foods containing gluten with varieties of sorghum, ragi, amaranth and millet.
- Now observe the child’s symptoms and behavior during the exclusion period. And keep a journal to note all of these symptoms. This record will also help your doctor and dietitian. After a week of elimination, slowly start feeding one new food at a time to see its effects. And accordingly judge your child’s allergies.
- Implementing these dietary changes may not be easy for parents, but believe it is the safest approach to finding the best food for your baby.
- According to research, a deficiency of folic acid and vitamin D in pregnant women can be a cause of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. To avoid this, see a doctor and take supplements as needed.
Also read: Understanding Autism and Recognizing the Signs of Early Intervention