Autism and Nutrition – A guide for parents
Ensuring adequate nutrition for little ones can be challenging for parents, especially for children on the autistic spectrum. In fact, in a comparative study on the eating behavior of 63 autistic and 50 neurotypical children, 79% of parents of autistic children reported concerns over their feeding behavior. On the other hand, only 64% of parents of neurotypical children shared the concern.
Mealtime tantrums, repetitive behavior coupled with a selective aversion to certain foods, food allergies, and sensitivities can lead to serious nutritive deficiencies. These can have a detrimental effect on not just their physical health but also behavioral problems, further affecting their social and academic abilities.
How can the parents help?
Here are a few tips and tricks about autism and nutrition that can help the parents in ensuring a better, more balanced nourishment for their autistic children, such as:
- Allergies and sensitivities:
Several parents and caregivers have reported that removing casein (milk protein) and gluten (wheat protein) from their autistic child’s diet has helped in reducing the severity of the symptoms. However, restrictive diets such as these can lead to malnutrition by exclusion. Make sure you include casein-free and gluten-free alternatives such as nut milk, ragi, sorghum, and other millets in their regular diet.
- Consult a specialist:
A certain diet might work for one child with ASD while aggravating the symptoms in another child. Even though there is no one ASD-specific diet to follow, it is highly recommended to seek guidance from a registered nutritionist and prepare a customized meal plan for your little one. A specialist can help you in identifying and eliminating allergy-causing foods while also ensuring that all the nutritional needs of your child are met. Based on your child’s special needs, a qualified nutritionist can also suggest effective nutrition therapies and multivitamin supplements to help them lead healthier lives.
- Create calming mealtime routines:
The mealtime rush of a busy kitchen, noisy food prep, bright lights are all among potential stress triggers. Try to make mealtimes quieter, calmer and predictable. From having food at the same time each day to allowing your child to choose their seat at the dining table – every little concession makes for an easier mealtime.
- Play by their strengths:
While people with autism find it difficult to cope with changes, they find solace in set rituals and routines. Try to make these little routines as healthy as possible. Create a schedule for everything – a set time to wake up each day, have breakfast, go to school, study, play, and sleep. Include the child in the process and pre-plan to make sure they’re able to stick to their routine.
Implementation of any dietary changes can be challenging for both parents and children. Consider introducing small changes, one at a time, as this is the best and the safest approach.