Are you wondering if you should try a gluten-free diet to reduce autism symptoms in your child? Or maybe keto instead? Let’s discuss what the best diet for an autistic child is.
Finding the best autism diet for your child
Here are helpful points to keep in mind when choosing the diet that is best for your autistic child.
Origin of autism diet concept
Before learning what the best diet is for your autistic child, or whether a diet will create the results you want, you first need to understand where the concept comes from.
The use of special diets for autistic children traces back only to Andrew Wakefield, a British anti-vaccine activist who lost his medical license due to falsified data. His studies link the MMR vaccine to autism and support reducing autism symptoms with restrictive diets.
Wakefield coined “autistic entercolitis”, claiming autistic children were more likely to have gastrointestinal issues. He filed patents for an autism cure and “planned to make millions”. His infamous documentary, Vaxxed, alluded to autistic people being broken, non-humans that people should rid themselves of.
Although the majority of Wakefield’s studies were withdrawn from medical journals, more articles about autism diets have been written since. There are also self-reporting “studies”, usually from non-autistic parents or doctors of autistic children, but self-reporting is unreliable data.
Studies based on legitimate science don’t support a special autism diet. To this day, there is no evidence supporting whether special diets help autistic people. There is no evidence pointing to food allergies, food sensitivities and/or gastrointestinal issues causing autism, either.
Diets don’t treat autism
There is no autism treatment or cure, nor does there need to be one. Autistic people need acceptance and empathy, not to be viewed as villains.
Is your autistic child is less whiny, jittery, and stressed after cutting out milk, gluten or other foods? You didn’t treat their autism. You treated a food allergy, food sensitivity, or gut issue.
Any lactose intolerant individual will tell you they are more irritable when they are in pain after eating too much cheese. Autistic people are overstimulated when they feel sick, making them prone to meltdowns and acting out.
In a child’s mind, the food they are given is safe. If you tell a toddler that chocolate is actually strawberry, and they don’t know otherwise, they’re going to believe you. If you tell a child that the food you’ve given them is safe, they’re going to think that their bodily reactions to certain foods are all in their heads — or just them.
Anna Piwowarczyk, et al, found no correlation between gluten-/casein-free diets and improved behavior in autistic children.
Autistic children are not more likely to experience gastrointestinal issues, food allergies or food sensitivities than non-autistic children. Rather, autistic children are less likely to speak up about them and more likely to be ignored about their struggles.
Non-autistic children go years without getting diagnosed with such medical issues because they are capable of functioning in a society, of asking, “How are you?” without expecting a real response.
In other words, research supporting special diets for autism are not “mixed” or “undecided” — they’re based on falsified data by discredited doctor. Removing foods that cause anyone pain may improve behavior.
Dangers of putting your child on a special diet
A common go-to diet for autistic children is the ketogenic diet, which was developed to treat epilepsy before introducing anticonvulsant medications. Autism is not a seizure disorder, but people can be both autistic and epileptic. People can be non-autistic and epileptic, too.
Keto is a seriously restrictive diet for people who do not need to go on it. Risks include dehydration, lost electrolytes, kidney stones, low blood pressure, nutrient deficiencies, and increased risk of heart disease.
Autistic people are more susceptible to developing eating disorders, especially avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Alexithymia may prevent autistic people from identifying hunger cues, which prevents autistic individuals from eating when they need to. Unnecessary special diets lead to bad eating habits where guilt and shame shape how they eat.
Autistics die of malnutrition because they won’t eat. Limiting what foods they’re allowed to eat will not work in your favor. They will not eat carrots instead of cheese puffs if they’re hungry enough — they just won’t eat. The sensory aspect of carrots and cheese puffs are not the same. You’d have better luck with veggie puff chips than carrots.
What is the best diet for autism?
The absolute best diet for autistic children is whatever they will eat. It’s letting them play with their food, so they explore all the sensory aspects.
Keeping snack foods, and their safefoods and samefoods, will allow them better food freedom than a restrictive diet.
- Safefoods bring comfort, joy, happiness or nostalgia when the autistic person eats them.
- Samefoods are foods that an autistic person could eat every single day.
If you keep enough of your child’s safefoods in stock, you can avoid the problem of samefoods thanks to the variety.
With these recommendations in mind, you’ll be able to create the best diet for your autistic child that will lead to their wellness, growth, and optimal nutrition.
How do you feed your autistic child? Where do you struggle? Share about it in the comments below.