Autism & Food: Building a Healthful Foundation
If you look up the word Autism you will typically find it defined as something like this:
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.
However, to sum it up Autism is a broad spectrum. We often say in the Autism community if you know one child with Autism, you know one child. The reason for that is because no two children are the same. Some on the spectrum have no language, limited language or great language. Some children have no eye contact, little eye contact or great eye contact. Some have sleep issues, behavior issues, sensory issues and food allergies and this list goes on and on.
The official statistics from the CDC are 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with an Autism
Spectrum Disorder. On Nov. 13th, a survey was released that states the numbers are closer to 1 in 45 children. Either way you look at it the numbers are high.
Many of those on the spectrum find help in removing gluten and dairy. Digestive issues and healthy bowel movements are discussed at great length in the Autism community. What we notice for those that do well on the Gluten-free/Casein-free diet (GFCF) are the children that start out as extremely picky eaters. Typically, they were very selective on choosing only foods that were filled with gluten and dairy products. Often we see once we remove these types of foods that the children tend to feel better and become more available to participate in therapies and such. In addition, since they are feeling better they tend to have healthier bowel movements.
I speak from experience because my son has Autism. He also is on the GFCF diet and prior to this diet he would only eat chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, cookies, crackers and gallons of milk. When I first put him on the diet he had a very difficult time because his body was addicted to these foods. After about 10 days of what I would describe as “not a very fun time” (lots of biting, kicking and hitting) he finally started to become clearer and had a less foggy look in his eyes. He was more receptive of trying new foods and started to lose the dark circles under his eyes and the red cheeks he had. We also introduced digestive enzymes and probiotics to help his gut.
Today 10 years later he is still on a GFCF diet and eats a wide variety of foods. The foods we eat have a direct affect on how we act, feel and behave. We have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat”. Well, that is especially true for our kiddos. I believe that the gluten and casein he once was “addicted” to was just that an addiction. It gave him a certain “high” feeling with a terrible crash. It made him foggy and when he didn’t get the foods he wanted he would have a terrible meltdown. He also never had a regular bowel movement, which meant he wasn’t absorbing his vitamins and nutrients, which is crucial for our children’s development.
Today we have many great choices when it comes to GFCF. One of our favorites at our house is, Hilary’s veggie burgers. We use them all throughout the day. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy this burger. We use instead of hash browns for breakfast for example. We also use for his veggie option for either lunch or dinner. My son loves to dip them in BBQ sauce or ketchup depending on his mood. Sometimes we sprinkle a little Daiya (non dairy) cheese on top. They are super easy to make. We use our toaster oven and cook for 4 min on one side and flip and do 4 min on the other side. My son loves his a little crispier. As a mom I feel good because he is getting great tasting veggies!
At the Autism Hope Alliance we believe the foundation for our kiddos is the foods they eat. The only foods, supplements we recommend are gluten free and dairy free. Part of our mission is for families to become educated about the many choices out there. The Autism Hope Alliance (AHA) is the first non-profit to emerge from the Natural products community. AHA has created a program called the, Autism Approved program. This program highlights companies that are Gluten Free and Dairy Free and are giving back to the Autism community through donations of dollars and products.
AHA also created the, Autism Pantry Program, which is managing all the foods, supplements, toys, books, cleaning products and such that we receive from our partners and affiliates and make sure our families can try them at no cost first. We give them away across the country at the conferences we attend and through social media giveaways. In 2015, gave $104,892.14 in giveaways from our partners through this program to families. We are proud to have Hilary’s Eat Well as a partner of the Autism Hope Alliance.