Conference Discusses Whether Diet Can Heal Autism

by Diane Rusignola
For the parents of children with autism, social and communicative symptoms are complicated with physical problems like constipation, diarrhea, digestive pain and gas. Can putting a child on a special diet really reduce or even eliminate autism though?

“We know that kids with autism have nutrient deficiencies,” said San Francisco-based Julie Matthews, a certified nutrition consultant and author of “Nourishing Hope for Autism,” at international nonprofit Autism One’s conference at the Westin O’Hare last weekend. “When we [develop] an autism diet, we want to focus on getting good nutrition in.”

Matthews recommends adding “foods that heal” and have probiotics to the diet of an autistic child, as well as removing foods that cause inflammation. As digestion improves, autistic children can “focus better when they’re feeling better,” and therefore language and sleeping irregularities can improve.

“The whole body works together,” agreed Chicago dietician Karen Benzinger, who did not attend the conference. “If one thing’s off, unfortunately it can throw something completely else off. The two are always going to be somewhat related, but you have to find the cause in order to help the effect.”

Benzinger suggests that parents have a dietician as a part of their therapy team, in addition to their primary care doctor, psychologist and any other specialists, in order to really evaluate a complete nutrition picture.

“Until you really get that full assessment of exactly what [your child is] eating and making sure that there are no other intestinal issues going on,” she said, “Then you really can’t start to eliminate things.”

Benzinger said keeping a complete food journal and having allergy testing done could be good initial steps as well.

Once parents have established their child’s individual needs, there are a variety of diets they can try out. Matthews said the gluten (wheat) free, casein (dairy) free diet is one of the most popular, as the reduction of these things in diet can help with impulsive behaviors, lack of focus and even speech problems, she said. Soy blocks the absorption of calcium, magnesium and zinc, so she recommends making it a soy-free diet as well.

Parents can learn more about each through Matthews’ Facebook group, which has over 1,200 members and 100 discussion topics.

“What does a good diet look like?” Matthews asked during her presentation. “It’s going to be whole [foods], unprocessed [and] organic whenever we can.”

One easy step parents can take to include necessary veggies in the diets of picky eaters is to puree them and add to sauces or muffin, pancake and meatball mixes, she said. For children with texture issues, she suggests starting them out eating carrot chips if they are only eating potato chips now.

“Get creative with the flavor and the texture and the presentation,” Matthews said. “It will really go a long way.”

Although it might be overwhelming to begin, parents can take solace in simple steps like soaking their seeds in water overnight, and other shared tips from experts like Matthews.

“Do one thing at a time,” she recommends. “Chart your progress and remember to get some support if you need it.”

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Hi, I’m Julie Matthews, a Certified Nutrition Consultant, Author, and Published Researcher. I teach parents and practitioners that children with autism, ADHD, and related disorders can improve and heal, and that there’s hope for their children. Then I educate and empower them to make strategic dietary changes that positively affect children’s health, which in turn helps their learning and behavior. With 17 years of experience and my unique range of knowledge, from nutrition research and clinical experience to cooking in the kitchen for my own family, I’ve created a much-needed community for parents and practitioners looking to help children with autism live happy, healthy lives. Join us.

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One response to “Conference Discusses Whether Diet Can Heal Autism”

  1. Crystal says:

    This is great! I agree, Hayden feels better when he eats better…but so many autistic parents don’t accept this. So sad.

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