Sensory difficulties, routine issues and social anxieties can make mealtimes awkward if your child has autism, so how can you help him to eat a balanced diet?
Some children with autism and related disorders have behavioural issues which affect their eating. The two most common problems are restricted diets and overeating.
Children with autism can be extremely picky about what they eat. The reasons can include:
If you’re concerned about the limitations in your child’s diet, it’s important to seek advice from your GP or paediatrician, who might suggest:
Some children with autism are prone to overeating. Some research suggests that the part of the brain which tells us when we’ve eaten enough doesn’t function fully for people with autism. Other children with autism become obsessive about eating, and will eat for longer or more often than normal as part of their routine. Sensory issues can also lead them to crave particular foods.If your child is overeating, your GP or paediatrician may advise:
If your child has autism, there are a number of people who can help you deal with his dietary issues. Your GP or paediatrician should be your first port of call for a referral to any of these professionals.
According to the National Autistic Society, the jury is out on whether special diets or supplements can be helpful for children with autism, although many parents feel that these diets improve symptoms.
Some studies have suggested that people with autism have difficulties digesting peptides – a substance found in gluten (present in wheat, grains and cereals) and casein (present in milk and dairy foods). Scientists think that these undigested peptides enter the bloodstream and affect behaviour, and that reducing your child’s intake of foods containing gluten and casein, like bread and milk, could improve the symptoms of autism. For the latest research on these diets, visit www.espa-research.org.uk
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for brain function, and studies suggest that deficiencies in these fatty acids (HUFAs) can contribute to autistic spectrum disorders. HUFAs are found in fish, seafood, nuts and seeds and green leafy vegetables, and you can also buy fish and non-fish oil based supplements from your pharmacist – although the evidence about the effectiveness of supplements is limited. If you do want to use a supplement, always follow the dosage guidelines.Always consult your GP before trying any special diet for your child. He may refer you to a dietician for specialist advice, or you can find a private dietician at Freelance Dietitians.
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