Most of us have heard about autism. But how much do we really understand this disorder and how it affects those suffering from it, not to mention the people around them? Autism can involve all kinds of symptoms that affect the way autistic children interact with those around them, as well as the way they communicate. Some kids with autism either find it difficult to start or maintain a conversation or they don’t converse with anyone at all. It’s said that 40% of people who have autism don’t speak, so this isn’t uncommon.
It goes without saying that parents want to help their kids as much as they can, whatever the problem might be. Coping with autism can be a difficult task, so it makes sense that any news or advice on how to do this is well received.
The latest potential step forward in helping to reduce symptoms in children with autism concerns the use of a gluten and casein free diet. Now this is something that is typically associated with gastrointestinal disorders. Some kids (and indeed some adults) might find they get intestinal problems whenever they eat wheat, bread or other products with gluten in them. So it’s not the first thing you would think about when it comes to finding ways to reduce the symptoms of autism in your own child.
But apparently it’s far from uncommon for autistic kids to have gastrointestinal problems. And researchers at Penn State University have discovered that a gluten free diet might actually help some improve the level of symptoms experienced in some children who have autism. They have focused on children who have an autism spectrum disorder (otherwise referred to as ASD) and asked their parents to provide data on symptoms, dietary changes and any improvements that are noted.
This is an incredible finding and I was amazed to read about it. Of course this is in no way a cure for autism or associated disorders. But the researchers did find that it is far more common for kids with an autism spectrum disorder to also suffer from a gastrointestinal disorder, or to have symptoms of this kind. There is nothing to say that wiping gluten and casein out of the diet will help in all cases, just as there is nothing to say every child with autism suffers from GI complications. But if the link is there and an autistic child does have gastrointestinal issues, surely it is worth trying them on a gluten free diet to see whether it will improve things?
This study does offer hope for the parents of autistic children, not to mention the children themselves. As you might expect, the study showed that the gluten free diet got better results and improvements in those kids who did have gastrointestinal problems. Those who didn’t suffer from such problems didn’t seem to respond to the change in diet. It makes sense when you think about it. This research interests me because it could provide another course of action –and another potential step in the right direction – in helping to minimize autistic symptoms.
It also seems to be the case that sticking to a rigid gluten free diet will bring the best results. This makes sense because it would be the same if you were intolerant to gluten in your diet. If you knew you were intolerant to gluten and you cut it out altogether, you’d probably get rid of all your symptoms. However if you only cut out 90% of the gluten in your diet, you’d still get the odd niggle depending on when you ate foods containing the gluten. Apparently some parents applied a very strict diet that had no gluten or casein in it at all (casein is found in milk), while others were not quite as strict. Children who went on a strict diet with no gluten or casein experienced better results and more improvement in their symptoms than those whose parents were not quite as strict with cutting out the gluten and casein. This makes perfect sense, as does the fact that those who followed the new dietary restrictions for longer had better results than those who didn’t persevere with it.
Sticking to a gluten free diet is not going to be the miracle solution to eradicating all symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. But enough evidence has come forward from this research to make it clear that it’s worth trying for those parents who are trying to manage the symptoms their autistic child is experiencing. Any change in diet can be difficult to make, but when the payoff could be worthwhile it must be worth a shot. Some children are likely to experience a better result than others, whereas some parents may not think such a strict diet is worth persevering with. The study has shown though that several months of perseverance is necessary if you are going to get an accurate idea of whether a gluten free diet is going to work.
One final point I noticed from the research was that eradicating both substances from the diet got the best effects. Most people are aware of gluten and what it does, but casein isn’t as widely known. Obviously it is the combined benefit of getting rid of both substances that is best for the child in most cases. I can imagine it can be difficult to focus on making such a huge change to the diet, but if I was going to do it I’d probably change diet as well. It makes shopping and cooking much easier as you’re all eating the same things. Throw yourself wholeheartedly into the process and see whether you get the results you want. At the end of the day, even the smallest progress for your child has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? When it comes to relieving the many symptoms of autism, anything you can do to improve your child’s life and interactions with others has to be worth shooting for.