The 10-Step Nutrition Plan to Help Treat Your Child's Autism, Asperger's or ADHD
By Elizabeth Strickland, MS, RD, LD
Da Capo Lifelong Books (2009)
Reviewed by Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, LD
Improving the nutritional intake of the autistic child can help improve overall health, function and behavior. Nutrition deficiencies, allergies, sensitivities and gastrointestinal disorders are commonly reported in children with autism. The author states little research supports diet to be a cause of symptoms or treatment for autism. Autistic children often have restrictive eating behaviors and problem-feeding behaviors that put them at risk for poor nutrition intake.
Synopsis of the Diet Plan
This is not a traditional diet plan but rather an approach for dealing with nutrition concerns and nutrition therapy strategies for children with autism. It includes 10 steps for spotting and addressing nutrition issues. The author recommends completing the steps in the order outlined; however, not all steps are needed for all kids if parents find symptoms and behaviors improve with the basic steps. The first step is to move toward a whole-foods meal plan. Recommendations say to remove artificial food ingredients, limit pesticide exposure and avoid processed foods and added sugars. Step 2 encourages a balanced diet of the basic nutrients, followed by adding dietary supplements if needed in steps 3 and 4. Step 5 addresses how to deal with problem-feeding behaviors and how to correct them. Step 6 provides recommendations for dealing with gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea or constipation common in autistic children. Increasing fiber, adding probiotics, digestive enzymes and omega-3 fatty acids are a few of the suggestions. Steps 7 and 8 focus on identifying food allergies and trying the gluten-free, casein-free diet as a treatment for autism. Although little research exists to support this, many parents believe the GFCG diet improves their child's behavior. Steps 9 and 10 address dietary supplementation with mega-doses of specific vitamins or minerals. The author writes about pros and pitfalls of the mega-dose approach and guides readers on how to decide if their child is a responder or not.
Nutritional Pros and Cons
The author guides parents toward making sound nutritional decisions for their child and offers practical suggestions for working around the food-related behavior problems often seen in children with autism. Sound clinical judgment is evident in giving nutrition recommendations. The author does include scientific evidence and rationale for recommendations where it is available
However, there is little research in this area of nutrition therapy. The author points out the lack of scientific evidence for many of the dietary and supplement practices promoted to parents of autistic children. Unnecessarily limiting foods from the diet may put these kids at nutrition risk and supplementing above the normal recommended amounts may lead to toxicity or over supplementation.
This is a well thought-out review of the application of nutrition therapy in the treatment of children with autism and related disorders. Overall diet quality, focus on whole nutrient-rich foods, filling nutritional gaps with appropriate supplements and determining causes of feeding problems should be addressed before attempting more alternative approaches to treatment. Registered dietitians can use this book as a resource to help guide parents in making decisions about nutrition treatment strategies and avoid getting caught up in unproven, costly, alternative strategies commonly marketed to them.