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Autism

Gluten Free and Casein Free Diet for an Autistic Child

05/02/2007

Question:

My 4yr old austistic son is on a gluten free and casein free diet. Research has shown that they are unable to properly digest these proteins. We basically had to remove all the foods he loves. His diet for the most part is fruit. He is supplemented with a vitamin called Super Nuthera. He will not eat meat or vegetables. The odd time he will eat eggs and drink soy milk but for the most part his diet is fruit. My concerns are vitamin and mineral deficiencies due a lack of variety in his diet. He has muscle cramps, bloated abdomin,unusual sleep patterns, fatigue and spontaneous laughter. Could this be due to diet or just symptoms of his disorder? I am having difficulty distinguishing the two.

Answer:

This is an interesting collection of many questions! First of all, thanks for asking for some nutrition-related information!

In my understanding, a gluten-free and casein-free diet does not just have to be composed only of fruit. In fact, this is a great opportunity to invite and expose the entire family to a world of other foods! Many people who are gluten free will eat rice and other carbohydrates (potatoes and corn-based) products. In fact, there are breads made from these kinds of carbs.

There are also many books with gluten-free recipes and hints on the market:

Although he will not eat meat or drink soy milk, you might consider that there are ways to get that food’s major component into his diet, especially if you can get him to drink fruit smoothies! You might consider using nuts as a source of protein and fat and calories (for instance, peanut butter on his apple slices or some other nut butter such as almond or cashew). These nuts can easily go into smoothies also and you can always add rice protein (found in health food stores) into the smoothies.

Are these symptoms as a result of his condition? That’s very hard to say. Many parents often tell us that their child will not change to any new foods and in fact they eat the same thing day in and day out. The fact that you now have him eating different foods from ‘his favorites’ is pretty impressive. I’d suggest to you that you should work with a dietitian very closely for an hour or so and you’ll come up with how to add back some of the foods he gave up but from a different food base (i.e. rice flour for breads, cakes, cookies).

After eating nothing but fruit, he’d easily be missing protein. I will not diagnose his issues further than this, but in fact, fruit is the only food group that basically has no protein. It’s good that you are asking this question, and I hope you can get protein into him soon! I would not hesitate to get some good solid nutrition assistance in more detail than an email can provide you.

I hope this has helped.  Please write back if you have additional questions.

Best Wishes.

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Response by:

Diane L Habash, PhD, RD, LD
Bionutrition Clinical Research Manager
Center for Clinical and Translational Science
Clnical Associate Professor of the School of Allied Medical Professionals
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University