Nutrition and Autism

September 24, 2018 by

“For children with autism, a nutritious, balanced diet can make a world of difference in their ability to learn, how they manage their emotions and how they process information.Kepha Nyanumba - Consultant Nutritionist.
 Autism is a complex developmental condition that appears during the early stages of life and affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his environment and interaction with other people. The main areas of difficulty are in social interaction, social communication and restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests. Taking care of children with autism can be challenging on many levels, and healthful eating is no exception. Many children with autism have selective eating that goes beyond the usual 'picky eating' behaviour seen in most children at specific developmental stages. These types of self-limiting diets are usually a direct result of the disorder. Common feeding concerns include:
  • Difficulty accepting new foods
  • Restricted intake due to colour, texture, packaging and food temperature
  • Difficulty with transition to textures (especially during infancy)
  • Continually eating rather than having mealtimes
 Nutrition Concerns in Autism
For children with autism, a nutritious, balanced diet can make a world of difference in their ability to learn, how they manage their emotions and how they process information. Children with autism often repeat behaviors and have narrow, obsessive interests. These types of behavior can affect eating habits and food choices, which can lead to the following nutrition concerns.
  • Not eating enough food. Autistic children may have difficulty focusing on one task for an extended period of time. It may be hard for a child to sit down and eat a meal from start to finish.
  • Limited food selection or strong food dislikes. Children with autism may be sensitive to the taste, smell, color and texture of foods. They may limit or totally avoid some foods and even whole food groups. Common dislikes include fruits, vegetables and slippery, soft foods.
  • Medication interactions. Some stimulant medications used with autism can lower appetite. This can reduce the amount of food a child eats, which can affect growth.
Strategies for dealing with Selective Eating
  • Establish as calm and comfortable environment as possible
  • Work to broaden the variety of a child's diet expanding on already accepted food groups e.g. different types of bread
  • Most children do best when meal times are the same time and place every day
  • Setting small goals in stages will allow the child step by step to reach a larger goal
    e.g. before encouraging a child to eat vegetables; they may need to learn to accept a small amount on their plate first. 
Digestive Disorders and Autism
Children with autism seem to have a higher incidence of digestive tract symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, loose stools, and frequent diarrhea. This problem usually is caused by a child's limited food choices. Many parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) report that behavior improves when their children eat a diet free of gluten and casein. Gluten is found primarily in wheat, barley and rye; casein, in dairy products. Always consult a nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your child's diet as there can be side effects and potential nutrient deficiencies when a gluten- or casein-free diet is self-prescribed.
Kepha Nyanumba (Consultant Nutritionist), Tel: +254 (0) 723 103 028 / 706 253 934,   Email: knyanumba@chc.co.ke / kephanyanumba@gmail.com...Follow me on twitter: @knyanumba or Blog: kephanyanumba.blogspot.com.

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