Dr. Dawn Kamilah Brown, M.D. (Dr. Dawn Psych MD), America’s favorite ADHD Expert, is a double-board certified child & adolescent and adult psychiatrist. She is the owner, CEO and sole practitioner at ADHD Wellness Center and has 2 private practice locations in Texas; she also has a growing virtual presence, offering online appointments. She is an ADHD Coach, Public Speaker, Author, Professional Mentor and a pioneer of “The Mental Health Movement.”

What is Autistic Disorder?

Autistic disorder (aka: autism) is a part of the group “Autistic Spectrum Disorders” which are complex brain disorders of different severities that affect brain development. Specifically, individuals with autism have challenges with social skills, speech and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviors, however they display unique strengths and differences. Autism can present differently and is caused by combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

What impact does a bad diet have on a child with autism?

Bad diets can be defined as not consuming the nutritional recommendations, eating foods that contain unbalanced portions of certain ingredients or even eating foods that contain ingredients that may impact a person’s behavior.

Heathy eating is important for all children, but particularly for a child with autism, as they may be picky eaters or desire to eat the same unhealthy foods due to their ritualistic behaviors and taste buds. Although there is no recommended special diet for children with autism, research and parents have reported positive impacts by implementing gluten-free and casein-free diets for their children.

One theory suggests that some are unable to fully break down casein and gluten and have an increased intestinal permeability. (These undigested or partially digested proteins leak through the intestinal walls and into the blood stream, which then reaches the brain and have shown to cause problems with behavior, speech and social skills.

Another theory suggests that these proteins cause children to be in discomfort or pain due to the intolerance of these proteins.

And yet another theory suggests that when these proteins are eliminated from a child’s diet, they tend to feel better, sleep better and they are more alert.

Can autism be cured by changing a child’s diet?

Currently, there is no cure for autism. However, changing a child’s diet to gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy) free diets have revealed to be helpful in reducing autistic symptoms such as lack of focus, impulsive behaviors and speech problems.

What is an example of a suggested daily diet?

Although more research is needed in order to recommend certain diets to be deemed helpful for children with autism, gluten and casein free foods have been shown to be beneficial for some children with autism. It is important to be aware that many foods may contain hidden sources of gluten and casein, so reading a foods’ ingredients and additives lists are important.

It is reported that 50% of kids with autism also have ADHD, so autistic children who show signs of hyperactivity, improving blood sugar balance is recommended. Including Omega-3-fatty acids (helps with mentation, moods, behaviors, sleep hygiene); vitamins and minerals (helps with symptom control), should also be a part of a child’s daily diet.

It is also important to make mealtimes routine, which can reduce stress for children. Some kids with autism can be picky eaters which can lead to an unbalanced diet. If you need assistance with determining your child’s diet, seek guidance from a registered dietician nutritionist.

Can adults be diagnosed with autism?

By definition, older children, teens or adults do not develop autism. In order to qualify for the diagnosis, symptoms must be present in early childhood. It is also important to distinguish between a late recognition of symptoms and late onset of symptoms. For children who have high-functioning autism, it is not unusual to receive a diagnosis later in life, but it is not because symptoms suddenly developed.

Are there other illnesses associated with autism?

Yes. The most common are:

  • ADHD: It is reported that 50% of kids with autism also have ADHD.
  • Borderline Intellectual functioning: It is reported that 30% of children with Autism have some degree of mental impairment, where they may show strength on tests that measure visual skills, for example, but they may perform poorly on language development.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder: Many individuals with autism have sensory challenges and either overreact or underreact to certain stimulus i.e. sounds, lights, smells, textures, and tastes.
  • Seizures: 1 in 4 children with autism develop seizures, which can in most cases, be controlled with medications.

Is a cleaner diet an alternative to medication?

In some cases, medications may be deemed helpful with assisting with poor behavior control, by lessening its occurrence or its intensity. Cleaner diet may also help with improving a child’s behavior by not containing undigested ingredients or additives that are intolerable to a child’s system, resulting in behavior problems.

Both can be complementary when used together. Depending on how a child responds, medications may not be required or in some cases, diets may not make a difference. Bottom line, every child with autism is different with how they respond. It is recommended that parents consult with their child’s child psychiatrist for assistance.

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