How many times have you heard about autism through friends in a random chat? With the increased prevalence of autism, many of us have heard of certain cases and the difficulties both parents and children face. The good news is that with ongoing research on autism and the experience of parents of autistic children, many of those difficulties can be resolved.
“I am facing serious problems with my autistic child”. This is what Hani’s dad said when he visited my clinic in an attempt to understand more about autism. He described his 5 years old’s attitude, speech and bonding difficulties, fears, and the different communication and behavioral patterns his son have.
At first, I informed him that more than half a million people in the UK have autism with boys being four times more affected than girls, and that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 68 children have autism in the United States. With this prevalence rate, Hani’s dad is aware now that other autistic children’s parents have faced the same problems, and that through communicating with professionals and other parents, he can improve Hani’s behavior.
Here is a brief overview of my consultation with Hani’s dad:
Dad: Hani’s eating pattern is worrying us, since we feel he is not getting well-nourished
Janine: around 70% of children with autism have problems with eating habits. First of all, I would like to have a 3-day food record to help me analyze Hani’s eating habits to try to find solutions.
Dad: that’s great, I guess it will help a lot. What other nutrition aspects I should be looking into for Hani?
Janine: it is very important to improve digestion. Most autistic children have imbalances in the gut flora (beneficial gut bacteria) which has a great role in improving digestion. So, supplementing your son with probiotics is very important to increase the number of gut flora.
Dad: also, we have been told in a medical check-up that Hani’s blood sugar levels are not regulated, so what would you recommend?
Janine: it is highly recommended to cut on all sources of refined sugar (that will increase blood glucose rapidly). Add a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain, seeds, and beans to slow sugar release. Also include lean proteins such as low fat beef, skinless chicken breast, baked fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy products to provide Hani with higher levels of vitamins and minerals.
Dad: sounds good, Should we also supplement with vitamins and minerals?
Janine: when it comes to supplementation, I can say that it is a must. Several studies showed that their use is recommended due to imbalances in eating patterns. For this sake, I have prepared a table to summarize certain important dietary supplements and their benefits. You may share it with your child’s physician to ask for a prescription.
|Role in autism||Recommended Dietary Allowance||
|Vitamin B6||Increased speech, decreased aggression, Improved social responsiveness||0.6 mg||Fish, chickpeas, liver, potatoes, bananas.|
|Magnesium||Improved social interaction, Improved communication||100 mg||Dairy products, legumes, nuts, seafood.|
|Omega-3||Decrease Hyperactivity, aggression, improve language + writing learning skills||200 mg||Canola oil, fish oil, fish, walnuts.|
|Folic Acid||Has antioxidant capacity, decrease inflammation||200 mcg||Organ meats, okra, orange juice, legumes.|
|Vitamin B12||Has antioxidant capacity, decrease inflammation||1.2 mcg||Liver, cottage cheese, meat, salmon|
We had a look at the 3-day food record, through which I could set up few solutions for Hani’s disturbed eating habits through an individualized meal plan.
In conclusion, as autistic children can be fussy eaters, continuous monitoring of their eating habits is needed, in addition to frequent follow-up with the physician and the dietitian to make sure they do not have nutritional deficiencies. Moreover, parents’ observation and practices can be of great added value to improve the overall condition of their children.