It is not uncommon for parents of autistic children to place their children on special diets to help manage behavioral problems. However, a new report published in the journal “Pediatrics” says that there is no evidence to support the idea that restrictive diets are helpful.
At issue is whether or not children with autism suffer from a digestive problem sometimes called “leaky gut” or “autistic enterocolitis.” Some people believe that many of autistic children’s behavior problems are reactions to the pain caused by autistic enterocolitis. A diet free from casein (a protein found in cow’s milk and cheese) and gluten is said to help alleviate some of the pain and improve behavior problems. The theory originated with a now discredited study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield.
The report in “Pediatrics” states that given the available medical research there is no evidence to establish the existence of autistic enterocolitis. The study did confirm that certain stomach issues are linked to autism-like behaviors but did not find any research that supported the idea that restrictive diets were helpful. Given the lack of research in the area, the report calls for more research into the connection between autism and digestive problems and whether or not special diets might help.
The report was created by more than 25 experts who met in Boston to review medical research and come up with a consensus. The Autism Society and other autism groups funded the meeting, but did not contribute any input.
Until more concrete evidence can be found, experts recommend that parents use more traditional treatments. If your child is on a special diet, work with your doctor and a nutritionist to make sure you are not creating any nutritional deficiencies.
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