A Brief Note About Autism And Special Diets

October 2011

Dietary interventions are a common complimentary treatment strategy for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Anecdotal evidence and case studies indicate that special diets have benefited individuals with autism. For example according to Autism Research Institute’s (ARI) ratings gathered from 3593 parents almost seven out of ten parents (69%) indicated that a Gluten-Free/Casein-Free (GF/CF) diet improved symptoms of autism in their child. Although this seems to suggest that a GF/CF diet is a pretty effective strategy in many cases evidence based research - the gold standard research supported by the scientific community - is weak.

A new study presented at this year’s ADA Food and Nutrition Conference Expo by Patricia Stewart PhD RD Director of Clinical Research at University of Rochester School of Medicine examined the GF/CF diet on ASD through a double blind placebo controlled challenge. Double blind placebo controlled studies are among the top rated evidence based studies. In this small study 22 children with ASD were placed on a GF/CF diet for at least 4 weeks. 14 of the 22 participants were able to maintain the diet. At the end of the study researchers found no statistically significant effects on sleep bowel movements attention activity social interactions language or movement behaviors. So in this case it seems a GF/CF did not help these 14 children.

So where does this leave us? We know some ASD individuals are plagued with gastrointestinal issues. At the same conference Dr. Timothy Buie MD Associate in Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital reviewed the scientific literature and talked about how gastrointestinal issues are prevalent in some ASD individuals and that these issues may contribute to symptoms. For this subgroup diet and nutritional support may help. In these cases healing the gut can be an effective therapeutic strategy.

In the end a special diet may not be right for all but it may be right for some. It is important to discuss this with your health care provider to determine if this type of treatment may benefit your loved one.

Thanks to University of Bridgeport Masters' student Debra Wolf for research and assistance.