Diet and Autism

Help! My child with Autism will only eat ___________.

Will cutting _________ out of my child's diet make a difference in his behavior?

It seems that questions about diet are always cropping up in conversations about children with Autism. The questions I get asked by parents of children in the social skills groups I run near Hartford Connecticut can mostly be grouped into two categories, whether to restrict diet, or how to expand and diversify it. 

The advise I give is always based on several ideas that I came across through my practice, research, and experience. I call them my Autism Spectrum Food Principles.

  1. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want your child to try new foods, introduce new foods into your own diet, and be honest about whether you liked them or not. 
  2. No one food is a health panacea. There is no widely accepted scientific evidence that adding or avoiding any one food will have a dramatic behavioral effect. The best diet is one that is mostly plant and whole grain based, but eating something delicious for a treat is a nice thing to do for yourself.
  3. Incremental improvement works: Small changes to the way you eat may be better in the long run if they produce sustainable changes in lifestyle. Rather than jumping head first into a dramatically different fad diet, try adding one new, whole and healthy food each week and cutting back on processed snacks and sugar.
  4. Consider the social value of food: Before cutting out that weekly trip to Dunkin Donuts, consider whether the positive tradition and family time outweighs the health benefit of not eating the gluten and sugar.