Article By: Dominica Dieffenbach, RDN
Dominica is a Registered Dietitian and mom of 2 kiddos currently specializing in the special needs pediatric population. She has over 15 years of experience as an RD, working with a wide variety of patients to provide them with individualized medical nutrition therapy and education.
Nutritional deficiencies are a common concern for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This can be related to a variety of reasons including:
1) Very limited food preferences, extremely picky eating
2) Food temperature and texture aversions
3) Insistence on specific food brands and packaging or food presentation
4) Simply not eating enough food to meet their nutritional needs
5) Difficulty chewing or swallowing
6) Gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhea, constipation, or stomach pain
Many individuals with autism have a strong preference for highly processed foods and simple carbohydrates and tend to limit nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Protein containing foods such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and beans are often rejected from the diet thus leading to protein deficiencies. This lack of diet-diversity can also lead to nutrient deficiencies including iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and fiber.
There is a strong communication system that exists between the gut and the brain termed the “gut-brain axis”. This allows for dual way signals to be sent between both organs. A possible link between the imbalances of the composition of the gut microbiota and individuals with ASD has been identified in research. A large study found that autistic children had lower amounts of beneficial bacteria and higher amounts of “bad” bacteria in their digestive tracts when compared to typically-developing children. This imbalance can lead to worsening behaviors, irritability from digestive disorders, as well as lack of nutrient absorption.
Including foods with naturally containing probiotics such as kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, and pickles can be of benefit for those with ASD. However, incorporating these probiotics can be challenging for such picky eaters. Early studies show that including a probiotic supplement like the Renzo's Yummy Tummy Probiotic can be helpful for increasing the beneficial “good” bacteria in those with autism and restore gut health. Always consult your child’s medical professional team before starting a new supplement.
Here are some mealtime tips for autistic children:
1) Develop a mealtime routine.
Regular and predictable schedules are important for autistic children, and this includes meals. Having the same time and location for meals and snacks will help to decrease the anxiety around introducing a new food to the plate.
2) Slowly add new foods.
If an autistic child only eats a few foods, try adding a new food to one of their favorites in very small amounts over time in a practice called “food chaining”. Ask your child’s care team if they are appropriate for feeding therapy.
3) Avoid brand dependency.
Try taking packaged foods out of their branded packaging right when getting home from the grocery store. Try placing the foods in clear plastic bags or glass jars to avoid the meltdowns associated with a different product purchase.
Renzo's Vitamins provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice.