Autism Awareness – Nutrition Tips
April is National Autism Awareness Month. There are great amounts of information on the health care front about nutrition for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD can be challenging on many levels, and healthy eating is no exception. Caring for a child that has a disability places even more emphasis on the importance of nutrition. For a child with ASD, a healthy, balanced diet can make a world of difference in their ability to learn, how they manage their emotions and how they process information. Because children with ASD often have restricted diets as well as difficulty sitting through mealtimes, they may not be getting all the nutrients they need, particularly calcium and protein.
If you have a child with ASD, ADD, ADHD or any focus issues try these nutrition strategies.
Be Prepared for Pickiness
Many parents find their special needs children are hypersensitivity to tastes, colors, smells and textures. Many parents find that getting your child to try new foods — especially those that are soft and slippery — may seem nearly impossible. Using time proven methods of offering one food with another familiar food over and over again may be a technique that allows your child to gradually open to a new taste, texture or smell.
You may find that your child avoids certain foods or even entire food groups. One easy way to approach sensory issues is to tackle them away from the kitchen table. Take your children to the supermarket and let them choose a new food to experiment with. When you get home, research it together and learn how and where it grows. Then, decide together how to prepare it. When you’re done, don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to eat it. Simply becoming familiar with new foods in a low-pressure way can eventually help your child become a more flexible eater.
Make Mealtimes Routine
Children with ASD,ADD and ADHD have to work harder at mealtimes. Environment of a busy kitchen, bright lights and even the way the furniture is arranged are all potential stressors. Make meals as predictable and routine as possible. Serving meals at the same time every day is one simple way to reduce stress. Think about what concessions you can make for easier mealtimes. If your child is sensitive to lights, try dimming the lights. Let him or her pick a favorite food to include at every meal. Or, let your child choose a favorite seat at the table.
Seek Guidance for Special Diets
There are many schools of thought on what to feed a child with ASD,ADD and ADHD. Dietary changes can improve many of these symptoms. Some children respond well to a gluten free casein free diet and/or food sensitivity diet plans. Studies indicate that these diets may be effective for certain children, yet more research is needed. Having your child work with a trained RDN- Nutritionist and an MD trained in treating children with ASD, ADD or ADHD are imperative. In my practice, I’ve seen children who do much better following a dietary change. I offer my parents the opportunity to do food sensitivity testing with their children. Some benefit from this and some do not. Keep in mind that very restrictive diets require careful planning to make sure your child’s nutrition needs are being met. Consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist like me, before making any drastic changes to your child’s diet.
There are several simple changes that can be made to meals for children and young adults with ASD, ADD and ADHD. Reduction or elimination of processed foods, food additives and colorings, increasing protein, reducing sweets and excessive carbohydrates, offering food sensitivity testing and nutritional supplementation can make a significant change in the way your child responds. Every child is unique and special. Give them a chance to be their absolute best.
Nancy Cohen of Feeding The Body Feeding The Soul is a registered dietician/ nutritionist. She has a long standing private practice and offers Nutrition Counseling to children, teens and adults. Nancy has been lecturing and working in private practice for more than three decades and enjoys the challenge of bringing the message of good nutrition and wellness home.