It can be extremely difficult to regulate your autistic child’s diet. I know that song and dance all too well. But it is something we parents must attempt. Diet – what we put into our bodies – affects our health even more than most of us realize, and this is certainly true for autistic individuals, as evidenced by the success of the GF/CF diet. But since we did not have a successful experience with that, I have modified Nigel’s diet over the years to one that seems to work the best for him. Following are seven suggestions for diet modification:
1) Try the GF/CF diet. It might benefit your child. Be sure to maintain consistency with it for several weeks to accurately gauge its effectiveness.
2) Limit sweeteners, especially artificial ones. Nigel is okay with the occasional bit of natural sugar that crosses his path, even a little corn syrup now and then, but he absolutely cannot have any artificial sweeteners. He becomes completely agitated and unmanageable, reverts to echolalia, and general chaos ensues. That means mainstream sodas (Coke, Pepsi, etc.) are out, but once in a while I allow him to have some even though I regret it later. He is particularly sensitive to Aspartame, which I’ve read many bad things about on the internet.
3) Limit other chemicals: artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. I’ve read that the Red No.-whatever colors are the worst, but the rest can’t be far behind. We frequent the natural foods section of various grocery stores and buy all of our cereals and snacks there. No Trix or rainbow-colored goldfish crackers!
4) Try organic food. Yes, there’s been a lot of debate about if it’s worth the extra cost or if the money’s all in the organic labeling. That may be true in some cases, but know this: In the past two years since I started buying organic food, and not everything – just about one-third of the food we consume is organic – I have only been sick once and it was extremely mild. Both of my sons have only been sick twice. Twice, in two whole years! And those were also mild illnesses. For kids, that’s pretty amazing. I am sold on organic foods no matter what I read or what anyone says. They are so much better for your health. They automatically exclude artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives. And pesticides! And they taste far better, too. I think I’ll write a whole post about organic food.
5) Push fruit. Fruit aids the digestive system and is full of vitamins. Of course, consuming vegetables is just as important, but if your child balks at most vegetables (like mine), you may have better luck with fruit since it is sweeter.
6) Encourage water consumption. This will be very difficult if your child acts like water is poison. My younger son used to fall into that category. I was able to get him to drink more water by bargaining with him with what he wanted: If you drink half a glass of water, then you can have a glass of lemonade.
7) Limit meat consumption. Meat is more difficult to digest, so I cook with smaller amounts and on fewer days of the week. You don’t have to cut something out completely to see the benefits of scaling back.