April is the great month to re-evaluate the way people usually tend to think about Autism. It can be a difficult topic to speak about but it shouldn’t be stigmatized. Autism is a life-long brain disorder that is normally diagnosed in early childhood. People with autism have difficulties in communicating, forming relationships with others and find it hard to make sense of the world around them.
It is estimated by the Ministry of Social Welfare that the total number of persons with ASDs (Autism Spectrum Disorders), could be as high as 1.4 million in Bangladesh– of whom only a few hundred have been diagnosed. One estimation is also that one child in 500 in Bangladesh has autism, meaning that the approximate number of children with ASDs in Bangladesh is no less than 280,000.
Autism is the result of a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. It is primarily a disorder of the brain, but recent research suggests that as many as nine out of 10 individuals with the condition also suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and “leaky gut.”
Children with autism can present with unique nutritional challenges and nutritional deficiencies. These can result from a variety of reasons such as narrow food preferences or specific food/texture aversions. In a young children with ASD, food selectivity is common – including a limited food selection and food refusal. Children with a more restricted diet may be more likely to suffer from inadequate intake of nutrients and develop nutritional deficiencies. Nutrient deficiencies that have been described in children with ASDs included protein, fiber, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B12, iron, and calcium. In addition to nutrition deficiencies, obesity has also been well-described to occur with ASDs.
A healthy diet is essential for all kids, but even more so with kids with ASDs because there is concern their GI issues may lead to poor absorption of key nutrients for growth and development. The most common GI symptoms include chronic diarrhea, abdominal distention, discomfort and bloating, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), excessive gas, constipation, fecal impaction, food regurgitation, and a leaky gut syndrome.
I recommend a healthy, natural, varied diet as close to the earth as possible. Avoiding pesticides, preservatives, artificial ingredients, fast foods, monosodium glutamate, or processed foods is ideal. Diets that are less processed and more natural, like an organic diet, are easier to digest and absorb because they contain fewer toxins that need to be eliminated.
Here are some general Nutritional Recommendations for children with ASD
Seek Guidance for Special Diets
There is growing evidence that nutritional therapy can really make a big difference to children with autism. Many have severely disrupted digestion, so restoring balance in the gut is a key focus for nutritional therapy. Also important is balancing blood sugar, checking for brain-polluting heavy metals, excluding food additives, identifying food allergies and possible nutrient deficiencies, and ensuring an optimal intake of essential fats.
Depending on the symptoms, kids are treated with some form of diet. You may have heard that a gluten- or casein-free diet can improve symptoms of ASD. Keep in mind that very restrictive diets require careful planning to make sure your child’s nutrition needs are being met. Consult with a Nutrition Expert before making any drastic changes to your child’s diet.
Nutrients given in supplement form (a good-quality multivitamin without artificial colors or flavors) play a large role in successful biomedical treatment of autism and ADHD. Benefits from nutrient therapy frequently include improved eye contact, decrease self-stimulating behavior, improved language, social and cognitive function.
Probiotics contain healthy bacteria and can improve the micro flora in the GI tract. Kids with autism tend to have abnormal GI flora, and when they routinely ingest probiotics, their GI flora can improve.
Exercise is vital
While typically-developing kids may be involved in numerous team sports, athletics and social playgroups; kids on the autism spectrum don’t always have these opportunities. This is one reason why the population of kids with autism has a 7 % higher rate of obesity than the general population. While the end goals are the same for all kids.
As a parent of a child with autism, you should remember that you’re not alone and that there are many resources available to help provide assistance in your community. But first and foremost, you need to take care of yourself. After all, how can you be an effective caregiver for others if you don’t look after yourself as well?
With best Wishes
(M.phil in Nutrition and Food Science, INFS, DU)
Trained in Malaysia
Nutrition Consultant, SureCell Medical [BD] Ltd.
*ASD=Autism Spectrum Disorder
*ADHD=Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder