ASD, Selective Eating, and Gastrointestinal Health
Studies show that children and teens with ASD are five times more likely to experience mealtime challenges and feeding problems than their neurotypical counterparts. Selective eating is the most notable feeding issue for autistic children and their parents. Typically, autistic children oppose eating fruits and vegetables and prefer processed foods and starchy fats, which are low in vitamins and have little nutritional value. This makes it difficult to ensure children with ASD maintain balanced diets and consume sufficient amounts of vitamins and nutrients.
Research also shows autistic children are more prone to gastrointestinal issues than their neurotypical peers., Common issues include constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn, but symptoms can be even more severe. Even further, evidence exhibiting a gut-brain connection, which plays a role in overall mental health and behavior., This means the health of the GI tract is correlated with ASD symptom severity and pathogenesis.
Potential Effects of Selective Eating and GI Imbalance
Though autistic children can generally eat enough starchy calories to stay energized, over time vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can be inevitable.2 Studies show children with autism typically have lower calcium, potassium, and vitamin D intake from food and are more frequently iron deficient compared to non-ASD children. These vitamins and minerals are essential to bone growth and brain development, and can help reduce resistance to communication and behavioral issues in children.3,, Therefore, long-term deficiencies can lead to stunted growth patterns and obesity or other cardio-vascular diseases.2
Supplements and Alternative Diets
The fact that children with ASD eat selectively coupled with a predisposition to GI issues makes it difficult for health professionals to determine the most effective ways to help autistic children maintain a proper diet.
To combat these health risks, doctors and dietitians suggest vitamin supplements and/or gluten-free and casein-free diets (GFCF) which eliminate most wheat and dairy products.
Some of the most commonly used vitamin supplements include Vitamins D, C, B6, folic acid, omega-3, and magnesium. A significant number of parents with autistic children report using supplements or GFCF diets to treat symptoms of ASD although reasons for use and assumed benefits vary.
Continued observation, management, and fluidity regarding supplements and diet intervention is suggested. Talk to your doctor or a licensed dietitian before you make any notable changes to your child’s diet.