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Autism is a very complex developmental and neurological condition that typically shows up during the infant stage of life. It includes a broad range of conditions related to developmental disorders that affects their behavioural and social skills. Classic symptoms include repetitive behaviour, poor motor skills, information and sensory processing. There is no known cause for the Autism spectrum of disorders, but both genetics and environment are believed to play a role.

How does Autism impact their nutritional status?

Children with Autism are 5 times more likely to have a meal time challenge which may include tantrums, extreme food selectivity, or poor eating behaviour. So, inadequate nutrition will be a very common phenomenon among Autistic children. Most common deficiencies include fibre, folic acid, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and vitamins.

Common nutrition problems

  • Poor diet
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Feeding problems
  • Food allergies or intolerances
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like constipation
  • Exposure to neurotoxins
  • Frequent illness and infections

Nutrition intervention

Diet

  • Look for their interests and enforce elimination / challenge (based on behavioural adaptations)
  • Gluten free
  • Lactose free
  • Rotation diet
  • Antifungal
  • Specific carbohydrate diet

Supplements

  • Multivitamin and mineral
  • Essential Fatty acid

Herbs and Nutraceuticals

  • Probiotics
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Antioxidants

Dietary treatment process

Step 1 – Make appropriate dietary modifications
Step 2 – Try basic supplements
Step 3 – Then, introduce advanced supplements
Step 4 – Identify and eliminate problematic foods
Step 5 – Medical treatment (in cases of thyroid, CBC, Stool analysis etc.)

Strategies to improve feeding problem

  • Encourage mealtime with positive statements – “You can” and “do”
  • Avoid food burnout! Introduce variety in terms of colours and shapes when you give food to make it interesting.
  • Stick to a schedule – Routine will help reduce the anxiety
  • Limit distractions during meal time
  • Offer manageable foods – small, easily chewable bites
  • Offer 3 meals and 2-3 small snacks per day. Stop the nibbling.
  • Limit juice consumption
  • Use social modelling – Don’t make your child the focus of the meal time.
  • Use positive reinforcement – Ignore their negative behaviour and praise for some appropriate behaviour.

For an autistic child, a nutritious, balanced eating plan can make a huge difference in their ability to learn, how they manage their emotions and how they process information. Because children with Autism often are very picky with their meal options or have restrictions on what they eat, as well as difficulty sitting through mealtimes, they may not be getting all the nutrients they need. So, consulting with a nutritionist can help identify their nutritional risks, find solutions about the effectiveness and safety of nutrition therapies or supplements and guide your child to eat well and live healthfully.

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