Diet Modification and Autism

Diet Modification and Autism

Okay, so I often get flogged for my stance on diet modification.  I am a believer and supporter of it, within limits!  I struggle with some of the more extreme diets, like the Maker’s Diet, but hey, if a parent or caregiver has the means (both financially and emotionally) to commit to something that will not harm their child in any way, why not? 

I do struggle with parents who expect the schools to bear responsibility for their child’s diet.  I believe 100% that school meals are currently less healthy and well-balanced than they should be.  That being said, if a parent chooses a gluten free-caesin free diet, the school should not be held responsible for taking bread out of the lunchroom.  Do understand though, that the school should support you by letting you know in advance when events occur that might cause an eating issue – ice cream day, class birthday parties.  A parent who is truly committed to diet modification will find a way to insure inclusion in the event while providing an alternative food.  And as a speech pathologist, I know all the candies and treats my GFCF kiddos can eat and keep them in stock!

And now is my admission – I modify my children’s diets.  I have two sons who are thus far following a path of expected and usual development.  But they eat almost no sugar.  No high fructose corn syrup.  Organics whenever possible.  Only 100% juices with no added sugars.  A fruit and/or vegetable with every meal.  And the looks I get while shopping, as I read boxes and my 5-year-old asks, “Mom did you put it back because it has High Fructose Corn Syrup?”

Or as I plan the Food Explorers program for the 1st to 3rd grade Autism Special Day Class that I work in and make a shopping list for nachos: organic blue corn tortilla chips, whole black beans, cheese grated at home, fresh salsa.  The teachers response: “My kids won’t eat all that healthy stuff!”

I find it sad how few parents even make the effort to follow basic healthy eating.  One little girl on my caseload has chocolate milk every morning for breakfast.  Now, I do not sit at her table or know her mother well enough to know if there is more to that chocolate milk than the name implies.  At my house, most mornings we have “milkshakes”.  A milkshake for my 5 and 2-year-old contains soy milk, whey protein powder, a banana, a tablespoon of all natural peanut butter, and a cup of regular yogurt.  They love it, it’s portable, quick, easy, and I know that they are well fed before attacking their day.

Now, I am not an extremist.  We occasionally eat fast food – McDonald’s or Taco Bell.  My kids eat ice cream – typically homemade, which means we control the ingredients.  They always get a cookie at the grocery store.  My feeling is that it is about balance.  It seems that diet modification exists on a continuum, much like the disorders it is targeted at.  Even the simple things we are committed to are considered by many to be a “modification” of a “regular” diet.

Diet modification may not fall into the category of Evidence Based Practice and it may continue to cause others to frown on me, but I will stand behind it.  I have seen the difference in my own children when waffles with syrup are compared to scrambled eggs with cheese are fed for breakfast, and I know what I prefer!

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