Numerous sets of parents with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have reported that they have seen improvement in terms of behaviour when their children are put on a gluten and casein free diet. Gluten is found primarily in wheat, barley and rye; casein, in dairy products. However, relevant parties have investigated the issue and found insufficient evidence to corroborate this claim.
While we are waiting for substantial and definitive results on the matter, it’s appropriate to ask ourselves what harm could befall our children from putting them on a gluten and casein free diet. Certainly, dietary changes can be worth investigating and trying, and many parents report improvements in behaviour. However be advised that, until more studies are done and more evidence of safety and benefit is gathered, parents who place their children on a casein-gluten-free diet need to take extra steps to ensure they do it the right way.
- It is highly advisable for parents to first seek guidance from a dietary counsellor such as a nutritionist or dietician. It may be easy to find casein-gluten-free dietary plans on the Internet, but very few parents—or physicians—have the knowledge to determine whether a child’s diet is delivering all the essential requirements for growth and development. Do note that foods comprising of gluten and casein are main sources of protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, calcium, and zinc.
- It is also suggested that parents bring the nutritionist or dietician a 3- to 5-day dietary record of their child’s average daily diet and have this evaluated to decide whether there is a real danger for nutritional inadequacy. The nutritionist or dietician can then advise the family to add foods or supplements that fills possible disruptions in nutrition.
- After ascertaining a strategy for a safe and complete diet, parents are urged to establish a dependable way to gauge their child’s response to the diet. Ideally, this should commence before the diet is begun, with a record of the particular behaviours that the family would like to see improve, such as tantrums, disruptive behaviours during class, staying up at night, or failure to start or maintain conversations.
- Next, parents have to make sure they engage teachers, therapists, babysitters, and others outside the family to help them accurately observe these targeted behaviours and confirm their observation of changes. If they reach an agreement that improvements are in fact ensuing, remaining on the diet may be worthwhile.
Nonetheless, one should still examine whether the improvements are a result of the removal of all gluten and casein from the diet. Some
transformations might be due to removal of just one of these proteins. For instance, some parents report improvement with a casein-free diet, and others report improvements with gluten-free diets.
Sometimes, the behavioural changes may be due to dietary changes as a whole and not because of the removal of casein or gluten. These alternative reasons are crucial and require a great deal of deliberation because a strict casein-gluten free diet requires hard work and can be costly.
In summary, the fact that gluten and casein causes adverse behaviours in children with ASD is not set in stone. Parents should not condemn themselves if they lack the funds or time to put their children on strict gluten and casein free diets. As long as parents ensure that their children are on well balanced diets without the unnecessary processed sugars and preservatives, it is safe to say that they are well on their way to better behaviour management for their children who are on the spectrum.