We see many children and young adults in our practice, and we are finding that most of them (70-80%) benefit from a special diet, elimination of certain foods, or use of supplements. There are many conflicting studies out there that make it difficult to know for sure if there is a connection between nutrition/gut issues and autism; but I can say that in our experience it seems to be true for many. Like the population as a whole, one rule doesn’t apply to all. I see some children who do not seem to be affected at all by the things they eat – no gut problems, bowel issues, or behavior that would indicate feeling ill, or high levels of yeast – while others seem to be very affected by all of these things. It can take a lot of time and effort to sort this all out, but the differences can be remarkable when a child is feeling well and getting proper nutrition.
Special diets are not necessary for every child with an autism spectrum disorder, because every person has their own unique make up and nutritional needs. There are books, articles, and people out there who promote the gluten/casein free diet for all kids on the autism spectrum. While this isn’t a bad diet, and it certainly won’t hurt anyone to be on the diet, it isn’t a “cure” for autism; and it doesn’t have the same effect for every person. Some people see dramatic differences on the diet, while others see no difference. While the gluten/casein free diet may not be effective for your child, there may be other diets, nutritional changes or supplements that might be.
So, how do you know if your child is suffering from gut issues, or is getting proper nutrition? This question is a daunting one that can sometimes take days, weeks, months, or even years to answer. For some children, the answer is quick and easy; for others one answer can lead to more questions. What works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another, and often times it is by trial and error that you find just the right fit for your child.
Here at Horizons, it is our goal to help you find the answer in as quick and efficient a manner as possible. So, what are some of the ways we gather necessary information? Below is a list of some of the typical steps we take in determining if your child is experiencing gut issues, has nutritional challenges, or may be suffering from yeast overgrowth.
- Gather a detailed developmental history. This includes information on your child’s eating, sleeping, and stool habits, as well as his/her behavior. The history also looks at what types of diets or supplements your child is currently taking.
- Gather a three day diet history. Parents journal for three days on what their child ate and drank. Included in this is any noticed reactions to the foods.
- Observation of the child. We spend some time observing and interacting with the child over a few hours or sessions, and note any behaviors or symptoms that may indicate food sensitivities or gut issues.
- Lab Work. When necessary lab, work is recommended to test a variety of things including food sensitivities, yeast levels, thyroid levels, and mineral levels. It may not be necessary for children to have all or any of these tests done; but many times we have clients do some types of tests.
- Referral to a specialized doctor. In some cases we may think it necessary to refer a child to a specialized doctor for further testing or treatment. We may send families to see a DAN doctor for supplementation or diet help if we feel it is outside the scope of our practice. We may also refer a child to see a gastroenterologist to treat gut issues. There may be other referrals needed, but these are some examples.
Based on all of the information gathered, a course of action is determined and a trial period is established. The family monitors the child’s progress, and provides updates as needed. Often times it is initially necessary to make modifications and changes, especially until the right combination is found. This can be frustrating for families; but I always tell my clients that I won’t give up on them, and will continue to help them until we find a solution. If you feel like your child is experiencing gut or nutritional issues, find a practitioner who is willing to listen and help you sort through the maze of options.