What’s the Connection Between Food and Autism?

What’s the Connection Between Food and Autism?

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Autism: Amrita’s Back Story

Amrita Health Foods began when Founder and CEO, Arshad Bahl, was trying to find plant-based snacks for his son  who had been diagnosed with autism at the age of two.  
Through extensive research, Arshad learned that by improving his son’s gut health would improve his other symptoms. 

By changing his diet, Arshad’s son thrived academically and socially. Since he showed significant progress, he had been integrated into a normal classroom.   

What is Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or simply autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that restricts the person’s social and communication skills.

ASD manifests itself through compulsive repetitive behavior patterns from which the affected person cannot escape.

In severe cases, family members fail to communicate because both non-verbal and verbal aspects have been affected.

Understanding Autism

To give you an overview on how the world looks like from the perspective of a person with ASD, let’s look at a snail in its shell.  

The snail is the person with ASD. He is encapsulated in his shell, which in this case, his illness or ASD. 

Every shell is unique. It fits him perfectly. Inside the shell is his own private, little world. 

All external factors (treatment efforts) are all aimed to luring him out of his little snail shell. 

Parents usually notice signs of autism  within the first two years of their child's life. Especially in direct comparison with other kids. 

However, parents should understand that symptoms of autism gradually build up as time goes by and don’t manifest all at once.

In fact there are cases that some affected children develop normally and suddenly hit a setback during their developmental stage.


“Indicators of autism usually appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.” - AutismSpeaks


Autism and Nutrition

Many autistic children suffer from digestive problems such as diarrhea, indigestion, constipation, acid reflux or abdominal pain. 

A team of researchers from Columbia University found that antibody levels against gluten were significantly higher in the group of autistic children. 

The study also showed that gluten can cause an immune response in autistic children that can aggravate and trigger common autism symptoms.

Moreover, gliadin in cereals contain gluten which cross-react within the neurological system. It is believed that the antibodies attack your own nervous system and lead to immune reactions.

Children with autism also often react to milk and casein, because casein acts like gluten.

In addition to the common symptoms of autism, there may be other neurological diseases such as numbness in the hands and feet, tingling, coordination disorders, depression and schizophrenia.

These symptoms can worsen, be triggered and maintained by an immune response to foods containing gluten.

In some cases, a gluten-free diet could significantly improve autistic children's well-being.

Because not every child is the same, autistic children can benefit from certain diets, it is a good idea to test which diet will suit your child. 

Autism Food Therapy

Since autism is not a curable disorder, its treatment is limited to relieving the symptoms that occur. Often done through drug-based therapies. 

However, the scope and type of therapy depend on the age of the person affected and the intensity of the symptoms.

The goal of individualized, educational and holistic therapy is to bring as much normalcy as possible into the life of the autistic person. 

Therapeutic conversations, often combined with body-focused, light exercises, are intended to suppress irritation and anxiety while improving perception and communication.

Unfortunately, it is common for such therapies to fail because it is extremely difficult for both family members and experts to find an appropriate method for the patient.

Sometimes it is even better to refrain from any therapy for a certain period of time, as patients often experience therapy fatigue. 

Granted that, many parents try alternative ways to improve autism symptoms like changing their child’s diet. 

A balanced and healthy diet that includes avoiding foods high in sugar is beneficial and can provide a preventive effect.

This does not only strengthen an autistic child’s immune system, but also protects them from a whole range of potential diseases.  

Speak to your dietician or nutritionist to help you create a diet plan custom-fit to your child. 

Living with Autism

Families who live with autism experience high levels of stress and pressure. Parents struggle with food-related problems, misunderstood behaviors, constant therapies and treatments while also taking care of other kids and managing their household. 

Work, school, living and social relationships are issues people with autism often have limitations with. 

Recognizing these issues and preparing for further challenges will ease tension and bring organization to your new normal.

With proper guidance, many barriers can be broken down, so that your child can function independently and participate in all aspects of society. 

Just as each person with autism is unique, treatment and counseling are also a matter of customization. 

How to Help Improve Outcomes for an Autistic Child

  1. Be direct. Use concrete, literal and complete communication. Avoid language with a double meaning.
  2. Speak clearly. Don't shout or speak in a loud voice. This can scare people with autism.
  3. Create a schedule for better and clear instructions. 
  4. Sarcasm is usually not well understood, so try to avoid this. If you are joking,  mention it.
  5. After telling or explaining something, ask if she / he has understood you.
  6. Physical contact or eye contact can be uncomfortable by many autists, try to avoid this.
  7. Allow someone with autism his / her privacy.
  8. Anticipate the changes in the environment of someone with autism and try to make a possible new situation as pleasant and safe as possible. 
  9. Give someone with autism the time to get used to new things. 
  10.  Remember every person with autism is different. These tips don’t necessarily apply to everyone.  

Learn more about autism and its connection with food by downloading this guide. Help improve the health and nutrition of a family member or friend with autism today!

Resources/Organizations on Autism

While you should always work with your child’s doctor to find the best path for relieving your child’s symptoms of autism, there are also numerous resources online to help you educate yourself about what options are out there. 
Here are a few reputable resources worth checking out:

Cover photo courtesy of Total Shape

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