Food and Autism

Health Watch

In the 1970s, 1 in 1,000 kids were diagnosed with Autism. That rate has jumped to 1 in 59 children.

So many stories about autism focus on why the disorder is so much more common today versus a generation ago, and not what can help. Some research studies are looking at what, if any, foods can help young people on the Autism spectrum.

Sean McMonagle’s parents understand what behaviors avoid anxiety and meltdowns with their autistic son.

“He goes to the pool every day, he loves to ride his bike and swim. He’s not super into sports or anything,” said Joe McMonagle.

Now they’re looking into what foods may help.

“A lot of kids on the spectrum do have restrictive diets. They have certain preferred foods,” said Wendy Ross, MD, FAAP, Director, Center for Autism & Neurodiversity, Jefferson health.

Sean loves drive-through.

“I do like the fast food, I like the chicken fingers, french fries, cokes, and my favorite chocolate milkshakes,” said Sean McMonagle.

“A lot of times these restrictive diets can limit their nutrition, which is a problem. Some individuals have tried diets that are gluten-free or that have a special supplement in them,” said Doctor Ross.

When some patients with digestive issues start eating healthier foods, changes emerge.

“There’s not a lot of actual data to support that. In those families that have restricted diets, sometimes they do see changes,” said Doctor Ross.

What can you do diet-wise for autistic and spectrum kids? Fortify their nutrition with fruits and vegetables … stick to whole, unprocessed food, and whenever you can, try new foods.

“Guess what? For thanksgiving, I tried pumpkin pie,” said Sean McMonagle.

The proof may be in the pudding or the pie.

Although there is no definitive study, doctors continue to research the gut-autism connection.

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