The week of September 20 is Autism Awareness Week at DietsInReview.com.
Guest Blogger Karianna writes at The Karianna Spectrum. Her oldest son was diagnosed with PDD-nos when he was in pre-school.
Many kids with autism are affected by food in ways that neurotypical children are not. My son is on the Feingold Program, a diet that avoids certain salicylates and petroleum-based additives. Other children have found success with gluten-free/ casein-free diets, particularly when they also have celiac disease. Some autistic kids might have lots of food sensitivities, while others may have none.
Even without a specific food concern, kids on the spectrum typically have more pronounced reactions to food, so eating healthfully is even more crucial than for a typical kid who might be “off” after lots of junk food or without a well-rounded diet.
Kids on the spectrum frequently have strong sensory reactions to food. Common concerns include taste, color, and texture. Something mildly seasoned may seem overwhelmingly spicy to someone on the spectrum. A few little lumps in food might be painful or uncomfortable. And then there is the classic preference for a certain color. While the “I’ll only eat white things” might be a common toddler stage, it is a more pervasive problem for autistic kids. Fear of the unknown definitely translates to food, so creating a well-rounded palate is a challenge. For those who use medication to control some of the impulsivity or aggression symptoms of autism, appetite can be a big concern. Drugs such as Risperdal can significantly increase appetite, causing obesity, whereas stimulant-based pharmaceuticals like Ritalin or Focalin can suppress appetite dramatically.
Eating is a social activity. Kids on the spectrum usually already have social challenges, but a picky palate, a special diet, or a depressed appetite can create major challenges for family gatherings, birthday parties, or at school. Situations that would already be stressful become doubly-so when these food-related issues are added. But, despite the hurdles, the behavioral benefits to eating well are profound, so addressing the food-related challenges for an individual on the spectrum is important.