A popular approach for managing behaviors associated with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is to place a child on a gluten-free*, casein-free* diet. In fact, 62% of parents who have a child with ASD have reported attempting the diet at one point or another.
The theory behind placing a child on a gluten, casein-free diet is that some individual’s with ASD possess a decreased ability to break down gluten and casein proteins resulting in a ‘leaky gut.’ This leaky gut allows unwanted protein components to enter the blood brain barrier stimulating unwanted receptors and resulting in unwanted behaviors. This theory has not been substantially backed by research.
A systematic review of 15 scientific articles conducted in 2010 by Mulloy, O’Reilly, Lancioni, and Rispoli** revealed that none of the reviewed studies could provide conclusive evidence that the gluten, casein-free diet worked to decrease unwanted behaviors. Furthermore, the review pointed out that modified diets can be challenging to follow as well as socially isolating/stigmatizing.
At NAPA, we believe that a child’s diet plays a significant role in their healing process. Many of our patients are on diets specifically tailored to meet their individual needs. Healthy foods have an incredible ability to help rebuild and support the body. Other foods are stressful on our systems and hard on the body – specifically those foods that our systems cannot digest well. For some children, these difficult to digest foods possess gluten and casein. However, this is not always the case. Some children may be allergic/intolerant to dairy and wheat, others to eggs and soy, and still others to tree nuts and oats.
Whatever role you believe food plays in your child’s life, make informed
decisions when modifying your child’s diet. A good path to follow is to ask your pediatrician for a food allergy and/or intolerance test to back up food allergy suspicions, or try an elimination diet under the guidance of your pediatrician. And remember, as you work to provide your child with the nutrition best suited to meet their individual and unique needs, know that NAPA has resources to help including feeding therapy, nutrition counseling, and parent seminars.
+Special thanks to our OT fieldwork student Maya for reviewing this journal article and providing this informative inservice to the therapy staff!
*Gluten is protein found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. Casein is a protein found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow milk.
** Mulloy A, Lang R, O’Reilly M, Sigafoos J, Lancioni G, Rispoli M. Gluten-free and casein-free diets in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 2010; 4(3): 328-339