Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a complex developmental and neurological condition that affects people of all ages. While research is ongoing in terms of the way that various foods affect a person with autism, there are important considerations to bear in mind if you are looking after someone with this condition. Below are the ways that food can be an issue for someone on the autistic spectrum, as well as how certain foods can assist with mood, focus, and behavior.
Food Selection & Strong Likes/Dislikes
Some individuals on the autistic spectrum can be sensitive to the smell, color, taste, and texture of certain foods. This can lead them to have strong likes or dislikes for things such as strong-flavored foods, slippery or soft foods, or foods with bright or stark appearances. At its most extreme, some kids will avoid entire food groups because of how they look, feel, or taste. By knowing what their sensitivities are, you can plan meals accordingly. Another tip is to encourage your child to select new foods themselves so that they are able to introduce more variety in their diet.
Balancing Blood Sugar
As there are frequent overlaps between hyperactivity and autism, experts recommend that children are given food to keep their blood sugar balanced. Research has also shown that hyperactive children tend to eat more sugar than other children. However, the result of consuming too much sugar is that it can cause huge fluctuations in energy levels, concentration, focus, and behavior. Therefore, it is important to provide foods that encourage healthy blood sugar levels. This applies to adults, too, especially in terms of energy and cognition.
Other research has demonstrated the importance of omega-3 fatty acids when it comes to people with autism. For example, omega-3 fish oils have been shown to improve behavior, mood, speech, and sleep patterns in individuals with autism. Healthy sources of omega-3s include:
- Fish and seafood (cold-water fatty fish like salmon protein, mackerel, tuna, herring)
- Nuts and seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts)
- Plant oils (flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil)
Another issue when it comes to autism is ensuring that a child eats enough, especially as some people with autism struggle to focus on one task for an extended period. If they are left unsupervised, they can end up not eating enough as their attention is drawn elsewhere. Experts suggest creating routine and structure around mealtimes and ensuring that the process is as predictable as possible.
Avoiding Aggravating Foods
Like most kids, it is important to avoid aggravating or unhealthy foods. This includes things like gluten, dairy, sugar, and artificial ingredients. While not all children will react to these, it might be a good idea to limit them to ensure they do not trigger any underlying or co-occurring conditions. Dairy, sugar, and gluten, for example, have been shown to influence energy levels, concentration, and focus. Also, artificial ingredients such as additives can trigger allergic responses or cause disturbances in behavior. Therefore, it is best to avoid these where possible.
This is a contributed post and therefore may not reflect the views and opinions of this blog or its author.