Parents and caregivers are concerned about unhealthy eating habits in a child with autism. Qualified dieticians can help in planning a perfect autism diet plan with nutritive analysis and advice on healthy eating habits.
Dieticians or health experts are trained in maintaining a healthy eating behaviour in a child with autism. They provide various strategies to introduce healthy food and improve the nutritional balance in the child and work with the parents to understand their objectives before creating a diet plan for autism in achieving favourable results.
When to plan?
Children with autism are more likely to have stomach problems. This picky or choosy eating habits along with other dietary restrictions are associated with the gastrointestinal (GI) trouble in them. Before charting anautism diet plan, the dieticians try to figure out the reason behind the child’s unwavering insistence on special coloured food, why they prefer a particular type of food and a greater number of other feeding issues. Such issues are at times related to the ritualistic or repetitive behaviours and as well as sensory processing issues (smell, texture). Thus, a child with autism and sensory disorder reject foods based on their smell, colour and texture.
For example, he/she may only want to eat:
· White or yellow foods (rice, bread, mashed potatoes, chicken)
· Foods with a crunchy or a smooth texture (biscuits)
· Foods with a salty or bitter taste (chips, pickle)
· Foods with a sweet flavour (chocolate, sweet)
Why is white food unhealthy?
Some children with ASD avoid certain foods because of exacerbated gastrointestinal (GI) problems associated with reflux and severe abdominal pain. They may cry or hit their head during meals. The doctor advice a gastrointestinal screening before planning a diet plan for autism symptoms.
A white food diet contains white flour, which does not contain the nutrient husks, lack in fibres and the essential vitamins. The white processed food stuffs contain added sugar too. When consumed, these nutrient deficiencies in white foods can impact the gut and disturb the nutritional balance. A diet plan for a child with autism does not include ‘treat’ like bread, crackers, biscuits, cakes and pasta.
Role of dieticians
Dieticians develop strategies and tools to introduce an improved diet to maintain the child’s nutritional balance. They prescribe a gluten-free/casein-free diet (GFCF) diet. This strict diet eliminates foods containing gluten (wheat, barley and rye) and casein (milk and milk products) from the child's daily intake.
They work with the child’s family to understand their worries and goals and to create a perfect diet plan for autism. They plan to achieve the desired outcomes by exploring the eating habits and the preferred food of the child with autism.
Their diet also consists of strategies that can assist in creating a learning opportunity and to build a positive relationship between the child and his/her food.