When it comes to proper nutrition, it can be pretty challenging to get your child to eat their fruits and veggies. And who can blame them? With so many delicious snacks and treats that are geared towards children, the last thing they want is a serving of broccoli or brussel sprouts. However, as parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children receive the nutrition they need for their growth and development. Children not wanting to eat their veggies is nothing new for parents, but if your child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the stakes tend to be even higher.
Children with autism tend to limit their food intake or have extreme preferences, which may result in nutritional deficiencies. So the question remains, is there a direct correlation between autism and nutrition? The short answer is yes, but there is much more to it. Let's dive in…
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Before diving into the nitty gritty of nutrition, gut health, and autism, let's take a step back and explain what autism is. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder or condition that may cause sensory hypersensitivity in children and adults. An ASD diagnosis is an umbrella term usually accompanied by an additional diagnosis of level 1, 2, or 3 to distinguish the severity of the disorder, where level 1 would indicate "mild" symptoms.
Although not all symptoms apply to each person, individuals with autism may experience some of the following:
- Trouble making eye contact
- Picky eating and other sensory sensitivities
- Struggles in social interactions with other peers
- May display "stimming" behavior such as rocking back and forth or other repetitive movements or noises
- May prefer to play alone
- Appears to be hypersensitive to noise and overstimulation
Autism and Nutrition
So, where does nutrition come into play? Well, as we mentioned, a child with ASD is likely to exhibit some sensory sensitivities–in this case, taste– that may lead to behaviors such as picky eating. Unfortunately, the foods they do like don't always provide the nutrients they need.
One of the main symptoms or signs associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder is delayed language skills. Often, this is usually the first sign that your toddler may have ASD and is generally noticed around 3 when children begin to piece together words.
There is no clear consensus on what may contribute to delayed communication in children, but many researchers have noticed that children with ASD have lower levels of essential nutrients that may affect brain function.
Although it is not certain what exactly causes other symptoms or ASD in general, evidence from various studies seems to point to genetic and environmental factors. However, as technology advances, so does our knowledge of the neurodevelopmental disorder and the various treatments that may help to improve ASD symptoms, including nutritional support and dietary invention.
Please remember that malnutrition, on its own, does not cause autism. However, it can worsen symptoms associated with an ASD diagnosis. Here are some examples of concerns that may result from picky eating habits in your child:
- Limited foods and nutrition sources - An individual with ASD may be sensitive to taste, smell, color, and texture of foods. As a result, they may limit or completely avoid some foods and even entire food groups. Some examples of disliked foods may include strongly flavored foods, fruits & vegetables or certain textures or food consistencies such as slippery or soft foods–think avocados or pumpkin pie.
- Not eating enough - It is not uncommon for kids with autism to have trouble focusing on one task for an extended period of time so having your child sit down and eat an entire meal may be a challenge of its own. Not eating enough means that your child isn't receiving the nutrients they need.
- Digestive issues - Children with ASD are also more likely to have gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), constipation, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Changes in diet may include gradually increasing sources of dietary fiber, food intolerance elimination, adding fruits and vegetables, and even exercise.
We know more about autism now than ever before, and an important observation is the relationship between autism and nutrition. A growing number of studies suggest that addressing these dietary deficiencies may improve ASD symptoms significantly for your child. In fact, these same studies sparked the idea behind Simple Spectrum Supplement.
Simple Spectrum is a dietary supplement designed to support children's neurocognitive health and provide the nutritional needs of the developing nervous system by addressing potential dietary deficiencies—our formula bridges nutritional gaps commonly associated with picky-eating habits in children with ASD.
Although there is no "cure" for autism, it can be supported in various ways such as applied behavioral therapy (ABA), nutritional care, education, and support.