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Gluten (Casein-Free) Diets for the Treatment of Autism


Gluten (Casein-Free) Diets for the Treatment of Autism-


Parents who have children that have already been diagnosed with autism know just how difficult managing the symptoms of this illness can be.  For other parents and caregivers that feel that their child isn’t demonstrating the developmental milestones as presented within information they’ve read about Childhood Stages of Development, or perhaps they’re noticing differences between this child and their previous children, or in accordance with information that has been shared by their pediatrician, this article could prove extremely valuable.

Autism is a very complex developmental disability.  It is usually detected during the first three years of life when children fail to attain certain developmental milestones.  It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the way the brain functions.  Autism impacts the normal development of the brain targeting the areas of social interaction and communication skills.  Children and adults alike, who are afflicted with autism, have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication.  In other words, they find it difficult to communicate with and relate to others.  However, the symptoms of autism vary between those that have the disease so one should be able to identify specific characteristics in order to obtain proper diagnosis by a medical professional.  There are some physical symptoms that are typical of autism.  Persons with autism often exhibit repetitive body movements such as hand flapping or rocking.  Often times, autistic individuals will respond unusually to people.  They may form odd attachments to objects around the house.  Typically they do not do well with changes in their daily routines and will resistance with great stamina.  Individuals with autism may also have extreme sensitivities in the area of their five senses including touch, smell, taste, hearing and sight.  (Several movies depicting characters with autism which you may have seen or might consider viewing are 1) Mozart and the Whale; 2) I Am Sam; 3) Radio; 4) Little Man Tate; 5) The Boy Who Could Fly).

Autism is considered a spectrum disorder which means that the symptoms and characteristics of the disease will present themselves in a wide variety of combinations and can range from mild to severe.  There is no standard “type” or “typical” person with autism as it is defined by a certain set of behaviors and any combination of these behaviors and the severity demonstrated can differ tremendously between individuals sharing the same diagnosis.

The diagnosis of autism and its cause is receiving a tremendous amount of attention and researchers are actively seeking to determine what if anything in particular can be an attributing factor.  It is known based on scientific findings that autism is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls and that there are no racial, ethnic or social factors resulting in higher incidences of the disorder.  What researchers have determined and parents of children with autism should be aware of is that autism is NOT a mental illness.  Children and adults with autism are NOT behavior problems or unruly kids because they choose NOT to behave, and it is not caused by bad parenting skills or habits.  Researchers have not identified a psychological factor in the development of the child that would result in autistic behaviors or the disease.  Scientists have however determined that there is no single or specific cause of autism.  Research conducted does link autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain and that within many families there appears to be a pattern of autistic related disabilities which is suggesting a strong genetic basis to the disorder.  With this being identified, however, there has not been a specific gene directly related to autism.

After much research, there have been several areas that parents, caregivers and teachers can focus on in an effort to improve both their quality of life and the individual with whom struggles with autism.  Although there is no cure for the disorder, becoming familiar with and implementing the information you obtain can lead to a more rewarding experience for you and your child.  For example, individuals who suffer from autism aren’t un-teachable.  Their minds just function differently when it comes to learning specific things like language development. Therefore traditional methods of teaching language skills may prevent the child from learning or in the very least frustrate the child.  Autistic children tend to favor visual stimulation.  So, utilizing photos, videos or illustrations would lead to greater levels of success.  Now, this is not to say that the verbal approach should be eliminated altogether.  Neither should physical representation(s), i.e. visiting a boat while reviewing pictures of a boat and hearing the word “boat” repeated simultaneously.  By incorporating different teaching styles focusing on visual, auditory and tactile/kinesthetic learning, you might see greater responses from your child.  Remember, visual stimulation also includes drawing, coloring, painting, working with clay and other forms of art expression allowing the child to experience tactile learning.  Being creative using both art and music will allow you to focus on the positives that you’ve discovered exist within the child and steer away from the weaker points.

Dietary concerns have been an area of focus by parents for many years in an effort to help improve and reduce autistic symptoms in their children.  Although very little research has been conducted by scientists at this point, this form of treatment, although alternative, has grown in popularity.  Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diets (GFCF)   is becoming one of the most highly regarded and prescribed diets for children suffering autism.  In fact, according to the research that has been conducted, 8 out 10 autistic children may benefit greatly from this specialized diet.

Gluten is a protein fraction that is found in all wheat, rye, barley and most oat products.  Many foods contain gluten, in fact, it is virtually everywhere including soups, sauces, candy, cereals, breads, pastas, and cookies  Casein, also a protein, is found in all dairy products including all milk, butter, cheese, cream cheese, sour cream and ice cream.  Careful attention must be paid to food labels as casein can also be found in bread, tuna fish and even soy cheese.  For autistic children, consumption of both gluten and casein is similar to eating poison. Children with autism, for whatever reason, aren’t able to process the peptides and proteins in foods containing both products the same as individuals without autism.  These proteins leak into the gut, undigested and attach to the opiate receptors of the child’s brain.  Based on research results in England, Norway and at the University of Florida, abnormal levels of peptides, which are the breakdown products of proteins, resulted in opiate (similar in nature to morphine) activity in the urine of a high percentage of autistic children.  Based on these findings and others, it is believed that processing of certain foods containing gluten and casein seems to be affecting the developing brains of some children and may be contributing to autistic behaviors.  Eating whole, natural fruits and vegetables, and organic meats may help reduce the toxins present in gluten for children suffering with autism.

It is suggested that children suffering with autism be placed on a gluten-free, casein-free diet for at least three months, perhaps longer if necessary to see results.  And although this diet will be challenging, if can make a tremendous difference.  However, please keep in mind that it may not affect every child, and the results may not be as dramatic as others have shared.  The good news is that there is no harm in trying the diet.  If you are interested in attempting the diet to determine if it may affect your child’s autistic symptoms, make sure that your child doesn’t ingest any gluten or casein products for six weeks.  Within this period of time, you’ll know whether improvement occurs.

For some, removing each product containing gluten and casein at one time can be traumatic.  For those experiencing this occurrence, eliminating either gluten or casein exclusively for a short period and then eliminating the other may prove beneficial.  However, it is a total dietary issue and even minute traces of either protein in the diet may set you back a week or more.

These days, most grocery chains have “gluten-free” products within their stores however it is still uncommon to have an entire section devoted to gluten-free or even casein-free products.  There are specialty stores such as natural food stores which will offer “gluten-free” areas within the store however, you will still want to read labels to see if there are any additives containing gluten.  Finally, you can purchase both Gluten-Free and Casein-Free foods by mail from Gluten Solutions.  They specialize in 100% gluten-free goods, including baking mixes, cookies, breads, snacks, pastas and more.  Additionally, they provide cookbooks which offer recipes that are both gluten and casein free.  They offer the lowest shipping rates and all orders can be shipped next (business) day.    This might be a solution to those of you unable to find reliable information and/or product lines within your local stores and retailers.

It has been estimated that 1 out of 500 individuals have symptoms associated with Autism.  Nearly ½ million people in the U.S. alone have one or another form of autism.  Autism is a difficult illness for families to deal with especially when it comes to managing and modifying dietary needs.  It is a lot of work and will take a dedicated parent desiring to determine if, in fact, their child will benefit from the recommended modifications.  Is it worth it?  Only time and the responses your child has to the new diet will tell.  You’ll have to be the judge.  For me, positive results like those shared by multiple parents who’ve decided to make the dietary modifications themselves would certainly be encouragement enough for me to try.  Being able to witness my child making eye contact, or demonstrating a longer attention span, a reduction in temper tantrums or self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand-flapping and rocking, and most of all exhibiting the ability to communication verbally for the first time would be well worth the three or four months of modifications to his/her diet.

For more information on Autism or Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diets, please visit www.webmd.com, www.sciencedaily.com, or www.ourspecialkids.org.  For additional information on purchasing Gluten-Free & Casein-Free Foods online, visit www.glutensolutions.com.

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