Autism and Diet

Updated on September 10, 2009
M.B. asks from Occoquan, VA
19 answers

I have a friend who has a 2 1/2 year old son who was diagnosed with autism fairly quickly in life (before he turned 2). i am pretty close to her and her family, so I'm asking this out of concern.

My first concern-Isn't under 2 young to diagnose this issue? I will say that there are definite unique signs that her son shows. His behavior is seemingly very much into the autism spectrum. I am aware that autism can be very different from person to person... I just want to make sure that there is no wrong-doing here to diagnose him so early.

My other concern is her son's diet. Since knowing that he was diagnosed with autism, I wanted to educate myself on autism. I have read some articles regarding diet. (For those of you that read Cookie Magazine, there was an article about Jenny McCarthy, her autistic son and his diet. Apparently he was greatly suffering for a long time before she found out that his diet majorly effected his symptoms of autism. He is now virtually symptom free while keeping a very healthy and strict diet.) My friend's son has a nightmare diet- at least to me. Baby bottles filled with soda really gets to me, for one thing... and I never see him eat veggies or fruit. Whenever we go to parties, it is always the junk food I see him eating.

I know that what she does is her business, but I also believe that there are duties of friendship. I have never talked about her son's diet with her. She has already set the mood basically when it comes to stuff like that giving me the impression to not bring it up... could just be me, though. I actually believe that she thinks he does not have a bad diet. I am also, of course, not around them 24/7.

my husband thinks that I should just show her the article because it is about autism, and maybe she can find the connection herself, etc... Do you think that is a good idea? I don't want to either overstep OR not do enough as a friend.

BUT, I'm also wondering if the whole diet and autism thing is a fluke or at the very best only works on some kids (In my opinion, he should change his diet regardless of whether or not it would improve his symptoms...)

What do you trusty moms think?

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answers from Washington DC on

have worked with kids on the spectrum prior to having kids, so I noticed things more than most parents. I suspected something with my eldest even at 8 months, but by the time we got an "official diagnosis" was at 17 months. Early intensive intervention is key.

I did not go the dietary route, but more the occupational and speech therapy route by taking on those roles myself.

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answers from Washington DC on


You are a good friend to be reading up on her son. You are also a good friend for not being pushy. If her son was recently diagnosed, she's going through a great deal of emotions right now and some people will just disregard any attempt at help at this point.

First, 2 is not too early to be diagnosed. My step daughter was diagnosed at that age.

Second, go ahead and show her the article, but don't push.
As you mentioned, autism spectrum disorders affect different people in different ways... therefore, the treatments will vary in effectiveness. My husband and his former wife tried every new thing on their daughter in hopes of a "miracle pill." One treatment at the time was high doses of vitamin C. It was said to work on many children, but didn't work on her.

My step-daughter is now 20 years old and has a terrible diet as well. She would live on macaroni and cheese if we let her. She's old enough to understand that if she doesn't eat what we give her, she doesn't get anything else. She loves berries, so we are sure to give her strawberries, blue berries, and any other berry we can find regularly. We also let her eat cheeseburgers, pizza, and all her favorites as well, but she also gets chicken, pork, beef, and veggies. She doesn't like it, but she eats it. It's healthier for her.

Parents of special needs children often allow much more than others might think they should. I believe there is a certain feeling that they just don't have many pleasures in life, and if the parents can make them happy, they'll do it because they would do anything for their children. I know... it may not be the best thing, but I believe that is sometimes a parent's thinking. Just keep that in mind. Your friend is hurting and dealing with a lot right now. Be gentle. Show her your love and support. Be well.



answers from Washington DC on

We all like to think we know everything and especially when our child has a special need, we think we dont need to hear peoples input. It is a touchy situation. Since you are close to her I would hope that she would have more of an open ear with you than anyone else. I am sure she is touchy about the situation, but I think you owe it to her and her son to share what you know. She may very well not be aware of all that she can do to help her son and she also many not even be doing any research or asking for help. So I would go for it and share what you know. Just approach w/ caution and let her know you dont want to tell her what to do or how to do it but that you have found some information that you thought might be helpful for her son. I wouldnt just leave the information for her to read on her own because she may never. I would break it down to her in a nutshell and hope to spark a bit of interest so she will look further into it.
Also stress the fact that if she can control his diet and environment that that would be much better and easier than hunting down the right drug and the right dose. From what you say it sounds like his diet needs attention anyway.
If a child has a special need, I cant understand why any parent wouldnt go above and beyond to find help for that child. Even if it includes listening to those around you and what they have learned or experienced themselves.
I wish you luck and hope that she is receptive.



answers from Washington DC on

Soda in a bottle???? EGADS! I would suggest telling her you want to help in any way you can and for starters you came across this very interesting article then give it to her. You could also give her the book or just check it out from the library and offer it to her to read. Offer to be there or conduct more research. If he visits your home often, provide healthy snacks and drinks. Good luck.



answers from Washington DC on

HI! My nephew has autism and I wish that they had diagnosed him sooner. He is 15 now, so back then when he was born they didn't know as much about autism that they do now, and now unfortunately because of his age, there is only so much that they can do for him. He does better every year, but they say that he will always have the mental capacity of a two year old. As far as his diet, yes he loves his soda but you have to limit that, he gets way to wound up and excited and its hard to calm him down if that happens. But I don't know if that has anything to do with autism. He loves and I mean loves veggies. He doesn't eat a whole lot of junk food at all, will not eat desserts, cookies, chips, anything like that (except pretzels). He will eat constantly if you let him, in fact my sister had to put a lock on the refridgerator because he would eat all the lunchmeat and fruit in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping.

When it comes to suggesting anything to my sister about him she gets very upset and shuts everyone out, so my suggestion to you is to give her the article, say she might like to read it since its about autism and let her take it from there. Hopefully she'll make the connection and give it a try, anything is worth trying when it comes to autism and like you said every case is different.

Good luck to you and your friend and family!!




answers from Washington DC on

First, 2 1/2 is not too young to be diagnosed.
Second, no one scientifically knows if the restricted diet works but BUT, each person is different and reacts to different ingredients and nutrients differently. So it may certainly work for one child but not another. And the only way to know, is to try.

I would approach your friend, but I would not do it in the "you're childs diet is not the best" way. I would simply say that you were reading up on autism since the child means so much to you. In your research you found an interesting thing about diet and autism symptoms. Ask if she's heard of it, and show her the article you found. Don't mention his current diet, just try to talk about the new info you found.

Keep in mind, those diets are very difficult to follow and rather expensive, so there's a good chance she may not attempt it. Also, if she talks to her doc about it, he will probably tell her the same thing they told my friend, that there is no proof of it working and it is entirely up to her if she wants to try.

Kudos to you for reading up on this. It can be quite hard on a family who has a child with autism and quite often, "others" believe they are just not disciplining their child, etc and it gets hard.

Good luck to you and your friend.



answers from Washington DC on

You are a great friend, and I hope she realizes that. Your husband has a good idea. Give her the article and let her decide what to do with it. Though you (and I) disagree with her food choices, she has the freedom to parent the way she sees fit. And maybe if she reads the diet information relating to autism, it won't come across as you criticizing her which could jeopardize your relationship with her. And, if you get to babysit, maybe you could ask if her child can eat the same foods your children eat. She probably wouldn't object and you'd be helping the family. If her child likes something, send some extra home and say "he really liked this. I'll send you the recipe if you want." You cannot take over and parent her child, but you can help when you can, pray that she gets wisdom, and continue to send information when you see it. You also wrote you are close to the family. Are they involved? It's doubtful that your friend's own mother is just sitting by and not saying anything about how her grandson is being fed. And, you know your friend and the relationship you both have. Is she open-minded and willing to grow? Or, is she high-minded and always right no matter what? Is the friendship worth saving or are you willing to tell her about herself and risk the friendship? Only you can answer those questions. Some friends are so close that they can argue but will remain close. Some people don't want the truth and will hate you for delivering it even if you're right. The safest approach is the one your husband proposed. In the end, it's hard to watch people make choices that affect others who have no say, but unless you have a legal footing, that's pretty much all you can do. Always remember, you can choose the action, not the reaction/ consequence.



answers from Washington DC on

Hi M. B,
I would show her the article but I would also tell her that you were doing some research on your own because you value her friendship and love her son and want to help in any way you can.
As far as 2 being too young to diagnose. No it is not. It is actually better to be diagnosed at that age because then you can start receiving benefits to help you child progress faster and further.
If she is not involved in the infants and toddler program of her county...she needs to be.. It is 100% free. They will help her until her son is 5 years old.
She should also apply for SSI (suplemental security income) it is with the social security department. Even if her family makes too much money right now, her son will begin receiving a check when he turns 18 for the remainder of his life. It's best just to get all the paperwork out of the way now than later.
Finally, the diet is NOT a fluke. It truly does help! It is very hard to follow at first but once you've got it down it will be worth it. She will start to notice positive changes with weeks if not days. She will have to be very strict. Also sugar can have significant negative affects on him as well as corn products. The only problem it sounds like you are having is that she is not willing to research it or make any changes...and she is going to have to be the one to commit to this change.
One thing to keep in mind is that she may still be in shock about receiving the news about her son and may be going through the greiving process.
It is a very tough thing to accept.
Take care,
You are being a very good friend!



answers from Richmond on

I have a 5 year old daughter who was diagnosed at age 2 (we started the process at 18 months) with autism. Food does play a huge role in her life and you're right, each child is different. I will admit however, that the gluten free diet which many call the "autism diet" didn't work for my little girl. For many people it does work, but for her it didn't. What's funny is that it worked on my ADD husband instead, lol. As a friend, you can express your concerns for the child in several ways. You can ask your friend how she is doing handling the diagnosis of her son. If she expresses a need for help, let her know you there and will help her in any way you can. At this point you can suggest the diet change. I will say it is expensive, but worth every penny. Hope this helps. God bless.



answers from Washington DC on


You have had a lot of responses and I don't have time to read them all , anyway I just wanted to say that my son has mild autism , along with autism goes picky eating/sensory issues , my son had the problem where everything needs to be crunchy and not soft/or have sauces. Basically my son will eat crackers , breadsticks , fries , chicken tenders , toast , bagels....anything in those kind of food groups. Some kids with autism/sensory issues go for fods that have a strong taste.

Anyway what I am saying is don't assume that she just let's her son eat what he wants , like me she may give her right arm to be able to feed him a piece of fruit or some pasta , we were advised not to force any foods on my son , if he asked for something new then give it with no fuss and if he tried it then make a big fuss of him , but if he didn't then just take it away with no comments , you are right in that a better diet can help with the behaviour issues but if he won't eat better foods then at the moment there is nothing that she can do about....although she should limit the junk like candy/cakes/chocolate as you would with any child.

If I were you I would give her the article and just say you came across this and thought she might like to read it & be there for her if she has any questions or concerns or if she just needs someone to talk to , her day to day life is going to be hard enough as it is , especially as the child get's older and other people & kids notice the way he acts and the things that he will be doing (my son will hop up and down on the spot for 30 mins or so , in playgrounds and yes people do look & I notice) , so the last thing she needs is people pointing out her son's diet and how bad it is , she will already know this.

I hope this helps.




answers from Washington DC on

Hi, M. B - I agree with your husband. Casually give her the article, and any others that you may find over time. Hopefully, she will take your help in the spirit in which it is intended. If you also show support in other ways, hopefully, she will be open to learning. There is also good information out there about getting the chemicals out of the home, i.e. the effects of household chemicals on autism, behavior, etc. As for diagnosing too early, I don't really know.....many kids don't show the symptoms until later, so maybe that is why they get diagnosed later. Good luck. God Bless you for trying to help your friend. N.



answers from Los Angeles on

First let me say that I appreciate hearing of a friend who shows such concern for this little boy. My twin sons both have autism and let me say that from experience, I think that diet plays a HUGE role in their development. But I also feel that diet and nutrition play a role in any person's life. It affects sleeping habits, irritability, hyperactivity, focus, etc. The more additives, artificial colours and sweeteners, caffeine, preservatives, etc. that there are in your food, the more likely you are to feel miserable and your behaviour then will reflect that. We benefited from putting the boys on a gluten/casein free diet, no artificial extras.. and we saw HUGE improvements. But every child is different. I must also say that some compassion must be there for your friend. She may have erred in introducing those poor food choices in the first place, but a child with autism can take the definition of picky eater to a whole new level. One of my boys quit eating solid food for a year and a half when we took away the junk. So she's got a long hard road ahead of her if and when she makes these dietary changes. I would recommend giving her a gift of books. "Healing and Preventing Autism" by Jenny McCarthy and "Mother Warriors". You could say that because they were about autism, you thought she might be interested, but I would stay away from mentioning his diet. She will DEFINITELY get the message from these books and feel empowered to research it further to make her own decisions. Good luck!



answers from Washington DC on

I correspond with a mom whose son has autism. She says that while a lot of people use the gluten free diet, she's never done it with her son. She considers it a disruption to his routine and she's seen great improvements with early intervention and feels that it's not necessary to his progress. Your friend may similarly not see the need to change his diet.

Now, the fact that he takes baby bottles filled with soda is another thing, but that's probably more in the realm of basic nutrition, not autism.

I would give your friend the article and let her do or not do what she will.

I'm no expert, but I don't think it's that uncommon to diagnose a problem under 2. They've gone back to home movies and seen that kids with autism do certain things as infants, like crawl a certain way. If he's diagnosed, he can get early intervention and I've read many times that the earlier you can start treating a kid, the better the outcome.

Good luck to them.



answers from Norfolk on

I suggest that you show your friend the article and aks her what are her thoughts. The child's diet should be a concern regardless of autism. What you feed your child now also determines his/her life style later on in life.



answers from Richmond on

I agree with your husband. Simply hand the article, along with Jenny McCarthy's book, to your friend. Casually, not saying much other than I thought you might enjoy or benefit from this.

Then, let it go. At some point, she'll pick up & read, she will hear of Jenny's struggles & relate to it, then inspired, take action.

Sometimes people do not like to have their mistakes pointed out. It embarasses them & they feel shame. So in front of you, it may be difficult to say you are right. Away from you, when she is alone, there is a part of her that knows & wants what is best for her child & she will read the material & take steps, do the right thing.

You are a good friend & a caring person. It can be difficult to watch someone suffer, especially if it can be minimized or prevented. Keep your thoughts & prayers on this young one being fed healthy & being happy, rather than the problems.

Focus on the solution & it will come...

Seeing the best for each of you.



answers from Washington DC on


First let me tell you that you are being a good friend. It is always a bit touchy subject when it comes to friend's kid with special needs. But your friend needs all the help/advices she can get. My own friend has a son with autism. He also was diagnosed early before age 2 and he is 10 years old now. He was having somewhat severe symptoms but with early therapy such as physiotherapy and speech therapy along with a strict diet without any gluten, he can go to school (special class) and can communicate a little. The diet helps him a lot. You can easily say when he eats gluten because he acts as if he is on drugs. No joke! I wish the best of luck to you and your friend! Continue to read about autism, go on these websites to learn more about ressources and all:



answers from Washington DC on

My son was diagnosed at 25 months, although testing started a few months earlier. I educated myself on many differnt therapies and diets. What works best for my son is a reduced wheat/gluten diet and a reduced dairy diet. I also use vitamins and supplements, I have discovered that his immune system-his gut- can handle the every day illnesses, he rarely gets sick; but when it comes to food, it doesn't absorb what is needed. When Alex doesn't take his vitamins in the morning, his teachers call me to bring them in, however, you need to make sure that the vitamins that you give are actually absorbed. I use ones that have been clinically proven to be absorbed when and where they are needed. Email me and I can give you information to give give to your friend, and for yourself. I also keep many fruits and vegetables in the house and try to keep a handle on the sweets in my house. Alex is now 13yo, he is very smart and in a public school with only a few issues that will probably always be there and just need to be learned to live with. The more help that you can give your child now, the better off they will be later.
That being said, it can take a few months for parents to come out of the fog and get moving to really help their child. It may be better for you to do research, and amybe print out articles, or bookmark them,I would find as many articles as you can find about autism and diet, or any therapy. That way, when your friend is ready to find out more information, you can have things to show to her. She will realize how important diet is, in her life and his, soon enough.



answers from Charlottesville on

If he has autism, all the dietary changes in the world won't cure him in my opinion. If he has food sensitivities, identifying them and removing them from his diet may help with his digestion, sleep, etc. but if she feels he is healthy then I guess that really is her call to make.

Jenny McCarthy has a lot to say about autism but not all parents with children on the spectrum believe what she says about "curing" autism through diet.

If your friend had a child with Downs would you be concerned about finding a cure or about making dietary suggestions? It is my belief that just like Downs, autism is genetic.

My autistic daughter (I have two daughters but only one on the spectrum) happens to also be sensitive to dairy products (eczema, gassiness, etc.) but the whole gluten free thing made no difference. Adding things like omegas and probiotics can improve digestive health which does have an effect on brain function, but that is true for any child. It doesn't in my opinion cure autism any more than say physical therapy would cure CP.

She can certainly try any of the DAN protocols if she wants to, but parents can't undertake such things unless they are willing to pay for expensive supplements, pay out of pocket for a DAN doctor, etc. So all the friendly advice in the world won't sway her if SHE isn't drawn to such treatments.

It is awfully early to diagnose before age 2, but doctors are getting better and better at it. My daughter was not diagnosed until age 3 but in hindsight we look back and see signs that she was autistic from birth.


answers from Roanoke on

Please email me ([email protected] We have a daughter (age 2.5) on the spectrum and there is SO much parents can do to mitigate this disorder, including but not limited to diet. Diet made a tremendous difference with our daughter. We also use supplements as part of biomedical therapy and do our best to keep her engaged and stimulated with lots of outdoor time, creative play and social interaction. Autistic children can become more withdrawn and unresponsive with increasingly disturbed behavior if parents do not intervene and get proactive. Please do your best to help recover this child--it is ultimately up to his parents, but it is possible!

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