Among the many AutoImmune disorders which are being linked to Celiac and Gluten sensitivity, Autism is one which we are hearing more and more about. There are many theorists (mainly nutritionists and Naturopathic Doctors) who believe that by following a gluten-free, dairy-free diet, you can help alleviate the symptoms of Autism. The opinions below are not my own, and can be read in more detail by clicking on the links throughout.
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental neurological disorder that impacts the functioning and development of the brain. Currently, one in every 150 children are diagnosed with the disorder. Autism usually appears within a child’s first three years and is considered a spectrum disorder because it can manifest in a number of different ways.
While we have all heard about autism, most of us have only vague ideas of what the diagnosis means. Individuals with autism have difficulties making friends and participating in everyday social interactions. They often have restricted interests and behavioral patterns, and find comfort in routine and repetition.
Since it is a spectrum disorder, autism affects kids in different ways, and no two autistic children are exactly alike. This makes things very confusing for parents who are battling to come to terms with what is best for their child, as signs of autism vary greatly. It may be helpful to devise an autism symptoms checklist to aid in diagnosing the disorder.
A common struggle for parents is the desperate efforts to try to “reach” their kids, as they seem to exist in their own private world within their minds.
On the autism spectrum are Asperger’s disorder and Rhett’s disorder, among others. The prevalence of autism has been increasing at an estimated rate of 10-17% per year, however the cause remains unknown.
Autism and Celiac Disease
Dietary changes are common as treatment options for autism, with 2/3 of individuals with autism showing at least some improvement on a gluten-free, casein-free diet. Studies have found that opiates found in gluten and casein are released when they are improperly digested. When the GI tract is not in good condition, such as from celiac disease, these opiates get released into the bloodstream. The opiates not only impair brain function but also cause craving for foods containing gluten and casein, which increase the problem. Trial periods on gluten-free, casein-free diets tend to show symptoms of withdrawal followed by marked improvement in behavior and functioning. Although a gluten-free diet is recommended for many autistic people, this does not mean they all have celiac disease. Celiac disease is one of many causes of a damaged GI tract, which make it difficult to properly break down gluten. Studies have not determined a direct link between celiac disease and autism, even though following similar diets have proven successful.
Symptom’s of Autism
Autistic individuals typically have trouble in social settings and find communicating difficult. They can become quite frustrated and can exhibit self-injurious behavior as a result. The Autism Society of America also lists the following traits:
- Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
- Difficulty in expressing needs, using gestures or pointing instead of words
- Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
- Laughing (and/or crying) for no apparent reason showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
- Preference to being alone; aloof manner
- Difficulty in mixing with others
- Not wanting to cuddle or be cuddled
- Little or no eye contact
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Sustained odd play
- Spinning objects
- Obsessive attachment to objects
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- No real fears of danger
- Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Non responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf, although hearing tests in normal range.
As with any potential disorder or health condition, if you feel your child might be suffering from Autism, you’re encouraged to seek a medical opinion. While mainstream western medicine may focus more on medicines, there are several resources available to help you balance a more natural approach through diet and nutritional supplements among others. Click here to read more about diagnosing and treating Autism in children.