There’s still no proof that special diets help or don’t help autistic kids—or that food allergies, food sensitivities, or gut problems cause autism, an expert panel concludes.
The panel, chaired by Harvard’s Timothy Buie, MD, included 28 experts in 12 scientific disciplines, including child psychiatry, pediatric allergy, pediatric gastroenterology, and pediatric nutrition. The panel evaluated scientific evidence regarding gastrointestinal disorders in all forms of autism, collectively called autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
The experts note that many parents and medical professionals have reported improvements in autistic behaviors after dietary treatments—but that these observations aren’t based on controlled, scientific studies.
“Anecdotal reports that restricted diets may ameliorate symptoms of ASDs in some children have not been supported or refuted in the scientific literature, but these data do not address the possibility that there exists a subgroup of individuals who may respond to such diets,” Buie and colleagues carefully conclude.
The panel strongly recommends that if a child with autism is on any kind of restricted diet—due to dietary treatment, food sensitivities, or food aversions—the child should be evaluated by a nutritionist.
Perhaps the panel’s strongest statement is that gastrointestinal woes often worsen autism-related problem behaviors.
“Problem behavior in patients with ASDs may be the primary or sole symptom of the underlying medical condition, including some gastrointestinal disorders,” Buie and colleagues conclude. “Symptoms associated with gastrointestinal disorders, especially pain, may function as setting events for problem behaviors.”