In addition to physical fitness, good nutrition is a highly important part of optimal development and leading a productive, healthy life. Families of individuals with autism come into contact with an array of dietary interventions that can boggle the mind in terms of food selections, macro and micro nutrients, ways to prepare food, and magical diets that will eliminate all need for other forms of therapeutic intervention.*
*See also; Complete crap.
To provide some expert sanity, I recently met with Richard Kahn, PhD, RD (the RD is Registered Dietitian). Richard takes a family-centered and behavioral approach to nutrition, pointing out that much of our consumption of and relationship with food has a psychological component. Richard was kind enough to provide a guest post for my blog. He can be reached through his site, RichardKahnNutrition.com
Eric asked me to summarize my 15 years of nutrition practice with atypically developing children. Here is the short answer: Relationships matter! Whatever the dietary needs, parent-child, parent-parent and sib relationships usually play a part. Children may have special dietary needs but the needs are met in the context of the family. When the family is awry over food, the child will find a way to make as little change as possible. When the family adjusts, the child can begin to adjust.
Kids on the spectrum may often drive parents to exhaustive attempts of trying this and that food, diet or supplements. Meanwhile, all kids look for understanding. When parents calm down and begin to think, there is hope. That narrow, perserverative diet, likely, has a relational component. Mealtime stressors include parental pressure, TV, iPads, and an understandable lack of patience after years of frustration. Disagreeing over feeding strategies at the table is not an appetizer.
Good nutrition does matter. Diets high in carbs and dairy are low in zinc. Zinc deficiency can lead to altered taste perception, Dysguesia. And, if a child is zinc deficient, there’s a good chance of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is associated with poor attention. Iron and zinc adequacy combine to improve immunity. A comprehensive mineral supplement may be in order
Eliminating certain foods, diagnosed allergies or special supplements may be necessary. Meanwhile, kids on the spectrum, like all children, still need parents who know how to provide, love, care, and discipline along with that extra measure of understanding the neuroatypical require. Good enough parenting around food helps all kids eat better. It is the brave parent that looks to their own parenting in relation to the challenges the child presents. Kids can’t help it. Parents can.
– Richard Kahn, PhD., RD