The Specific Carbohydrate Diet: SCD Benefits for Autism and Asperger's Syndrome
I know first hand that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) can benefit children with autism and Asperger's Syndrome. My son was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was eight years old. After several incidents where he developed extreme anxiety after eating sugary sweets, and lots of research, I decided to start him on the SCD. Needless to say, he wasn't thrilled with the idea. You see, he was 'addicted' to the refined carbs he'd been eating including pasta, white rice, candy, cake, cookies, bread, etc. but he was willing to give it a try because he too had noticed a connection between what he ate and how he felt. It was a very difficult transition in that he actually got worse before he got better, which I now understand is a typical process. Now, after nearly two years, he's still following the diet and wants to stay on it indefinitely. His anxiety is nearly non-existent, he's doing well in school, and has friends. What is it about SCD that helps children on the autism spectrum?
How the Diet Works
Does your child on the spectrum have digestive issues? Does he or she have bouts of diarrhea alternating with constipation as well as stomach aches? My son did. I had some testing done for him including the Urinary Organic Acid Test (OAT) and a comprehensive stool analysis. What these tests revealed was that my son had an overgrowth of undesirable intestinal bacteria and almost no beneficial bacteria. When this happens, a child can exhibit bizarre behaviors since their bodies are being negatively affected by the toxins produced by these harmful bacteria. In fact, some of the bi-products of bacteria are known to cause neurological symptoms that are remarkably similar to autism spectrum disorders. The SCD helps to normalize the digestive flora by actually starving the unwanted and harmful bacteria.
How does this actually work? By limiting the child to simple carbohydrates that can be easily digested, the harmful bacteria are deprived of their source of food and die away. All simple carbs can still be eaten - this is not a low carb diet. For example, fruit is allowed as is honey. Grains and starches are not allowed but beans are. The theory is that if a complex carbohydrate is consumed but not fully digested due to issues with the digestive tract then those undigested carbs end up being food for harmful bacteria at the bottom of the small intestine and in the colon and can cause an intestinal imbalance.
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Benefits of SCD
I've personally noticed many changes in my son that I attribute directly to the SCD. For example:
- Better overall mood: My son used to be angry and depressed almost all the time. At one point, the school recommended putting him on anti-depressant medication. Now, my son nearly always has a happy disposition. His teachers have commented too that he seems a lot happier and smiles a lot.
- Less anxiety: As I mentioned above, anxiety was a big issue with my son and we noticed a connection between what he ate and his level of anxiety. He would become agitated and obsessive about various topics when he ate sugar especially. Now, his anxiety is nearly non-existent. He still has a few obsessive tendencies but I expect those to clear up over time as well.
- More ability to focus: I've noticed a huge improvement in my son's ability to focus on his homework to complete it sooner with almost no supervision. I used to have to sit down and do the homework with him every night. Now I simply get it out for him and ask him if he understands the assignment. If he does, he completes it himself.
- Better fine motor skills: My son was recommended for Occupational Therapy support at school because of fine motor issues that affected his hand writing. He had an unusual pencil grasp that made writing more difficult as well. Now, he's improved so much, and holds the pencil correctly, that the school is recommending phases out OT services next year.
- Fewer sensory issues: In the past, my son had many sensory issues such as avoiding certain textures and loud noises, like the vacuum cleaner. Now, his sensitivity to these things is much improved. He no longer runs into his room with his hands over his ears when I start vacuuming.
- Increased flexibility: My son still has issues with flexibility and doing things that he doesn't want to do but this too has improved over time. He's been significantly more open to trying new things every once in a while.
- Elimination of chronic diarrhea and constipation: These are gone now.
- Elimination of skin rashes: Gone too.
Although my son has Asperger's rather than a more severe form of autism, it's my understanding that this diet helps all children on the spectrum. Some of the benefits include increased use of language, less stimming, more affectionate behavior, and all of the benefits shown above. In fact, according to TACA (Talk About Curing Autism), the anecdotal success rate is 80-85%. One DAN doctor has said that SCD is the best treatment he's found so far for children on the spectrum.
In order to get started with the SCD, I would recommend reading the book, "Breaking the Vicious Cycle," by Elaine Gottschall. I'd also recommend browsing the websites www.pecanbread.com, and www.tacanow.org. These will give you the background information you'll need to get started. For on-going support, pecan bread has a Yahoo Group that you can join. The diet may seem difficult but once you get started you'll realize that it's not that hard to do. In addition, the benefits outweigh any inconvenience it may cause.