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Gluten Free Diet for Kids with Autism

Updated on September 28, 2012
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Whitney is a mom trying to evoke a healthy, happy life for herself and her family.


Autism is a development disorder that affects the brain's development of social and communication skills. It is a common disorder that affects children starting at the age of 3, with some signs noticeable around 18 months. The cause of autism hasn't been linked to anything in particular; although there are many parents, professionals, and doctors who feel that regular vaccinations may be the cause.

The basic signs of autism include:

  • Difficulty with make-believe
  • Problems interacting with others, keeping more to themselves
  • Difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication skills
  • Loss of communication skills that were previously learned and developed
  • Overly sensitive to the basic senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste
  • Experience distress when routines are changed
  • Repeat body movements
  • Show unusual attachments to objects

The signs and symptoms of autism will vary from child to child, where some children may have more problems with their communication skills, others may have more problems with social interactions.

Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet

There are many ongoing studies with children who have autism and their diet, as diets can really have an effect on our bodies and how the organs and bodily functions work.

Not every child is the same, so a gluten free and casein free diet may not affect all children the same, but in general, gluten and casein are like poisons to an autistic child because they leak into the gut undigested, where they act as opiates in the brain. The opiate receptors in the brain, send chemical signals to the body, which basically drug the children, as though they are on morphine.

Research shows that this can affect the development of the brain and actually causes more autistic behaviors, such as altering behavior, perception, and responses to surrounding environment.

Because. it is thought that people with autism may have trouble digesting foods that contain gluten and casein, it's sometimes recommended to start other alternative diets to help subside and reduce the symptoms of autism.

You can have your pediatrician test your child's urine to see whether or not he is properly digesting the peptides, so that you can make the best decision as to whether or not you think your autistic child may benefit from a gluten free and casein free diet.

Gluten Free Diet Books

The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook, Updated and Revised: The Ultimate Guide to the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet
The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook, Updated and Revised: The Ultimate Guide to the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet

The best kid-friendly recipes and guide to the gluten-free, milk-free diet for ADHD and autism just got better.


Start a Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet

If you think that a gluten free diet will help your child, definitely consult your pediatrician before you start changing your grocery list and shopping habits.

If you and your pediatrician feel that it's worth a try changing your child's diet, you'll find that you have two options when getting started.

  1. Remove one food from the diet at a time, to see if there was any one particular food causing more problems than another. Wait a few weeks before removing the next food.
  2. Remove milk from your child's diet first; the body will eliminate all casein in the body caused by milk the fastest. After milk has has been eliminated, it will take about a month to eliminate the remaining gluten from the body, but it can take up to six months before the body has completely cleansed itself of gluten.

What Foods Should be Avoided

Gluten is a protein found in wheat and products with other grains in them. Gluten is a common ingredient in oat, rye, barley, bulgar, durum, kamut, and spelt, as well as certain starches, semolina, couscous, malt, some vinegar, soy sauce, certain flavorings and additives, artificial coloring, and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins.

Because gluten is in so many different types of foods, it can be hard to figure out what foods you can buy. The best thing to do is to find the gluten free section of your local grocery store and shop there. Some grocery stores have relatively small gluten-free sections, so you may have to travel to a neighboring city with a different grocery store with a larger selection. Or, you may have to shop online and have your groceries delivered via a courier.

The same ideal goes with foods that contain casein, which is a protein found in animal milk. Common foods that have casein include milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, whey, certain brands of margarine, soy cheese, and sometimes hot dogs.

There are so many foods that a gluten free and casein free diet exclude, you will quickly become an avid reader of ingredient labels.

Buy Gluten Free Food

It can be expensive to buy gluten-free foods, so it may be best to hand make whatever your can. The pre-made gluten-free meals, whether purchased online or at the grocery store can cost a pretty penny, but you can purchase gluten-free products for less and make the same meal.

Another option is to purchase the mixes instead of each individual ingredient. The mixes can be quite expensive when compared to mixes that include gluten, but they're still cheaper than buying a box of muffins or a gluten-free cake.

There are many websites online that offer gluten-free products. Just remember that you'll have to pay shipping, so make each purchase matter.

If you decide to switch your child to a gluten free diet, it is best that everyone in the house switch to the same diet. You don't want to accidentally give your child a gluten product and you don't want to cross contaminate foods. If you have a house on different diets, it's easy to pick up a knife used to spread jam on a slice of white bread toast, and use it for your autistic child's whole-grain toast; you can cross-contaminate the food, which can hinder the benefits of a gluten free diet.

If you decide that your autistic child can benefit from a gluten free casein free diet, go ahead and clean out the refrigerator, freezer, cabinets, and pantry. Donate all foods that contain gluten or casein, and then restock your kitchen with gluten free and casein free foods.

Disclaimer: Please be aware that the advice in this article should in no way replace that of a licensed physician. If you have any questions, please consult your child's pediatrician for any specific questions or concerns relating to switching to a gluten-free diet.


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    • CassidyS profile image

      CassidyS 7 years ago from OK

      Nice hub! We are on the gfcf diet because my son has pdd-nos. It's been a lot of work and a bit more expensive but I can see a HUGE difference in my son and it has forced my entire family to eat better.