Many families of children with autism are interested in dietary and nutritional interventions that might help some of their children's symptoms. Removal of gluten (a protein found in barley, rye, and wheat, and in oats through cross contamination) and casein (a protein found in dairy products), is a popular dietary treatment for symptoms of autism.
The theory behind this diet is that proteins are absorbed differently in some children. Rather than having an allergic reaction, children who benefit from the GFCF diet experience physical and behavioral symptoms. While there have not yet been sufficient scientific studies to support this theory, many families report that dietary elimination of gluten and casein has helped regulate bowel habits, sleep activity, habitual behaviors and contributed to the overall progress in their individual child.
Because no specific laboratory tests can predict which children will benefit from dietary intervention, many families choose to try the diet with careful observation by the family and intervention team.
Families choosing a trial of dietary restriction should make sure their child is receiving adequate nutrition. Dairy products are the most common source of calcium and vitamin D in young children in the U.S. Many young children depend on dairy products for a balanced protein intake. Alternative sources of these nutrients require the substitution of other food and beverage products with attention to the nutritional content.
Substitution of gluten free products requires attention to the overall fiber and vitamin content of a child's diet. Vitamin supplement use may have both positive effects and side effects. Consultation with a dietician or physician should by considered and can be helpful to families in the determination of healthy application of a GFCF diet. This may be especially true for children who are picky eaters.