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Aspergers and Picky Eating


My nephew (10 yrs ) has aspergers and eats very little variety of food. How can his parents change this? He is quite thin and not healthy. He is low to moderate on the spectrum.


Because of their sensitivity to smell, temperature, taste and texture, kids with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism are often "picky" eaters. Some develop fetishes such as only eating beige-colored foods or foods with creamy textures. They often like very sour or very spicy tastes. Some develop chewing fetishes and as a result, they constantly suck on pens, pencils or times of clothing.

These kids also sometimes have issues with developing gastric problems such as acid reflux, hiccups, diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation. They are susceptible to celiac disease, which is caused by poor absorption of certain nutrients. The danger is that celiac disease damages the digestive system. Aspergers children frequently suffer from Dermatitis herpetiformis, which causes skin rashes and tissue damage in the intestine. It has also been shown that gluten can aggravate behavioral symptoms in those with Aspergers that are sensitive to these foods.

It becomes a challenge for moms and dads to make sure their Aspergers child gets proper nutrition. One trick that works for many moms and dads is to change the texture of a despised food. If your youngster will not eat peas, try serving pea soup. If she refuses orange juice, try orange slices. Most clinicians believe that the less you indulge food fetishes, the less entrenched they become. If an Aspergers child creates a rule that "no foods can touch on my plate," it can easily become a lifelong rule if moms and dads do not intervene.

One promising food therapy is the "Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet" or GFCF diet. The theory behind it is that a youngster with Aspergers cannot digest casein (found in dairy) or gluten (found in grains). It is true that undigested molecules of these substances frequently show up in their urine samples. These amino acid chains (called peptides) affect neurological function and can worsen a youngster's symptoms. Peptides may have an opiate effect on some kids.

Moms and dads begin the diet by first eliminating either the casein or the gluten food group. No gluten means no bread, barley, rye, oats, pasta, all kinds of flour, food starch, biscuits, cereals, cakes, donuts, pie, pretzels, pizza, croutons, and even crumbs stuck in the toaster. You can substitute gluten-free products. Next, you eliminate all dairy products including milk, cheese, goat's milk and cheese, ice cream, yogurt, most margarines, puddings, and so forth. If you eliminate the dairy group, you may have to give your youngster calcium supplements. You also need to cut out "trigger foods" including chocolate, food colorings, caffeine, and peanut butter. The GFCF Diet website offers all kinds of resources for moms and dads such as cookbooks, food products, and DVDs.

Many moms and dads believe that the GFCF diet really helps their kids. In an unscientific survey of over 2000 moms and dads who tried it, most saw significant improvement and five reported "miracles."

Research into diet and vitamin therapy for kids with Aspergers is very sketchy at this point. Nevertheless, many moms and dads try them. One scientific study of alternative therapies found that over half of all moms and dads of kids with autism spectrum disorders have tried diets, herbs or vitamin therapy and 72% felt they were worthwhile. Many moms and dads swear by the GFCF diet, others prefer the Feingold diet or megavitamin therapy. You can buy supplements of herbs and vitamins specifically made for kids with Aspergers. Such supplements often include calcium, fish oil, omega -3 -6 or -9, vitamin B-6, HNI enzymes and DMG or dimethylglycine. If you use these diets and therapies, the best thing to do is to keep written records of how often your youngster tantrums or exhibits other behaviors. This way you can tell if the therapy is working.

There have been a few scientific studies of the GFCF diet. In one three-month study of fifteen kids ages two to 15 years old, there was no difference between the kids who followed the diet and those who did not. However, researchers at the Loma Linda Medical Institute in California concluded that the diet was mostly helpful and improved nonverbal cognition, but that more double blind studies are needed.

Many moms and dads have tried the GFCF or Feingold diets and found that they were not worth the effort. These diets make it extremely hard to buy regular grocery foods or to eat in restaurants. If there are other kids, you end up cooking different meals for them. Trying to keep to the diets causes parental burnout and that may not be worth their benefits.

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Anonymous said...

Faith Lee
My son has several food allergies, and with the pickiness of Asperger's, it's been a real challenge to find diets that will work for him, but we're still trying. I have noticed some good changes for him thru diet modification, but limiting his trigger foods, he has more energy and not as sick and listless. He LOVES mac and cheese and though it's a trigger meal for him, he is allowed to have it once in a great while as a reward for doing as well as he does with the rest of his diet. It's not easy telling a kid he can't eat a lot of food due to the physical reactions they'll have from it and they usually do not like the alternative food choices, but thro perservernce, creativity and different approaches, compromises can be found and it gets easier.
about an hour ago · Like
Deborah King But when we say pizza, we don't just mean any old pizza. Nope, it has to be a very specific pizza, from a specific restaurant and then it has to be cooked to perfection with absolutely "no green bits" (oregano) or else it won't get eaten. Home-cooked pizzas are no good whatsoever. :-(
26 minutes ago · Like · 1 person
Lee-Lee Lawless We're just happy that she will eat one thing from each food group, although dairy (milk only - no cheese, yogurt, butter or eggs) is a struggle! Pizza? I wish. Mac & cheese? Not in a million years. *sigh*
25 minutes ago · Like

Anonymous said...


Hoping someone is able to provide any feedback. We have a son who just turned 5. Was diagnosed with Aspergers a year ago. He has no food allergies (tested negative on all food allergies on his blood test last week). No sleep issues, no digestive/BM issues. His pediatricion doesn't think he will benefit from the GFCF diet however the naturopathic doctor we saw a couple of weeks ago said 68% of the kids on the spectrum benefit from this diet and she think he could benefit from it as well. Has any of you explored this diet with a child who had no food allergies? What difference did it make in your child's behavior, sensory issues and social interaction?

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

HI Mark,

I have a 15 year old son with aspergers. He has become very anxious about going out to shops and has developed a phobia about food thinking its going to make him sick. He is in a mainstream school which he is enjoying and seems to behave well there. This has only started to happen over the past 6 months. Do you think medication can help with his anxiety or is it just a matter of taking him out more often to shops. What is the best way to help him with these phobias.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathryn,

Re: social phobia: Here's an article I'd like for you to read on this matter:

Re: food aversion: With food aversion, the phobic response when faced with the food in question may be a feeling of revulsion rather than intense anxiety, although some food phobics may experience fear. A fear response would usually be associated with some religious or family ‘taboo’, and might also be linked to past reactions (such as seeing somebody vomit, or perhaps vomiting themselves after eating a particular food).

Food aversion can grow very strong, and can last for life. One person who reported his story had, as a child, lived for a time in a house where mutton was ‘boiled up’ on a regular basis. The unpleasant odor, experienced often enough to nauseate but not often enough for him to grow immune to it, led him to reject all such meat in later life.

If the problem has grown from simply being a ‘phase’ to a level that reduces your son’s quality of life, a desensitization program can break the phobia down. This would be a series of steps, starting with what he CAN do currently -- and working up to what you want him to be able to do eventually, using as many intermediate steps as necessary. Steps might need to include smell, taste and watching others eat. The different types of steps might need to be approved (or be graded) separately if there are particular difficulties in one area. For example, the case above concerning mutton might involve very careful steps when the nauseating smell was dealt with.


P.S. I would not recommend medication at this point...

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