Misbehavior or Food Allergy? Tips for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Is your Aspergers (AS) or high functioning autistic (HFA) child "acting-out"?  If so, the behavioral problems may be symptomatic of a deeper issue...

Digestive function is the key to physical and emotional health. If your youngster has gluten intolerance and/or autistic symptoms, chances are he has something called “leaky gut syndrome.” In a youngster with leaky gut, the stomach lining is more porous than it should be, allowing protein molecules to slip through the gut and enter the blood stream where it causes an autoimmune and behavioral response.

The most common causes of leaky gut are parasites, low stomach acid, prolonged chronic antibiotic use and food additives and preservatives. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. AS and HFA kids with undiagnosed and untreated gluten intolerance commonly show these symptoms:

1. Difficulty in group games or sports: Your youngster may appear to be “cheating” on a board game or sport when, in fact, he can’t figure out the rules despite repeated explanations.

2. Inability to read tones of voice and body language: Your youngster doesn’t seem to “get it” until you’ve reached the end of your rope and begin yelling or punishing. This is because he is not picking up on your more subtle attempts at correction. After your repeated reprimands have been ignored, you finally yell to get through to your child.

3. Non-sense talk: Your child’s attempt to communicate with you comes out in a string of unintelligible sentences, causing frustration and anger in both the youngster and parent.

4. Obsessions: Your youngster may go on and on and on about the same subject for hours.

5. Physical symptoms: Stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, chronic burping and/or passing of gas, chronic nasal congestion and/or postnasal drip, allergies and or “vague” or “drugged” look in the eyes are all common symptoms in a youngster with food allergies.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

6. Poor coordination: Your youngster may bump into and/or break things, but when this is pointed out, he insists he didn’t do it. This is true for your youngster as he may lack body awareness due to the brain fog caused by gluten allergy. He literally doesn’t notice his arm or leg hitting that priceless vase that is now smashed to pieces on the floor.

7. Self-destructive behavior: Frustration with being misunderstood and/or not understanding others may cause the youngster to hit or cut himself.

8. Social difficulties (e.g., lack of eye contact, inability to read social cues, nonsense talk, etc.) can be symptoms of gluten intolerance.

9. Staring off into space: Gluten has an “opiate” effect on the system of an allergic or intolerant person causing open-mouthed staring and disassociation. You may notice this is especially true a couple of hours after eating.

10. Trouble communicating: Your youngster may become frustrated when he can’t find the right words to describe something and needs to resort to pointing to an object he is talking about.

How your child's doctor can test for food allergies:

I. Obtain a detailed history and perform a complete physical examination

A. Formulate suspicion of food allergy based on history and physical findings
B. Rule out other causes of symptoms

II. Evaluate for IgE-mediated food allergy with skin prick-puncture tests or radioallergosorbent tests

A. Test are negative

1. Reintroduce the food to the diet
2. If the child has a history of significant reaction or a non¬IgE-mediated reaction is suspected, reintroduce the food to the diet in a physician-supervised or challenge setting

B. Tests are positive

1. Eliminate food
2. If the child has multiple sensitivities or an unclear history, perform open or single-blind food challenges
a. If the challenge test is negative, reintroduce food
b. If the challenge test is positive, challenge

1. Eliminate foods (if only a few foods)
2. If multiple foods are implicated, consider double-blind, placebo-controlled food challenges
a. If the challenge is positive, eliminate food
b. If the challenge is negative, reintroduce food

III. Diagnosis established

A. Educate parents about treatment and avoidance
B. Re-evaluate at appropriate intervals if tolerance is likely

How parents can eliminate the cause:

Get your youngster on an elimination diet. An elimination diet is an easy method of figuring out what foods your youngster is reacting to.

For one week, serve only:
  • Bottled or distilled water
  • Brown rice (not enriched white rice which has wheat flour in it), Quinoa or Amaranth
  • Fresh fruit (excluding citrus and any fruit that is eaten more than twice per week)
  • Fresh vegetables (excluding corn, peas and beans)
  • Organic chicken and turkey

For one week, avoid:
  • All dairy products (use rice milk instead)
  • All processed foods
  • Bacon, sausages, tuna and any “prepared meat”
  • Caffeine in any form
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruit
  • Eggs
  • Food colorings and dyes
  • MSG
  • Nuts
  • Peas, beans and corn
  • Soda or cola
  • Sugar and sugar substitutes of any kind
  • Wheat, oats, rye or barley

It is very important that there is no “cheating” during this one-week period. The culprit food has to be completely eliminated from the body and chances are, if your youngster has a compromised digestive system, it will take longer for allergens to fully exit the body so you’re left with a “clean slate” on which to reintroduce foods.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

The best way to find the foods that will get you through this challenging diet change is to consult your local health-food store. Most specialize in gluten-free diets and will prove most helpful in this process. Once the one-week period is over, you’ll want to reintroduce foods. Remember to do this one at a time.

Continue to follow the elimination diet but now, reintroduce a food such as cheese and make a list of any symptoms your youngster has exhibited. If none, good deal! Two days later, introduce another food, say, wheat and note the reaction, if any. Then, try eggs. A couple of days later try nuts and so on. When you find the problem food, you’ll KNOW. The symptoms will return with a vengeance.

Just remember, your youngster may be allergic or intolerant to several different foods so when you notice a reaction, remove that food from the diet, wait a day or two more and reintroduce the next food. The most common food allergies/intolerances are wheat/gluten, diary, eggs, soy, nuts, citrus, sulfites and fish so you may want to reintroduce those foods first.

The elimination of food proteins is a difficult task. In a milk-free diet, for example, parents must be instructed not only to avoid all obvious milk products, but also to read food product ingredient labels for key words that may indicate the presence of cow's-milk protein, including "casein," "whey," "lactalbumin," "caramel color" and "nougat." When vague terms such as "high protein flavor" or "natural flavorings" are used, it may be necessary to call the manufacturer to determine if the offending protein, such as milk protein, is an ingredient.

Parents must also be made aware that the food protein, as opposed to sugar or fat, is the ingredient being eliminated. For example, lactose-free milk contains cow's milk-protein, and many egg substitutes contain chicken-egg proteins. Conversely, peanut oil and soy oil generally do not contain the food protein unless the processing method is one in which the protein is not completely eliminated (as with cold-pressed or "extruded" oil).

Elimination of a particular food can be tricky. For example, a spatula used to serve cookies both with and without peanut butter can contaminate the peanut-free cookie with enough protein to cause a reaction. Similarly, contamination can occur when chocolate candies without peanuts are processed on the same equipment used for making peanut-containing candy. Hidden ingredients can also cause a problem. For example, egg white may be used to glaze pretzels, or peanut butter may be used to seal the ends of egg rolls.

Fortunately, kids on the autism spectrum often lose their sensitivity to most of the common allergenic foods (egg, milk, wheat, soy) in a few years, particularly with avoidance of the foods. However, positive skin tests may persist despite the development of clinical tolerance. Serial diagnostic food challenges over time are often helpful in managing these food-allergic kids. Unfortunately, sensitivity to certain foods, such as peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, is rarely lost, and sensitivity persists into adulthood.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said... I am a firm believer that diet affects our Aspies. I have had mine on a low- gluten diet for 2 months now & he is a very different child!!! He is happy, more attentive & is interacting well w/ peers. Temper is also MUCH better & easier to control. I opted for low-gluten because he is only 6, and ADHD med he is on decreases his appetite already, making him very small for his age. Even this small change in his diet has helped tremendously!!
•    Anonymous said... I am still stuck on how to get my child to eat...anything. He gags on both textures and tastes. He has the classic beige diet going, but even that is very limited (and so very unhealthy, as I am painfully aware!) pizza, chicken nuggets (of any variety), cheerios, yogurt, mac n cheese is about all my child will eat. He has never liked vegies/fruit (gagged as an infant even) thus I have him drinking v8 fushion (out of desperation). I know the "what" of gluten-casein free, but how does one go about the "how"? advise welcome =)
•    Anonymous said... My sister has full custody of her children (4 total, 2 of which are out of the house and married) the issues are with the younger 2 (Boy 13) and (Girl 16). We will start with the older one who is in need of help but not as much as her younger brother. The 16 year old was expelled from school the first week due to a drug related issue, she has since been enrolled in PASS and goes to school every day and is showing signs of understanding the repercussions of her actions. She is not fully there yet but I think she has grown up a lot over the past 2 months and accepts her punishment from a “school” perspective. At home on the other hand my sister struggles with maintaining boundaries and enforcing her discipline decisions. My niece was suppose to have certain privileges revoked for a period of time as part of the consequence of this action however that only lasted one day as my niece has the uncanny ability to wear my sister down into submission. My question for her is if I were to purchase your program would if provide my sister the tools she needs to stand behind her own convictions and/or point her in a direction that will help her to be successful? Next is my Nephew. He has been in either ISS or suspended for 42 of the 60 days school has been in session this year. Not only is he rebelling at school by being defiant and throwing temper tantrums he is pulling pranks like letting off stink bombs in the lunchroom which resulted in a 10 day suspension. He also struggles outside of school as he has been caught shoplifting by me and forced to return the items to the store. His attitude during this is not remorseful for being caught it is anger and frustration. He tells my sister he hates living in Missouri and wants to go back home to Michigan (they moved here 3 years ago) where his dad is. He has become increasingly violent recently and has been challenging my sister by getting into her personal space and asking her “what are you going to do?”. He also does things like grabbing knives and banging his head against walls. I do not fear for the safety of my sister so I want to make sure I do not paint that picture but I do see it getting worse. The kicker is they live with me and I have 3 small children of my own which I get to see 2 days a week and every other weekend as I was divorced earlier this year. My Nephews father and my sister have both asked that I step in to control him however I do not see that fixing the problem. My opinion is that my sister needs the tools to be able to do this on her own and as for me I need to focus my attention on my own children. So I guess after writing all this the questions are the same, if I were to purchase your program would if provide her the tools she needs to correct these behavioral issues.
•    Anonymous said... Hi all, I am looking for some insight from those of you who have survived the preschool years...my son with AS is 4 and attends a typical preschool 3 mornings a week. He has ongoing problems with hitting the other kids, but now he has targeted one little girl whom he has decided is a "troublemaker". He has been going out of his way to hit her, push her down, and throw sand on her - completely unprovoked, by his own account. I seriously doubt that this girl is really a troublemaker (and of course we have told our son that enforcing rules is the teacher's job, not his), but really the facts don't matter, because he has decided that she is. He makes up a lot of rules in his head (like he says that if he is mad, the rule is he has to hit), and they are really hard to break him of. There was a similar problem at preschool last year, when my son decided that another child was a "bad boy" (no one could ever figure out why he thought that) and spent the whole year hitting and kicking him. The only thing that stopped it was the school year ending, and now that my son and his target from last year are in different classes, they are actually getting along very well on the playground. I certainly do not want my son to keep targeting this little girl until school ends next May - to make matters worse, she is the smallest child in his class, really tiny for her age, and of course it bothers me that he is picking on a girl. Before this started with this particular girl, my son's teachers had already asked us to start picking him up a little early because the end of day playground time is the hardest for him and that is when he hits the most. Today when we went to pick him up, the director of the preschool was sitting with my son outside of the playground, because his behavior towards the little girl had been so bad he needed to be removed. Any suggestions on how to deal with an Asperger's child targeting a kid they think is bad would be very helpful!
•    Anonymous said... I feel your pain! My 10-yr old aspie has also chosen through the years to "pick on" one particular individual each school year. Looking back, I regret that I did not nip this in the bud earlier. I'm not exactly sure why it occurs, but it seems to work as a defense mechanism of some sort. At the preschool level, administrators are more likely to treat it as a normal stage of development and with a certain degree of tolerance for the diagnosis. As they get older, however, this becomes more difficult for them to do. We are facing possible expulsion and are now taking this very seriously. My advice is to NOT WAIT. Make sure you protect your child by documenting the diagnosis and including a behavior plan to address this issue specifically. Looking back, I wish I would have scheduled supervised play dates (consider it a social group) with the particular child in question. Never leave the children alone, and try to moderate the play to find common interests. One of my son's targets from Kindergarten became one of his closest friends in second grade! This happened all by itself when they discovered a common interest in Pokemon. There's often no telling what set them off...This particular kid smushed a bug, something that my son adores! Don't wait....make it a priority and make sure you communicate openly with the teachers at his school. It might also help to inform and educate the other parents of his diagnosis. We waited until third grade to describe and explain his diagnosis to the class, but it was by far the best thing we ever did.

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