Researchers at the Mayo Clinic conducted a study of 121 autistic children and 242 other children over an eighteen year period. Though the autistic children were found to have higher incidences of constipation and picky eating than the control group, they were found to have no more or less diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, bloating, reflux, or vomiting. This could mean that the commonly held belief that a gluten-free diet is a viable treatment option for autism is simply untrue. Further research is needed to put this subject to rest. But it brings up a huge controversy in the autism world about treatment and diagnosis and where the heck this stuff comes from.
As the mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve experienced this debate first-hand. I’ve lived it, breathed it, slept it. I’ve watched friends with a child in much worse shape than my son literally go bankrupt jumping from specialist to specialist, trying different diets, vitamin treatments, and therapies all in an failed attempts to “fix” their child.
Back when my son was first diagnosed with something on the autism spectrum, I read everything I could get my hands on I considered all my options, weighed the pros and cons of this diet or that treatment. I’ve agonized over what caused it … was it something I did or didn’t do? Was it pollution … genetics … should I not have had children? It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that we were very blessed that he had such a mild form of the disease, that it could have been caused by any of a thousand things … and that we’d probably never know what or why.
I decided that the best thing I could do for my son was to accept and love him just the way he is and help him to learn to live in this world he’s in, where it would be next to impossible to keep every crumb of gluten out of his body. I try to teach him healthy eating habits. He’s been through phases of picky eating, refusing some foods, only to later learn to like them. There are still certain foods he won’t touch and has actually thrown up just from smelling them. But we just don’t make a big deal out of it. If it’s a food he won’t eat, we don’t give it to him. If it’s something everyone else is having, we just give him a different option and move on. We mostly try to treat him like a “normal” kid … whatever that is … as much as possible.
Like I said, we’re lucky. It could have been much, much worse and if it had, I might be writing a different story. But if I could offer any advice to a parent going through this, I’d say, take a step back … take a deep breath … look at the big picture. Is there a chance the treatment you’re considering may do more harm than good? If so, maybe it’s not the right thing for your child or for your family.