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My Research: Autism, Diet and Nutrition

Some autistic and neurodivergent individuals are sensitive to types of smells, textures, and taste of foods, this can cause an autistic person to avoid many foods and only eat a few select types of food as a result. Some autistic and neurodivergent people also have PICA, a condition where you crave and/or consume nonedible objects, some autistic and neurodivergent people may consume nonedible objects as a sensory activity/seeking out sensory input or they may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals such as iron.  Eating nonedible objects can cause choking, lead poisoning, parasites and even death. A lack of nutrition is damaging to a person’s development- a lack of vitamins and minerals can cause a weakened immune system, lethargy, heart problems and diabetes. Another reason why an autistic or neurodivergent may avoid eating in public is due to being in a busy and/or noisy environment which as a result cause meltdowns and develop food avoidance, also known as food aversion.


There is medical evidence that scientifically show some autistic and neurodivergent individuals are more likely to have gastrointestinal issues. Having gastrointestinal issues can make some neurodivergent people, especially children have feelings of anxiety, fear, pain and sickness.

A medical journal titled, ‘Gastrointestinal issues and Autism Spectrum disorder’ written by Moneek Madra and colleagues mentions that some children with autism have different bacteria in their guts compared to neurotypical children,

Although multiple studies have shown that children with ASD have different intestinal microbiota than neurotypical children, the studies have been small with variable results 51. The variability may be linked to the many confounding factors that can alter the microbiome (Figure 2). There are a number of studies, however, that demonstrate a difference in Clostridia levels in children with ASD that, interestingly, is a target for vancomycin.”  

Madra also explains in the journal that gastrointestinal issues in autistic children can be a cause for behavioural and emotional difficulties and why treatment for gastrointestinal issues is important for autistic children. Madra explains that in the future, a therapy titled gut microbiota modulation could be effective for autistic people.

Comprehensive nutritional evaluations should be considered because of the high incidence of food aversions as well as the common use of exclusionary diets. Although not a currently recommended treatment, gut microbiota modulation (i.e. FMT, probiotics, etc.) may be a distinct novel therapeutic option for this population in the future, as a treatment for not only GI problems but behavioral issues as well.”

Microbiota modulation influences multiple molecular mechanisms through the gut–brain axis. The modulation of intestinal homeostasis triggers multiple mechanisms, among them the increase of anti-inflammatory microbial metabolism.’


I spoke with V, whose 8-year-old son B has autism regarding B’s diet and food sensitivities.

B has a lot of sensory issues with food, he doesn’t eat ‘wet foods’ at all and will only eat dry and bland food. B cannot use cutlery at the moment, but he also doesn’t like the feel of food making his hands messy. If I’m eating anything that has a strong odour (or bad to him) he will move away from me or cover his nose until I’ve finished eating. B struggles to look at foods that he doesn’t like the taste of. B generally avoids trying new foods and being asked to try new foods are the biggest cause of his meltdowns.”

B clearly finds trying new foods distressing and upsetting and likes to eat foods that aren’t overwhelming and/or overpowering sensory wise. For parents and caregivers of autistic and neurodivergent children, many seek out the help from occupational therapists. Occupational therapists can set up sensory based activities surrounding food, write and create an appropriate food diet and occupational therapists can also introduce eating and drinking tools/kitchen utensils for the children who need support with developing their fine motor skills and to help feel confident using the utensils.

Creating a healthy diet for your food sensitive child and avoiding any foods that can cause upset is important. Research has shown that avoiding gluten, dairy and casein can be beneficial for the autistic person.  

The National Autistic Society mentions in their article that a study conducted found that,

“Parents of autistic children in England, 19% had tried a gluten and/or milk free diet and 43% of these had never seen a dietitian (Huxham, 2012). A majority of these parents reported significant improvements in various aspects of their child’s wellbeing on a gluten and/or milk free diet with significant improvements in bowel habits, general health, sleeping patterns, concentration and social communication. These results are consistent with other anecdotal reports and surveys worldwide (Whiteley et al 1999, Knivsberg et al 2002, Whiteley et al 2010).”

Speaking to your child’s school as well is important to make sure they follow your child’s diet plan. If the child is fearful of eating in front of other pupils, then the school should offer the child a quiet environment to eat their lunch and have their breaks in with their LSA or another staff member.


By Alexandra Farnese


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