Autism: 10 Strategies for Implementing Diet Changes

Why are food and diet some your of the most challenging aspects of raising a child with autism?  Make the decision to change the way your child, and perhaps your whole family, is easting – BAM!!!  You seem to hit walls of resistance every which way you turn!

The walls are so thick that you may even wonder, is this even possible?  Is it worth it?  If you have answered no to those questions before, you are not alone.  I have too.  Then I realize that if I ever want things to change in the outside world, my inside world must change first.  I want to find ways around those walls.  Heck, I’d like the walls to come down!

Are you with me?  Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful…

  1. Prepare Your Attitude – how you approach any changes you want to make will greatly influence how others will accept it.  Be grateful for what you are learning and the new hope it offers!  Be enthusiastic about finding and adding nutritious foods that also taste good. Be clear on why you want to create change and embrace the challenge vs. a “poor me” or “poor kid” outlook.  The opportunity in front of you is a gift that will enrich not only your child’s life, but yours as well.  Believe that you can do this, and so can your child.
  2. Plan a Strategy – Take time to really devise a do-able adjustment period.  Figure out which foods will stay and which will be phased out.  Introducing new foods before phasing out favorites sometimes works best, but not always. When will be the best time to begin making the changes?    Plan a schedule for creating and trying a few new recipes a week.  Write out your ideas, sample menus and goals for implementing changes. Clean out or finish off the items no longer desired in your kitchen, and begin bringing in the new foods.
  3. Prioritize – Fast food and ready made meals have allowed our society to put eating habits on auto-pilot.  Conscious planning and food preparing is going to take time, probably time you feel you don’t have.  Go on a laundry strike if you have to, unplug the TV for a week or so, whatever it make take!  Do not feel guilty or crazy for wanting to prioritize your child’s health. The human body is our true vehicle here on earth, not the automobile.  Autism is a complex, sensitive condition.  If your car was struggling to function as it was designed, you’d find the time and money to address the issues.  Our bodies are even more worthy of attention and care.
  4. Assess Who’s on Board – If your child is not under your care at all times, then you’ll have to discuss your plans with the other persons involved. This does not always go over well, as you may already know.  Try not to take it personal, the reasons often have more to do with the inconveniences they are afraid of experiencing. They are also simply not as motivated to acknowledge the low quality of the standard American diet. Consider their situation and help them come up with ideas that they feel would be do-able.  If you can not convince another individual to support your efforts you may have to prioritize and make adjustments in your child’s care. This may sound extreme, but you are only in control of your decisions.  Taking a gentle but strong stand is nothing to feel guilty about.  Family and social gatherings, etc. may also require adjustments.   I have, at times, simply decided it not worth the temptation or battles.  Instead, I choose something more relaxing to do with my son.
  5. Prepare Your Child – This is a very important regardless of how much you think the child can comprehend.  A child diagnosed with autism often understands way more than he/she can express.  Your attitude, explanations, and loving encouragement can have more impact than you might imagine.  Excitedly tell your child  you are going to be trying new foods to help his/her body feel great!  Find or take photos of food options to be able to show your child his/her choices visually if necessary. If your child has a self-selected, extreme diet of just one or two foods, you will have to be strong as well as clear on your intentions. Have lots of yes choices around.  Children can smell a parent waiver, so clean out pity and ambivalence!  There is no need to feel bad when your child has plenty of healthy foods to choose from.  If you do cave, don’t beat yourself up. You’re human. Laugh, learn and move on.
  6. Be Creative – Have fun with brainstorming ideas and new ways to present foods to your child.  Funky plates and bowls, crazy straws, chunks of good stuff on toothpicks, healthy dips, tasty samplings served in an ice cube tray, etc.  Make a list of you child’s favorites and brainstorm what it is about those foods that he/she’s so passionate about.  For instance, my son loves flavor –sweet, spicy, salty –I call him “spice boy” because he’ll pour and lick spices straight from a plate.  Giving him foods that I can flavor up for him, or let him sprinkle on the spice, sometimes entices him to enjoy things I would have never expected he’d like. If your child won’t eat something, find another way to prepare and/or offer it.  Home-made popsicles, juicing, and nutritious smoothies have been one of my most successful approaches toward getting my child to consume vegetables he may not otherwise consider.  You know your kid best, so your ideas may be different than anyone else’s.
  7. Give it Time – Persistence, perseverance, and patience are important.  We live in a “take a pill” world and expect immediate relief and results. Optimally feeding the body is more like growing a harvest vs. growing weeds.  It takes more effort and time, but the results will show up when the time is ripe.  The conditions and symptoms of autism can have multiple levels, and the human body is amazingly able to adapt and create homeostasis within the body’s circumstances.  As diet changes, some changes may be noticeable while others may take more time to surface.  Think of the process of weight loss.  The slow, gradual changes due to exercise and healthy eating may take longer, but the results are more likely to be long-term.  Believe that healthier daily eating choices make sense regardless of immediate results. However, if you are NOT seeing any positive results after a 6 month period, you may need to take a different approach.  See #8 & 9 for more info.
  8. Keep Learning – The world of healing through nutrition is HUGE and the internet and books are chocked full of both accurate and inaccurate information.  Most western doctors actually have very little training and/or expertise in this area.  Using common sense is also important. Prayer and spiritual guidance can help you guide you through your unique, individual circumstances.   Where is the information you are listening to coming from?  I prefer information that is backed-up by healthy human beings, someone who has experienced a significant healing transformation, and/or based on the habits of societies that enjoy longetivity and minimum health issues.  These to me have more credential than isolated studies that try to pin point one teeny factor to prove a point.  Human beings and their bodies are simply too complex.  Health requires a more holistic approach.
  9. Have Fun Exploring – Cookies can be made with acorn squash – who knew?!?  Books and cookbooks, internet searches, and internet groups provide limitless support and ideas for improving one’s health through food.  Gluten-free/Casein free, The Feingold Diet, The Body Ecology Diet, The Specific Carbohydrate Diet,  The Cave-Man Diet, Nourishing Tradition Diet Principles, all of these have benefited some children immensely and have had little effect on others.  The only way you can find out is through trying.  Don’t let the scoffers stop you, hold on to the stories of the try-ers and believers.  The ones who found their answers often did not find it on the first attempt.  Again here is where persistence, perseverance, and patience have the potential to pay off big time.
  10. Don’t Stress About Infractions – In a world of packaged, convenience, and processed foods slip ups are going to happen, no matter how well you plan and organize. When you find out, it’s too late to do anything about that infraction so let it go.  Focus on changes and parts of your plan that are working.  Use the infraction as a learning experience that can help you think of what other adjustments and ideas can be made to prevent future infractions.  Anger and frustrations are wastes of your valuable energy.  Hand them over to God, and surrender to peace.  Don’t fall for the all or nothing lie, either.  If you at this time can not possibly do all the diet changes you’d like, start where you can and build. I hope you gain momentum which each blessed day.

Someone once told me that to God, my son (who still shows every symptom of severe autism) is already whole and healed. There is nothing to be fixed.  In my heart I believe that is true.  But what I see everyday with my eyes is that he is not yet able to function fully within the world as it is now. I explained, and asked if I was contradicting the belief in my heart by trying to help him. The reply was, “Not at all!”  I will never forget the next words:

Like a pearl in an oyster, your son is perfect. Whether within the oyster or brought out and polished for the world to see, to God it makes no difference. He’s still the same perfect pearl. God understands your attempts to reveal his brilliance to the world.

God loves our children regardless. Just as we parents do. Believe in your child’s brilliance.  Seek ways to share it with the world.