Table Full of Food

Autism Spectrum Disorder & Food Allergies

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a group of symptoms that affect proper brain development, resulting in learning disabilities and or emotional difficulties. ASD may affect the way children communicate, along with multiple physical problems with the immune system, motor skills, and digestive health. Most children with ASD have many food intolerance/sensitivities resulting from compromised gut health. This inflammatory process is borne from an unbalanced microbiome in the gut and the inability for the body to tolerate specific kinds of foods.

Gut health is critical, especially with ASD. The gut has a separate nervous system that is called the enteric nervous system. It’s made up of bundles of nerve cells and fibers that interact with the community of bacteria that keep your immune system functioning properly. Gut health plays a major role in mental and physical well-being. We are currently seeing more mental health issues being impacted because of the foods we eat and a lack of beneficial bacteria in our gut.

Avoidance of certain foods can contribute to improved behavior and overall health for those with ASD. Try to avoid or minimize the consumption of packaged products or processed foods. And while this is not always possible, be sure to read labels carefully and be prepared to make phone calls to manufacturers to get specific questions answered about what is actually in each product consumed.

While every child is different and each case is so unique, I do have some general guidelines as to what foods should be avoided in order to see an improvement in overall health and behavior with ASD.

  1. Anything involving casein or dairy. This includes cow’s milk, yogurt, and even some non-dairy cheeses.
  2. Gluten and most grains can cause more inflammation and exacerbate an already problematic digestive system.
  3. Artificial colors and dyes are known to contribute to hyperactivity and can contribute to behavioral changes in children. They are often found on ingredient lists as a color followed by a number on them. Such as Yellow #5 and Red #40.
  4. Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Also, any sweeteners derived from corn. Corn sweeteners have multiple names and can include cornstarch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, fructose, glucose and many more. If there is a sweetener in a food and the label does not list the source, it is likely from corn.
  5. Avoid most fruit juices, as they are high in sugar.
  6. Any products with soy in them.
  7. Vegetable oils, as they are often mixed with soybean oil.
  8. Caffeine and stimulants.
  9. Foods high in Phenols/ Salicylates & Nitrates/Nitrites. This includes berries, tomatoes, plums, oranges, chili powder, cloves, apples, vinegars, raisins, pickles and cured meats.
  10. GMOs, MSG, and non-organic foods.

Every child has their own specific needs, so I recommend working with a healthcare specialist who can help you figure out which foods may be most problematic for your child. The ASD journey is challenging for both parents and children. Realize that each day is a nurturing and rewarding experience. Take time to care for your child and yourself. This will improve the health of your whole family.


Woman holding up hand saying no

10 Ways to Say “No” Without Actually Saying It

Sean E. Heerey  ND, MA, CCC/SLP

Parents and caregivers get tired of saying “No”. Children don’t want to hear the word “No”. Setting limits and establishing boundaries are an important part of raising children.

Sometimes we feel that we have no option when dealing with a child and we must say “NO” quite emphatically and vociferously. Here is a typical scenario: It is time for dinner and your child wants a chocolate bar. Fortunately, there are several clever options in managing these situations.

Here are some helpful tips to change the dialogue between you and your child:

1. Distract- “Hey, did you just see that giant red fire truck?”

2. Pretend- “Sorry, no real chocolate before dinner. How about some pretend chocolate from Adventure Bay (where Paw Patrols rescue dogs live). I can give you 500 pieces of pretend chocolate!”

3. Be in agreement- “Yes, I would love to give you that chocolate bar as soon as you finish all your dinner.”
4. Make an alternative offer - “You had some chocolate earlier today. Why not have some giant, juicy blueberries?”
5. Request help from Authority figures- “I want what Dr. Jones would say about having chocolate before dinner. Next time we see him let’s ask”
6. Commiserate- “Yes, I want a chocolate bar too! All I want is chocolate before dinner. Who came up with that silly rule anyway!”
7. Just Play- Acknowledge that they want chocolate before dinner but launch into a physical play theme- chase, hug, tickle.
8. Google it- “I don’t think we can have chocolate before dinner, let’s ask Google?”

9. Ponder and Wonder- “Hmmmm, I wonder what Mama Pig and Papa Pig would say if Peppa Pig wanted to have chocolate before her dinner?”

10. Play the Grandma or favorite Aunt/Uncle card- “Oh, I am so sorry. I can’t give you chocolate before dinner. You will have to ask your Uncle Tony. Only Uncle Tony can give you chocolate before dinner. We can ask him the next time we see him for all the chocolate that you want?”

There are other many other ways to handle such situations. Patience and kindness goes a long way.


Mother communicating with child

Positive Ways to Communicate with Your Child

Sean E. Heerey  ND, MA, CCC/SLP

The words we say have power. Sometimes it is not the words we say but how we say those words that communicates how we are feeling. Our words can have the power to hurt and harm someone or they can heal and uplift.

Researchers at Florida International University made an interesting discovery about children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and parental expressed emotions. For many children with ADHD, symptoms appear to decrease as they age, but for some there is no such decrease and one reason for that may be persistent parental criticism. The researchers found that children with ADHD who had parents that regularly expressed high levels of criticism over time, were less likely to experience such a decline in symptoms.

While sustained parental criticism is not the cause of ADHD symptoms implementing interventions to reduce parental criticism may lead to a reduction in ADHD symptoms. (Although not the focus of the research article treating the unique needs of the child with ADHD can have profound effects.) Choosing our words is important. I recall my 4th grade teacher admonishing us to “think before you speak”.

Here are some ways to encourage children even when their behaviors are challenging your patience:
Start with something positive:

When you see the shoes in the middle of the room say “I like that you took your shoes off when you come into the house. Next time place them in the rack” (or wherever they belong)
Communicate rather that criticize. “Let’s do it differently next time” rather than launching into critical attack mode.

Wait. Some issues can wait. If one parent has already discussed an issue the other parent can wait or just not say anything.

Don’t forget to give praise! Always praise (or punish) the behavior and NOT the child. The child is inherently good. It is the action or the poor decision that is the issue. It is less stressful and better for all parties involved to act and speak with kindness and compassion.