Autism is genetic and represents neurological difference, but it's often accompanied by many other conditions such as sleep troubles, seizures, sensory issues, and gastrointestinal distress. When my son Liam got his diagnosis four years ago, I was quickly swept up in the world of alternative therapies, which told me I should immediately cut gluten and dairy from his diet and feed him a host of other supplements. I was most worried about making him more comfortable, and, after reading things about "leaky gut," I thought a gluten- and casein-free diet would "cure" his autism. We tried it—the poor boy ate no gluten or dairy for many years— but I could never determine if the diet or his many other therapies and our growing understanding of autism were helping him thrive. Eventually we gave up the ghost of the diet (with no adverse GI side effects), and his behaviors have improved more through creating a culture of autism acceptance in our home, improving his communication outlets, and working to follow his lead in terms of food and sleep.
Because of my experience, I read a new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center about the efficacy of the gluten- and casein-free diet with interest. In the study, researchers put 14 kids with autism on the GF/CF diet for 30 weeks in order to understand if it affected their behaviors or not. Every week, the kids were given either a placebo or food that contained gluten, casein, or both. Parents then reported on their children's' behaviors. Within the admittedly small sample group (the researchers had trouble finding subjects for the study), they found that the GF/CF diet had no discernible effect on behaviors.
Obviously, more research needs to be done, and the GF/CF diet might work with other kids on the spectrum, but I think this study offers a bit of potential empowerment for parents (like myself) who feel like they have to stick to this very restrictive diet even though it doesn't seem to produce any changes. For us, the GF/CF diet was prohibitively expensive, and I worried the whole time that my son wasn't getting enough nutrition —so, in our case, this study comes as welcome news.
What do you think? Is the GF/CF diet working for your kids with autism? Have you added gluten and casein back in with no ill effects? Leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org share your take on the role of the GF/CF diet and autism.