There's no evidence that special diets are an effective treatment for autism, now called autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder is a complex brain disorder that has no known cure. For this reason, many frustrated parents turn to unproven alternative treatments — such as restrictive diets that eliminate gluten and casein — in an attempt to help their children.
Gluten is a protein found in many grains, and casein is a protein found in dairy products. However, there's little evidence that diet triggers autism spectrum disorder or that restricting gluten and casein improves symptoms. And for growing children, restrictive diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
If you're considering an alternative treatment for autism spectrum disorder, talk to your child's doctor. He or she can help you understand possible benefits and risks, and let you know of any local resources that may offer additional support. If you decide to pursue a restrictive diet, work with a registered dietitian to create an appropriate meal plan for your child.
Feb. 18, 2014
- Weissman L, et al. Autism spectrum disorders in children and adolescents: Complementary and alternative therapies. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Whiteley P, et al. Gluten- and casein-free dietary intervention for autism spectrum conditions. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2013;4:344.
- Buie T. The relationship of autism and gluten. Clinical Therapeutics. 2013;36:578.