The Autism category compiles any blog related to Autism on the North Shore Pediatric Therapy website.  The blogs in this category are meant to help educate, inform and encourage parents of children with Autism. Readers will learn about Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism-friendly activities, school, appropriate toys, red flags, special needs lawyers, financial planning, multidisciplinary treatment options and more. If you are looking for any information related to Autism, this category will help you get started. If you need additional assistance, please give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

Autism and Pokémon: Go?

A new mobile game is igniting some sparks in children with Autism. Pokémon Go, is a mobile based Pokémon Gogaming application which uses GPS and reality to encourage users to “Catch them all” throughout neighborhood and local areas. Many children with Autism, who already gravitate to video games and electronics, are certainly interested in the craze.

Although the game and its effects has not been thoroughly researched, below I will list some possible benefits to introducing your child to Pokémon Go:

  • Pokémon Go Encourages Preferred Play in New Environments and Combating Rigidity – Many children with Autism are already highly interested in video games. However, often times, children with video games are able to enjoy this reinforcement in insolation whether it is in their rooms or in a small corner in the living room. Pokémon Go is sending users to areas outside the home such as the local park, the neighbor’s house, and dare I say it, Home Depot. The child who never wants to go to the park is now begging to go to the park!!
  • Pokémon Go Encourages Social Interactions – The amazing phenomenon to come from Pokémon Go, is its adaptability to all types of users: typical and children with Autism. Children are linking in random places, all trying to catch a Pokémon. Very meaningful conversations can arise from these meet-ups: “How many Pokémon do you have?” and “Have you found Pikachu yet?” Unlike most video games, Pokémon Go heavily relies on the knowledge of other users who are playing the game as well to find out the most popular places to catch Pokémon and thus encourages interactions with individuals whom children with Autism may otherwise have nothing in common with. They are all simply trying to “Catch them all.”
  • Pokémon Go Encourages Parents to Learn More About Their Child’s Needs – Parents often struggle with how to speak to their children’s world. Pokémon Go encourages bonding opportunities, especially with younger children, because parents need to supervise the outings. Parents are having opportunities to see their children shriek and smile like never before. In addition, learning the pragmatics of the game can help parents to seek out other alternatives and strategies to try with their child that have the same function and may yield similar results.

Lastly, while Pokémon Go can possibly yield answers to the Autism Community on how to get our children out of the house and interacting with the outside world.

Here are some important Pokémon Go tips for parents:

  • Children should not be allowed to roam neighborhoods or public places alone.
  • Teach your children whom it is safe to speak Pokémon with and whom it may not.
  • Talk to your children about safety at Pokéstops; avoid dark and isolated places
  • Encourage Poképlay in small or large groups of friends.

Oh, and did I mention, children are learning some pretty cool Pokémon names in the process…

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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What Are Disorders of the Corpus Callosum?

This guest blog post was written by Amy Connolly, RN, BSN, PCCN of a community hospital in Chicago.

The corpus callosum is the large bundle of nerve fibers that serve as a pathway, connecting the right andCorpus Callosum left hemispheres of the brain together. Disorders of the corpus callosum, or DCC’s, are “conditions in which the corpus callosum does not develop in a typical manner.” This important brain superhighway is usually formed by 12 to 16 weeks after conception. However, there are some people born without a corpus callosum at all, this is otherwise known as agenesis of the corpus callosum. My 4 year old son has hypoplasia of the corpus callosum, which means that his corpus callosum is thin and therefore may be less efficient. A few other included disorders are partial agenesis, as in partially absent, and dysgenesis, or malformation, of the corpus callosum.

DCC’s, like Autism, are a spectrum disorder, where there is no textbook answer to how happy or healthy someone will be just based off of diagnosis. Many parents are finding out during pregnancy due to the advancement in technology and equipment. Unfortunately, they are not always getting the best advice or support, due to the lack of knowledge on provider’s part. My best advice to them is to be proactive with recommended testing and therapies, but not to stress over the diagnosis itself. Having a disorder of the corpus callosum is nothing to fear in itself.

Every individual with a DCC, will have their own paths and abilities. The diagnosis should not define them or stop them from reaching their true potential, whatever that may be. There are plenty of people who found their diagnosis after a MRI or CT scan was done due to headaches or some type of accident. Someone with a DCC may live a pretty ordinary life and you would never have even been able to tell that they had a “special” brain, if they did not have a diagnostic test for some reason or another. Many people with a DCC have trouble keeping up with their peers when they get closer to their teen years. They may be socially awkward and they may not get the punchline of jokes right away.

For others with a DCC, a lot of therapy and repetition will help them to tell their story. Many of those with a DCC may also be diagnosed with ADHD, Autism, depression, anxiety, and so forth. Some who haven’t had an MRI or CT scan may only be diagnosed with one or more of the other things and do not even know that they have this disorder. Many people with the disorder may also have seizures, low muscle tone, and sensory disorders. Other midline defects can also be common such as eye or vision problems, heart problems, thyroid or growth disorders, and the list goes on. Some people with a DCC may also have feeding tubes as children and they may or may not still need them as they get older.  There is a lot we still do not know about disorders of the corpus callosum, but what we do know is that people with them are pretty awesome! They may usually have to work harder to make those important brain connections, but they always continue to put smiles on our faces no matter how big or small their accomplishment may be in someone else’s eyes!

The National Organization for Disorders of the Corpus Callosum, NODCC, is a nonprofit organization that strives to find out more about people like my son and to spread awareness about the disorder. The NODCC holds a conference every other year in a different U.S. location for individuals living with a DCC, families, professionals, and anyone else who would like to attend. There are multiple sessions on different tracks going on at the same time. This year approximately 600 people are expected to attend. Attendees will be from all over the U.S., with some even flying in from abroad. The conference is at the Marriott O’Hare in Chicago from July 22-24, 2016. For many with the disorder, and their families, conference is like a home away from home. A place where everybody gets each other without having to say a word. High functioning, low functioning, we are all functioning. Together.

To learn more about disorders of the corpus callosum, please go to www.nodcc.org.

Resources:

http://nodcc.org/corpus-callosum-disorders/faq/

Amy CAmy Connolly RN, BSN, PCCN lives in Franklin Park, Illinois.  Amy is a registered nurse at a community hospital in Chicago.  Amy is also stepmom to Patrick (16), mom to Jesse (6), Jake (4), and Marcey (2).  Jake, now age 4, was diagnosed with hypoplasia of the corpus callosum at ten months of age, after a MRI was done due to delayed developmental milestones and a lazy eye.  Amy’s nursing experience did not prepare her to navigate the world with a child with special needs.  She has learned a lot over the last four years and enjoys sharing and learning more with other families.  Amy is also actively involved as a volunteer for the National Organization for Disorders of the Corpus Callosum due to her strong belief in their mission and values.

Autism Friendly Activities in Milwaukee

With school out, parents may have mixed feelings about the summer ahead. What will my child do all Milwaukeeday? How can I keep them entertained? What can I fill their time with educationally since they are not in school? Well, fear not parents, there are a lot of fun, but educational activities you can do for your child with autism this summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

AMC Sensory Friendly Films

Mayfair Mall’s AMC movie theater features a few sensory friendly films each month, ranging from animated kid’s movies to action/thrillers. During the films, they keep the lights on and turn the volume down, which allows families safe access to the bathroom and alleviates any sensory tolerance concerns. Follow the link below for a listing of the upcoming films.

https://www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

Betty Brinn Children’s museum has several rooms filled with educational toys as well as a rotating seasonal exhibit for your child to explore. Betty Brinn Children’s museum understands that access to educational and social opportunities for children with special needs can be difficult. As a result, they created a Family Focus Membership, that families can apply for, that provides free access to the museum for children with autism. If your application is accepted, you will need to attend a mandatory class at the museum, but then you will be given free access to the museum for a year. Follow the link below for more information on the Family Focus Membership.

http://www.bbcmkids.org/

Kids in Motion

Kids in Motion is an indoor play area for all children. They have several themed rooms with a variety of educational toys, a snack counter, and a main gym area that has a slide, tubes to climb in, and a roped in ball area. Kids in Motion in Brookfield, WI offers half off admission on Sundays for special needs families, which includes half off admission for siblings that are not on the spectrum. Follow the link below for more information on Kids in Motion.

http://www.kidsinmotionwi.com/

YMCA- programs for special needs kids

Several local YMCAs offer programs for all children, including special needs children, during the summer months. Whether you are looking for a class or all day summer camp, the YMCA has several different opportunities for children with special needs. If you are looking for a baseball camp, a great option is the Miracle League of Milwaukee, which accepts all children regardless of ability or prior experience. Follow the link below for more information on the Miracle League of Milwaukee.

http://www.miracleleaguemilwaukee.org/

While all of these options are affordable or free, there are several other great activities you can take part in Milwaukee with your child, such as the Milwaukee County Zoo or attending one of the many festivals Milwaukee has. In addition, Milwaukee County Parks are always free and can be fun for daily trips or to the Farmer’s Markets. While the summer months can seem long, keep all of these great opportunities in mind as you plan your summer months.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

To schedule an Applied Behavior Analysis assessment, complete the form here.

Self-Care Skills for Children with Autism

Self-care skills such as brushing teeth, washing hands, and dressing are important for children to learn Blog-Self-Care-Skills-Main-Landscapeas they affect their everyday lives. For children diagnosed with Autism, they often experience delays in learning these skills and may need a different way of teaching to acquire them. Using some behavior analytic techniques, these skills can be taught in an appropriate way suitable for your child to be successful.

Is your child ready to perform self-care skills?

  • Component skills: In order to ensure success with the desired self-care skill, make sure that your child can perform the basic skills necessary for the task. For example, for the skill of brushing teeth, this may include: pincer grasps, holding a toothbrush, moving a toothbrush in a back and forth motion, spitting out toothpaste, squeezing toothpaste tube, gargling water.
  • Attending: Can your child pay attention and tolerate the duration of the skill?
  • Complexity of composite skill: Can your child put together the component skills to perform parts of the desired task?

If your child is unable to perform the component skills, attend to the desired self-care task, or combine component skills, work on building up this repertoire before moving forward. Providing help and lots of positive reinforcement with these tasks will make learning the desired skill easier!

Now that your child is ready, how can you teach your child to perform self-care skills?

  • Chaining: This strategy involves breaking down the steps of the skill into multiple pieces. Once the steps are broken up, teaching can occur by linking steps together.
    • The steps can be linked together from the beginning of the skill. For example, brushing teeth can begin with allowing the child to put toothpaste on the tooth brush and run the tooth brush under the water. The rest of the steps of the skill can be prompted by an adult. As the child becomes more independent with the first few steps, more steps can be added for him or her to perform independently as a chain.
    • Steps can also be linked from the end of the skill. For example, for hand washing, you can have the child wipe his or her hands independently on the towel. As the child becomes more independent with that skills, you can also introduce turning off the water to the chain of steps. All the steps prior to those mentioned steps can be prompted by an adult.
  • Social Stories: These stories outline the appropriate way to engage in the desired task. Each page can describe the steps and how to complete the skill. They can be in the form of videos, audio, or written (with pictures). Each child may respond better to one form over another.

What supports can you use with these strategies?

  • Visuals: You can provide visuals of each step of the task posted in the location that the skill will occur in. For example, with hand washing, some pictures can include turning on the sink, hands under the soap dispenser, or rubbing hands with soap. Modeling the skill before the child engages in the skill may also help the child learn by imitating your actions.
  • Physical prompts: You can physically guide your child with your hands on top of theirs to allow them to get used to the motion of the task. Then, you can reduce your physical prompts (e.g., move your hands to their elbows or moving farther away and pointing to the correct step) until they can complete the skill independently.
  • Vocal prompts: You can vocally instruct the child to perform each step as they are performing the skill. Then, you can fade your prompts until they can do the skill independently.

Working on the component skills independently until the child can easily and reliably perform them can greatly increase their success with putting those steps together. A combination of different supports listed above can provide a way for you to teach your child how to engage in complex self-care skills. Providing and fading your physical and vocal prompts can take some practice. It may be beneficial to work with a BCBA to ensure the success of your approach and the acquisition of these skills.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Puberty for Children With Autism

One of the most popular questions I get asked from parents of young children with autism is, “What is my child’s future going to look like?” While early intervention is a crucial part of the treatment of autism, thinking ahead to what puberty and the teenage years might look like is an important consideration, as well. Puberty and adolescence are difficult times for every pre-teen, and adding the challenges that come from having a diagnosis of autism can feel overwhelming to you, your child, and your family. It is important to go into this time with tools and strategies to help your child feel as comfortable and confident as possible, while also finding ways for your child to increase their independence in these areas.

Self-Care Skills for children with AutismBlog-Autism-Purberty-Main-Landscape

Self-care skills such as bathing, using deodorant, brushing teeth, and general cleanliness are topics that arise for every pre-teen. For children with autism, simply just stating about what needs to happen may not be enough. Saying, “You need to go take a shower,” may not have the same effect as, “It’s really important to take showers everyday so that our bodies are clean and smell fresh. This way we feel comfortable and healthy, and other people around us do too.”

Using specifics such as this may help children with autism clue in to the “whys” of cleanliness. Additionally, providing visual schedules on the steps of showering, hand-washing, teeth brushing, dressing, etc., can help your child ensure that they are completing each step of the process, while still practicing more independence than if they had a parent or caregiver walking them through the routine.

Friendships/Social Skills

Fostering friendships and forming appropriate relationships with peers and adults at the time of adolescence can be extremely challenging. At this point in life, each child is starting to develop at different times, while interests and abilities are forming at different times and in unique ways. One highly effective strategy to help children with autism understand and participate in social situations are, the very aptly named, social stories.

Social stories can be custom tailored to each individual/situation, and break down any topic clearly using pictures and simple words. For example, a child who struggles with approaching peers in a group could benefit from a social story that focuses on what to say when approaching a group, what to do after saying, “Hi,” how to engage in a simple conversation, and how to say goodbye. These steps would be broken down using pictures (either real or found online), and simple sentences that match the child’s level of understanding. At the age of adolescence, it can be very powerful to have the child themselves be a part of creating the social story so they feel ownership and understand the content on a deeper level.

In addition to social stories, engaging in role-play with peers, adults, siblings, etc., can be very beneficial in helping a child with autism know what to expect in social situations. Practicing scenarios that are likely to happen in real life can help reduce or eliminate some of the anxiety and fear surrounding peers and socialization. For example, having a child practice what to do if someone says something unkind to them, or what to do when they are invited to a birthday party can set the child up for a successful interaction, rather than a situation where they might feel apprehensive or uncomfortable.

Functional Living Skills

By the time a child reaches the age of puberty, there are certain skills that we hope to see them engage in independently. This might be taking on simple chores around the house, making themselves a snack, or taking care of a pet. For all children, including those with autism, it is important that they have exposure to these types of functional living skills, as these will benefit them throughout their lives.

Using the aforementioned social stories, visual schedules, and explaining why we wipe the tables or feed the dog are all helpful strategies, but sometimes those are not enough. Using reinforcement strategies such as token charts/reinforcement systems can be a helpful tool to ensure that your child is participating in the functional activities of the home. For example, a child may be able to earn a star or token for each expected chore completed. Once all tokens have been earned, the child can have access to a highly preferred item such as a video game or special activity.

This token system should start with a few demands, which can be increased as the child shows success. This gives a tangible means of connecting the completion of functional/expected activities to earning a desired effect.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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What We Can Learn From Julia: Sesame Street's New Friend With Autism

5 Things We Can Learn From Julia: Sesame Street’s New Friend With Autism

This fun-loving friend is the newest member of one of our favorite childhood shows. The only difference with Julia is that she has Autism. In an attempt to increase awareness and provide resources to families of individuals with Autism, Sesame Workshop created Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children. These resources include videos from all different points of view, visual supports for daily routines, a visual storybook of Julia and Sesame Street friends, tips for anyone who wants to learn more about Autism, as well as, an outlet to share your own story.

Here are some things everyone can learn about Autism from Julia:

  1. Communication comes in all different forms. Individuals with Autism may use several What We Can Learn From Julia: Sesame Street's New Friend With Autismdifferent means to communicate their wants and needs. These may include vocal communication, sign language, picture communication systems, voice out-put devices, simple gestures or eye contact, or a combination of several. No one way is better than the next, it all depends on the child.
  2. Sometimes less is more. Speaking in fewer, more succinct words, can help individuals with Autism process the information more quickly. It’s important to allow people to be successful in their environment.
  3. Be patient. All learning takes time. Once skills are learned, that time is worth it.
  4. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. Just because someone has a diagnosis of Autism, doesn’t mean they aren’t just as different as each other individual to the next. Finding and incorporating what makes them happy can create better and more long-lasting relationships.
  5. Sometimes everyone needs a break and time alone. Just like all children, sometimes individuals with Autism enjoy receiving attention from others, and sometimes they want to enjoy more simple things in life like calm and quiet. Be respectful to all of your friends and family and just remember, we’re all amazing.

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Better Mealtimes For Your Child With Autism

Children are notoriously picky eaters which can make mealtimes very frustrating, and children with autism are no exception. Just like typically developing children the range of pickiness with food varies from child to child. Some children are great eaters and eat a wide variety of foods, while others will only eat certain foods and will engage in negative behaviors when those foods are not available. Another mealtime issue that can arise with children with autism at mealtimes is not being able to sit at the table for an extended period of time. Below are some suggestions on how to make mealtimes more successful.

 Better Mealtimes For Your Child With Autism:

  • Determine what your end goal is and then start small – If your goal is to have your childBetter Mealtimes with Your Child With Autism eat an entire meal at the table with the family, then start by determining what they can already do. Once you know what they can do, begin building on those skills.
  • Ideally it is best to work on sitting at the table first. While practicing sitting at the table, allow your child to engage in preferred activities so they learn to associate sitting at the table with fun activities.
  • Have reasonable expectations – If your child has difficulty sitting and only likes very specific foods, do expect them to sit for 20 minutes and try new foods. If you child is only able to sit for 5 minutes, then have him sit and eat for 3 minutes and reward that behavior. Gradually have him sit for longer and longer periods of time. Always reward the behaviors you want to see increase.
  • After your child is able to sit calmly for at least 10 minutes, you can then work on introducing new foods.
  • Introduce new foods slowly – Allow him to eat preferred foods, with the new foods it sight. It usually takes several exposures to new foods before they will try it.
  • Be sure to reinforce any attempts at trying new foods, or even touching new foods.
  • If you can see your child is starting to get upset about sitting at the table or trying a new food, prompt them to say they are all done and then excuse him from the table. It is better to end on a good note, then to have him have a melt down and then be allowed to leave them table. If this occurs he will learn if he gets upset, he can leave.
  • Make mealtimes fun – Try to do fun things with food, if your child has a favorite TV show or movie, use plates and cups with those characters. If your child will only sit with the TV on, watch TV in the beginning and then you can work on gradually fading it out.

 

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Reference: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

autism spectrum disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurobiological disorder that has three primary characteristics which are impaired social interactions, impaired communication and restricted and repetitive behavior. Children are usually diagnosed around age three, although many of the signs and characteristics of autism may appear prior to age three. The current prevalence of autism in 1 out of every 68 children and is more common in boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189).

Autism-A Spectrum Disorder:

ASD is known spectrum disorder which means individuals with ASD all have similar features, but rangeautism spectrum disorder in severity. Individuals with ASD do not typically have any defining physical characteristics that set them apart from other people.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

To receive an autism diagnosis a child must be evaluated and assessed by a licensed psychologist. There are several different diagnostic tools that are currently used when evaluating an individual with autism. Currently one of the most popular assessment is the Autism Diagnostic Observation (ADOS), this assessment combines observation with more interactive activities for the child. During the assessment the evaluator engages the child in some common childhood activities such as playing with dolls and having a pretend birthday party. Another popular assessment is the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), which is a behavior rating checklist.

Therapy for Autism:

Once a child receives an autism diagnosis, the parents must then find appropriate education and therapeutic service for their child which can be a daunting process. When considering how to help your child with autism, it is important to make sure that the intervention is evidenced based. Sadly there are many interventions that claim to “cure” autism, but there is no evidence supporting that intervention does in fact work. The “gold standard” of autism interventions is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA has many years of research proving its effectiveness with individuals with autism.

 

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Reference: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Fostering EARLY Learning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

When we think of learning in childhood, we often think of what happens in the classroom, but learning starts very early on in life. A child’s early learning includes a combination of watching the world around them, seeing how the world then responds, and imitating what is seen. However, these tasks can be more difficult for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Let’s take a look at how children with ASD may interact differently with the world around them:

  1. More focus is on the non-social environment vs. the social environment: A child throwsEarly Learning and Autism a toy while in a crib and waits for the loud crash. The child may have learned that this noise attracts her parent’s attention, and then anticipates her mom or dad walking in the room. The child may then look intently at her parent’s facial expression in order to create additional meaning. A child with ASD may ignore the toys altogether and be focused on the moving fan in the room. If the child’s mom walks in the room, the child may continue to express interest in the fan rather than look over to see who has entered the room. As a result, the child has missed an opportunity to learn and practice communication and socialization.
  2. Likelier to be more interested in objects vs. people: A child with ASD may tend to explore objects in unusual ways (i.e. smelling, looking at an object at an angle) while typically developing children tend to be more interested in facial expressions, gestures, and words.
  3. Imitation: When the natural instinct of a typically developing child is to imitate, children with ASD tend NOT to imitate. A child with ASD has difficulty with copying others’ behaviors, sounds, movements, and does not understand that her behavior effects the behaviors of others. In typically developing children, this is the primary source of learning.
  4. Behaviors that interfere with learning: Children with ASD tend to become unusually interested in objects and may engage in repetitive behavior or play (lining up toys for hours, stacking blocks, spinning the wheels of a toy car). They can also become irritated when their play is directed to something else, which can lead to a tantrum. These difficulties with transition or rigidity are commonly observed in youth with ASD, which makes it difficult for these children to focus their attention on the learning opportunities that are happening around them!

So what can we do to help children with ASD become more engaged with their environment and enhance their learning?

Research has shown that areas of the brain that are responsible for socialization, learning, and language are underdeveloped in children with ASD, making it difficult for children with ASD to make sense of the world around them. These studies have indicated that early intervention is key to fostering an environment that will be conducive to learning (Rogers, S.; Dawson,G.; Vismara, L., 2012). This and other great information can be found in the book, An Early Start for your Child with Autism by Drs. Sally Rogers, Geraldine Dawson, and Laurie Vismara.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Autism and a Gluten Free Diet

Should Your Child with Autism Avoid Gluten?

The Atkins Diet. Weight Watchers. Paleo. Coconut oil. Gluten Free. Casein Free. You may be familiar with some of these diet trends. People are constantly on a quest for the perfect diet that will shed the pounds and keep them off. Others are looking for diets that regulate their digestive systems and keep their stomach calm. And if you are a parent of a child with autism, you may have heard people maintain that a gluten-free or casein-free diet can be used to help manage behaviors associated with autism.

With the idea of placing a child on a diet for management of symptoms, many questions arise. Does aShould Your Child With Autism Eat a Gluten Free Diet? gluten-free diet make a difference for children with autism? What does the research say? How do you know if it’s working?

Let’s back up a little bit and look at why specific diets for children with autism are being considered. Gastrointestinal problems are often described in children with autism, however the prevalence of these issues has not been consistently proven to be higher than in the general population.

Unfortunately for the sake of determining benefits of a gluten free diet, every child with autism presents differently and will likely have different responses to dieting. Also, unfortunately, the literature is extremely limited and providing conclusive evidence that a specific diet improves behaviors associated with autism has yet to be done. Some studies have yielded positive results (improvements in symptoms), while others have yielded negative results (no improvements noted). It is important to note that none of these studies have provided conclusive evidence; studies reporting positive results were merely suggestive (the lowest level of certainty).

Now you may be thinking, what will it hurt to place my child on a gluten-free or casein-free diet? According to Mulloy et. al, these diets may put children at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Further, this population of children often encounters challenges to ingesting a typical diet to begin with, such as sensory processing difficulties that lead to limited food intake and restricted diets. This can make feeding your child difficult if they are already only accepting chicken nuggets and string cheese. Additionally, implementing a diet of this type is costly and time-consuming.

Should you decide to try a gluten-free diet for your child with autism, here are some important things to remember:

  • Keep objective measures: It will likely be hard for your child to accurately report how they feel given commonly associated language deficits in children with autism. Ask yourself, “How do I know that my child’s sleep is improved?”, or “How do I know that attention is improved?” Find a way to measure data for these questions, such as counting naps taken each day or minutes spent engaged in a task.
  • Involve others: Ask for help from people that spend a lot of time with your child. Ask them to objectively measure behaviors as best they can, and seek their results.
  • Keep a food diary: Track what your child eats for every meal, and any notable behaviors or improvements for each day. This ensures accurate implementation of the diet and gives you the ability to reflect on the weeks and months.
  • Be committed: In a systematic review, more positive results were yielded with longer implementation of the diet.  For example, studies yielding negative results were implemented for an average of 5 weeks while studies yielding positive results were implemented for an average of 18 months.
  • Keep other factors in mind: It is challenging to prove that improvement is due to one factor vs another. For example: If your child experiences improved sleeping patterns, perhaps eliminating sugary foods in general is the cause  as opposed to the removal of gluten. Always think twice before determining cause, and consider all potential variables at play.

If you are exploring diet options for your child, seek the guidance of a dietitian or nutritionist to ensure healthy implementation.

What to Expect When You Suspect Autism Download our free, 17-Page eBook

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

References:

  • Mulloy, A, et al. Gluten-free and casein-free diets in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders (2009), doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2009.10.008
  • Buie, T. (2013). The relationship of autism and gluten. Clinical Therapeutics, 35, 578-583.