Autism Diets

After sending out a prayer request for Joshua, regarding managing his autism, a home schooling mom from our parish offered to give me some information about a dietary approach for helping with autism.  She was quite gentle about it, understanding how overwhelmed I was feeling.  Within about 2 months, at least, 3 other folks I talked to, also encouraged me to talk with Anneke.  Obviously, God was telling me something, so, I gave her a call.  Anneke  introduced me to the GAPS diet, which stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a whole food, Specific Carbohydrate Diet that helps kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Now, the gluten-free/casein free diet, was considered by those in Autism circles, such as Jenny McCarthy, as “the autism diet”.

The theory is that many if not all autistic children  have a damaged intestine/gut. The damage may be there from birth but more likely comes from some immunological  injury like a bad reaction to an immunization.  (keep in mind this is mostly theory). Autistic children seem to have weaker immune systems, and a lot seem to have digestive problems.

This “leaky gut” allows some food proteins to pass through into the bloodstream only partially digested, particularly the gluten from wheat/oats/rye/barley, and the casein from milk and other dairy products. These partially digested proteins form peptides which have an opiate-like affect (opioids is another term for them). They can bind to the receptors and cause harmful effects in the brain  just like a regular opiate. Opiates can either cause or magnify autistic symptoms. The opiates are a type of narcotic.  There are receptors in the brain that they bind with to reduce pain and induce pleasure, but they also have harmful side effects. An example of an opiate is morphine or heroin. Until it can be figured out how to heal the “leaky guts”, many parents are putting their children on the gluten free/casein free diets .  By Barbara Byers

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride based her diet ( off of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet from Breaking the Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall, BA, MSc.  (You can read more about Elaine’s story and the autism link on this site: . )

After seeing an introduction on Youtube about Dr. Campbell-McBride’s GAPS diet, Anneke loaned my the book and gave me a copy of a DVD to help get me started on the diet.  Her counsel has been invaluable.  As I have shared Joshua’s diagnosis with friends in the home schooling community, one of my friends mentioned a gal she knew who has two kids on the spectrum, one of which is now off the spectrum due to utilizing the GAPS diet.  I was quite taken with the common sense approach of the diet and with the fact that Dr. Campbell-McBride’s own son was diagnosed with Autism at 3 and is now off the spectrum at 15.  Dr. Campbell-McBride is not only a neurologist, but is also nutritionist, and has had quite a bit of success treating autistic kids in her practice.  The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is what the GAPS diet is based off of, as mentioned above, is also shown to be successful in treating autistic kids.  Ms. Gottschall has a wonderful story as to how she discovered it in pursuit of helping her daughter, who had digestion issues.  Through her advocacy, the diet has been quite researched, or, at least parts of it.  It is quite interesting reading and makes a lot of sense.  So, as I started learning about the diet, and after talking it over with my husband, we decided to give it a shot.  We had wanted to eat more healthy anyway, as this diet focuses on eating as our ancestor’s did, more of a focus on eating meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, natural fats and healing Joshua’s gut flora, and this diet would end up benefiting our entire family.

Aside from the high cost of buying more “whole” food, I have been quite “over zealous” in getting Joshua started on the diet.  Admittedly, I decided to just get started with it the best I could and learn as I go.  I did get signed up with a nutritionist, Kimberly M., who was recommended by the woman with the two kids on the spectrum, and met with her to discuss how to proceed with the diet.  She was so encouraging!  She wanted to help me to see how to make things easier on my time and our budget and encouraged me to make meals that were “Joshie Friendly” that the whole family could enjoy.  Now, I did have the benefit to be raised in a family that made a lot of food by scratch.  To be honest, I never liked processed food.  There’s a reason I never quite felt full after eating that, um, “food”.  I realized, with some delight, that I would be spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  So, some of the first things I began making was Coconut Flour pancakes and Almond Flour Pancakes.  Joshua could have them for breakfast and as the bread for sandwiches for lunch.  We also made pizza from scratch for him and it was actually, quite easy.   The internet has been a valuable tool with finding out numerous recipes to try, such as from and  The key has been where to find groceries at a discount and having the connection with other home schoolers who are trying to eat healthy and utilize a whole food diet is so valuable.  Making bulk orders and passing products through the vast network of Catholic home schooling families demonstrates the level of support available, for which we are extremely blessed.  I do hold out a lot of hope that the diet will help Joshua and I do need to give it two years and not try to do everything so fast, expecting results next week.  I have been encouraged by Joshua’s speech therapist who stated that she had noticed an increase in concentration for Joshua, which will help his speech development as he would be paying more attention.  However, to really know for sure, we’d have to take him off the diet and I don’t really want to do that.  Aside from getting Joshua the services that would help him, his diet was one thing I could control and I am determined to do my best to help his body be healthy so his brain has the chance to work to the best of its ability.

There is so much controversy about diets and whether supplements of Vitamin D, probiotics, and such things work, but from what the reading I’ve done in Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s book, it really makes a lot of sense.  I don’t see why there aren’t more studies done on the different findings of her book and if I could, I would see how to be a part of a study or see how to get more information.  There is a mind body connection and as was pointed out in the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, certain things put into the body can result in alcohol being produced.  We all know that alcohol negatively affects the body when taken to excess.  These little guys take very little to affect their bodies and brain.  So, I will do more research to see what studies are being done and encourage more studies to get done so we can figure out what triggers autism and how to treat it successfully.

Another diet I came across through the GAPS Yahoo group I joined, also looked interesting.  It’s similar to GAPS, but it allows for the “healthy chocolate”.  The organization “No Harm Foundation”, gives a great description of the natural-path  doctor ‘s theories regarding what contributes to autism and how to naturally treat it. If it wasn’t for the cost of the chocolate, I would consider this diet for Joshua, as it’s so close to the GAPS.  The website has a lot of wonderful information and a great video to watch as well.

I think it’s really neat the various diets that are out there.  It certainly is hard work, but, I think it’s quite worthwhile, especially when you see the improvement in your child’s behavior and healthy eating habits, that are hopefully rubbing off on the rest of the family!