Children with autism have strong preferences when it comes to food. The tastes, smells, textures, and different colors of food can all be an obstacle to eating. This can cause children with autism to avoid certain foods or food groups altogether. This can lead to its own set of problems such as not getting enough nutrients or having bouts of constipation. However, there are some foods or food ingredients you do in fact want to avoid feeding your child with autism due to the adverse effects.
In a nutshell, some foods/food ingredients to avoid with autism are:
- Artificial ingredients
Foods to avoid for children with autism
Dairy is a major food you avoid feeding your child with autism. Dairy can cause inflammatory problems which cause brain fog and the inability to concentrate. It can also impair immune functioning within the body. Oftentimes when a child with autism removes dairy from their diet, they are more apt to reduce bowel problems, reduce hyperactivity, and increase talking and oral responses.
Another food to not feed your child with autism is corn. It is another food that promotes inflammation. This is due to the fact that corn is high in omega-6 fatty acids rather than good omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, corn is considered a grain, not a vegetable, therefore the nutritional value is low.
Finally, a food to avoid with autism is sugar. Although sugar can be within many foods as an ingredient it can also be its own food group. High amounts of sugar in a diet are not good for anyone but especially children with autism. It is common for children with autism to show signs of hyperactivity so limiting sugar can help to balance this out. Also, limiting sugar can help to improve concentration and decrease impulsiveness.
Food Ingredients children with autism should avoid
Monosodium Glutamate (MSGs) is a food ingredient you should avoid as it is very similar to sugar. Consuming large quantities of MSG can cause overstimulation in the brain and lead to hyperactivity. Many overly processed foods will contain MSGs as it is a flavor enhancer to get you to eat more of that food.
Artificial ingredients are another food ingredient to avoid feeding your child with autism. Avoid foods that have artificial dyes, colors, flavors, additives, and preservatives. Once again these are good for all people to avoid but especially children with autism as it can cause issues with development. It can also cause stomach irritation as well as being linked to disrupting normal emotional processing.
Additional food you should not feed your child with autism is toxins. Not toxins such as chemicals or dyes but rather mercury or PCBs. Mercury can often be found in fish and red meats which is good in moderation but can be extremely harmful in large quantities. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are commonly found in dairy products and pesticides found on unwashed produce should also be avoided as they can have adverse effects on the brain and the immune system.
Finally, a food ingredient you should avoid feeding your child with autism is gluten. Gluten is often a cause of stomach sensitivities and upsets. It can also decrease motor and thought coordination. Gluten is also known to cause a decrease in good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. This can cause issues with stress and anxiety.
What is the best diet for a child with autism?
A healthy diet for children with autism means eating whole foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Foods naturally higher in vitamins and minerals are good for autism.
Beneficial vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Omega-3s help to fight inflammation in the body. Omega-3s can be found in a whole range of food including:
- Free-range eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Free-range chicken
It’s important to try to include these types of food around three times per week.
Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and Magnesium all help with the nervous system and improve common symptoms associated with autism. Dark, leafy green vegetables, chickpeas, salmon, peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, and cauliflower are all high in B6 and Vitamin C. Nuts, seas, and whole grains contain Magnesium. A child with autism could obtain these nutrients through supplements as well.
Vitamin D, especially Vitamin D3, when provided to a child with autism, greatly improves attention span, and eye coordination, and decreases adverse behaviors. Children with autism can also obtain Vitamin D through enriched cereals, eggs, many types of fish, and Vitamin D-enriched orange juice.
Finally, Zinc is a great vitamin to include in a diet for a child with autism. Improving Zinc levels has been shown to help children with autism to be less resistant to trying new foods. Zinc can be obtained through shellfish, beans, peas, cashews, lentils, and almonds.
In truth, between half and almost 90% of kids with autism manifest food selectivity. Consequently, they are more likely to consume less of a properly balanced group of nutrients and minerals from fresh fruits, veggies, and free-range proteins than typical children. When Leafwing Center is made aware by the guardian that there are no food sensitivities then a customized feeding meal plan can be formulated that is tailored to the child with autism to facilitate integrating the essential provisions for appropriate development and to aid with food selectivity. If you are concerned about the health and wellness of your child then you need to contact your pediatrician.
Frequently asked questions about ABA therapy
What is ABA Therapy used for?
ABA-based therapy can be used in a multitude of areas. Currently, these interventions are used primarily with individuals living with ASD; however, their applications can be used with individuals living with pervasive developmental disorders as well as other disorders. For ASD, it can be used in effectively teaching specific skills that may not be in a child’s repertoire of skills to help him/her function better in their environment whether that be at home, school, or out in the community. In conjunction with skill acquisition programs, ABA-based interventions can also be used in addressing behavioral excesses (e.g., tantrum behaviors, aggressive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors). Lastly, it can also be utilized in parent/caregiver training.
In skill acquisition programs, a child’s repertoire of skills is assessed in the beginning phase of the services in key adaptive areas such as communication/language, self-help, social skills, and motor skills as well. Once skills to be taught are identified, a goal for each skill is developed and then addressed/taught by using ABA-based techniques to teach those important skills. Ultimately, an ABA-based therapy will facilitate a degree of maintenance (i.e., the child can still perform the learned behaviors in the absence of training/intervention over time) and generalization (i.e., the learned behaviors are observed to occur in situations different from the instructional setting). These two concepts are very important in any ABA-based intervention.
In behavior management, the challenging behaviors are assessed for their function in the beginning phase of the services. In this phase, the “why does this behavior happen in the first place?” is determined. Once known, an ABA-based therapy will be developed to not just decrease the occurrence of the behavior being addressed, but also teach the child a functionally-equivalent behavior that is socially-appropriate. For example, if a child resorts to tantrum behaviors when she is told she cannot have a specific item, she may be taught to accept an alternative or find an alternative for herself. Of course, we can only do this up to a certain point—the offering of alternatives. There comes a point when a ‘no’ means ‘no’ so the tantrum behavior will be left to run its course (i.e., to continue until it ceases). This is never easy and will take some time for parents/caregivers to get used to, but research has shown that over time and consistent application of an ABA-based behavior management program, the challenging behavior will get better.
In parent training, individuals that provide care for a child may receive customized “curriculum” that best fit their situation. A typical area covered in parent training is teaching responsible adults pertinent ABA-based concepts to help adults understand the rationale behind interventions that are being used in their child’s ABA-based services. Another area covered in parent training is teaching adults specific skill acquisition programs and/or behavior management programs that they will implement during family time. Other areas covered in parent training may be data collection, how to facilitate maintenance, how to facilitate generalization of learned skills to name a few.
There is no “one format” that will fit all children and their families’ needs. The ABA professionals you’re currently working with, with your participation, will develop an ABA-based treatment package that will best fit your child’s and your family’s needs. For more information regarding this topic, we encourage you to speak with your BCBA or reach out to us at [email protected].
Who Can Benefit From ABA Therapy?
There is a common misconception that the principles of ABA are specific to Autism. This is not the case. The principles and methods of ABA are scientifically backed and can be applied to any individual. With that said, the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association consider ABA to be an evidence based practice. Forty years of extensive literature have documented ABA therapy as an effective and successful practice to reduce problem behavior and increase skills for individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Children, teenagers, and adults with ASD can benefit from ABA therapy. Especially when started early, ABA therapy can benefit individuals by targeting challenging behaviors, attention skills, play skills, communication, motor, social, and other skills. Individuals with other developmental challenges such as ADHD or intellectual disability can benefit from ABA therapy as well. While early intervention has been demonstrated to lead to more significant treatment outcomes, there is no specific age at which ABA therapy ceases to be helpful.
Additionally, parents and caregivers of individuals living with ASD can also benefit from the principles of ABA. Depending on the needs of your loved one, the use of specified ABA techniques in addition to 1:1 services, may help produce more desirable treatment outcomes. The term “caregiver training” is common in ABA services and refers to the individualized instruction that a BCBA or ABA Supervisor provides to parents and caregivers. This typically involves a combination of individualized ABA techniques and methods parents and caregivers can use outside of 1:1 sessions to facilitate ongoing progress in specified areas.
ABA therapy can help people living with ASD, intellectual disability, and other developmental challenges achieve their goals and live higher quality lives.
What does ABA Therapy look like?
Agencies that provide ABA-based services in the home-setting are more likely to implement ABA services similarly than doing the same exact protocols or procedures. Regardless, an ABA agency under the guidance of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst follows the same research-based theories to guide treatment that all other acceptable ABA agencies use.
ABA-based services start with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). In a nutshell, a FBA assesses why the behaviors may be happening in the first place. From there, the FBA will also determine the best way to address the difficulties using tactics that have been proven effective over time with a focus on behavioral replacement versus simple elimination of a problem behavior. The FBA will also have recommendations for other relevant skills/behaviors to be taught and parent skills that can be taught in a parent training format to name a few. From there, the intensity of the ABA-based services is determined, again, based on the clinical needs of your child. The completed FBA is then submitted to the funding source for approval.
One-on-one sessions between a behavior technician and your child will start once services are approved. The duration per session and the frequency of these sessions per week/month will all depend on how many hours your child’s ABA services have been approved for—usually, this will be the number recommended in the FBA. The sessions are used to teach identified skills/behaviors via effective teaching procedures. Another aspect of ABA-based services in the home-setting is parent training. Parent training can take many forms depending on what goals have been established during the FBA process. The number of hours dedicated for parent training is also variable and solely depends on the clinical need for it. If a 1:1 session is between a behavior technician and your child, a parent training session or appointment is between you and the case supervisor and with and without your child present, depending on the parent goal(s) identified. Parent training service’s goal is for you to be able to have ample skills/knowledge in order for you to become more effective in addressing behavioral difficulties as they occur outside of scheduled ABA sessions. Depending on the goals established, you may be required to participate in your child’s 1:1 sessions. These participations are a good way for you to practice what you have learned from the case supervisor while at the same time, having the behavior technician available to you to give you feedback as you practice on those new skills.
As mentioned in the beginning, no two ABA agencies will do the same exact thing when it comes to providing ABA services; however, good agencies will always base their practice on the same empirically-proven procedures.
How do I start ABA Therapy?
In most cases, the first item required to start ABA therapy is the individual’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis report. This is typically conducted by a doctor such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a developmental pediatrician. Most ABA therapy agencies and insurance companies will ask for a copy of this diagnosis report during the intake process as it is required to request an ABA assessment authorization from the individual’s medical insurance provider.
The second item required to start ABA therapy is a funding source. In the United States, and in cases where Medi-Cal or Medicare insurances are involved, there is a legal requirement for ABA services to be covered when there is a medical necessity (ASD diagnosis). Medi-Cal and Medicare cover all medically necessary behavioral health treatment services for beneficiaries. This typically includes children diagnosed with ASD. Since Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence based and effective treatment for individuals with ASD, it is considered a covered treatment when medically necessary. In many cases, private insurance will also cover ABA services when medically necessary, however in these cases, it is best to speak directly with your medical insurance provider to determine the specifics of the coverage and to ensure that ABA is in fact, a covered benefit. Additionally, some families opt to pay for ABA services out-of-pocket.
The next step to starting ABA therapy is to contact an ABA provider whom you are interested in working with. Depending on your geographic location, ABA agencies exist in many cities across the United States. Your insurance carrier, local support groups, and even a thorough online search can help you find reputable and properly credentialed ABA agencies near you. Our organization, LeafWing Center, is based in southern California and is recognized for aiding people with ASD achieve their goals with the research based on applied behavior analysis.
Once you have identified the ABA provider with whom you wish to work, they should help you facilitate the next steps. These will include facilitating paperwork and authorizations with your funding source. Once the assessment process begins, a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) or qualified Program Supervisor should get in contact with you to arrange times in which interviews with parents/caregivers and observations of your loved one can be conducted. This will help in the process of gathering important clinical information so that with your collaboration, the most effective treatment plans and goals can be established for your loved one. This process is referred to as the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and is elaborated on in different blog posts on our website. With regard as to what can be expected once ABA therapy begins, please read our blog post titled: When You Start an ABA program, What Should You Reasonably Expect from Your Service Provider?