Gluten and Dairy Free Lifestyle (with a side of Autism)

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This is our family’s experience following a gluten and dairy free diet and how it imapacts our daughter’s autism.

flat lay photography of vegetable salad on plate
Photo by Ella Olsson on

I want to go on record saying that for us, this is a lifestyle choice — our kiddo does not have a Celiac or other diagnosed allergy condition.  She won’t need the aid of an Epi-pen should she consume gluten and dairy.  She will, however,  be doubled over with stomach pain, and we do notice behavior changes (not the good kind) when she eats foods with gluten or dairy.


Reading about the gluten free and dairy free diet, it seemed that many special needs parents who have kids on the Autism Spectrum, those with allergies, ADHD — all saw improvements when removing dairy and gluten.  Here’s a blog post that talks about the benefits, and the gut-brain connection.  Conversely, many professionals tell a more cautionary tale, recommending nutritionist consultation.  They are quick to note that the research doesn’t support that this diet has any proven benefit.

Why we tried it

Continued complaints of “My tummy hurts,” coupled with a sleep disorder were the main reasons we gave the gluten and dairy free diet a try. Unfortunately, we could not get those in the medical community to help us understand the stomach pain, because of our daughter’s autism. It seemed that her autism diagnosis always trumped anything else that could possibly be wrong. As those those with autism couldn’t possibly ail from anything else. As a mom I was frustrated at that absurdity. With that, I understood that trying this diet could help her, but most important, would not do any harm.


“Allergies.”  That’s how we explained it to our then 4 year old, it seemed the simplest way at the time.  For all the struggles we have, getting her to eat on this diet has been relatively easy, and has been from the start.

We experienced gains

Going gluten and dairy free continued the gains that we’d seen with removing additives:  speech, behavior, and a small impact on sleep.  No longer did we hear “My tummy hurts”  daily. That was proof enough for us that our daughter had a food sensitivity. Our Developmental Pediatrician, however did not agree, and told us our child would get scurvy if we continued. I found that as absurd at the time, as I do re-reading it today. And, as a side note, we’ve been on this diet for 9 years – no scurvy.

Biggest challenge: social gatherings

So many things in our life seem to be centered around food. We began this diet when our kiddo was 4, and there were not as many pre-made options as there are today.  I made A LOT from scratch and still do.  A well-stocked freezer is a must – cupcakes or brownies to take with us to parties and special occasions.

One of my favorite homemade recipes is coconut milk ice cream – the full fat kind.  YUM. 

It does take some planning.  I’ve spent many an evening or weekend day cooking, freezing, prepping – but now it’s second nature.  We’ve always worked hard to make sure that Nats could have comparable substitutes – particularly at school.

Quick & Easy Gluten and Dairy free chocolate cupcakes!
What I love about this recipe is that it makes 6 – it’s super quick and be done on any weeknight.   (Particularly the ones where I remember (at 10 pm) that there’s a birthday party at school tomorrow, and there are no more options in the usually well-stocked freezer.)

Want more of TIL’s gluten and dairy free recipes? Click HERE!

Related articles
Starting a Gluten Free Diet
Feingold Diet Review
4 Diets that Support Autism

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