Do Diet Changes Help Autism?

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Our diet avoids processed foods, gluten and dairy to alleviate some of the challenges my daughter has related to Autism. Do a search for “diet” and “Autism” and surely you’ll get a myriad of conflicting information.

Autism and special diets
Photo by Ella Olsson on

Diets as Cures

I don’t believe in an Autism cure, nor seek one. Instead, we work to alleviate co-morbid conditions to help our kiddo live her very best life. Subtle, but important difference for us. Most challenging are doctors who chalk up solvable conditions to “Autism” rather than seek to treat them. In our case, constant stomach aches among them.

My kiddo started at an early intervention preschool when she was 2 and a half. When she was able to string a few words together, a few years later, she often would say “My tummy hurts.” I’ve learned that gastrointestinal issues are common in Autistics.

Medical condition or behavioral?

Professional assessments all say “Demand avoidance,” assuredly. In other words, my kid doesn’t want to do something, so she tells everyone that her stomach hurts. This was also often described as a “tantrum.”

Frustrated and fed up, we decided to seek information about food sensitivities and allergies. An elimination diet provided clarity: Remove gluten and dairy from her diet and the stomach aches stop.

The so-called tantrum was really just due to pain. Nope, not demand avoidance. (Today, however, my teen is a master at demand avoidance, particularly when it’s time to clean her room)

What the research says

Many articles say the benefit of a gluten and dairy free diet for Autism aren’t conclusive. Meanwhile, parents continue to report improvements.

There are many articles, however, which show that special diets can reduce inflammation. Given that more research links ASD and an inflammatory state together, it stands to reason that reducing inflammation may help.

Moreover, it’s said that proteins in milk are not easily digested by many, causing stomach discomfort. When parents insist that a gluten and dairy free diet improves behavior, they aren’t completely wrong. Let’s face it, feeling sick with an inability to communicate in a typical way could result in undesirable behaviors. However, by research standards, it doesn’t prove a direct cause-and-effect.

In my daughter’s case, the improved behavior is due to a reduction of stomach pain. Yep, just like any human, she’s miserable when she’s doubled over in pain.


Can diet help Autism? The jury is still out. What I will say, however, is that there is mounting evidence that inflammation and gut health are linked to Autism. To the extent that a special diet helps gut heath and reduces inflammation, it could prove helpful. Many parents insist it helps tremendously.

We’ve adopted a whole foods approach to eating, and my daughter continues to avoid gluten and dairy. More recently we’ve made extra virgin olive oil consumption a priority, per the Nemechek protocol. Surely, our dietary changes won’t change the fact that she’s awesomely Autistic. It does, however, help her feel better. In fact, we all feel better when we avoid processed foods.

Related Links
Best Gluten & Dairy Free Finds at Aldi
Family Friendly Gluten & Dairy Free Recipes
Elimination Diet – Our Experience

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  1. We have gut related issues here too, but a huge desire for foods that make his tummy hurt. Whenever he wasn’t to eat something dairy, I remind him that he will have a stomach ache and be on the toilet for the night. Sometimes, he chooses that option but other times, he chooses the non-dairy option. We’re getting there!

    • So sorry it’s taken me so long, your comment somehow ended up in the spam folder (ugh!). When my kiddo was little, it was easy because we controlled everything. As she got older, it sometimes was more challenging, and now she really understands and makes good choices. For the times she chooses to go ‘off diet’ she’ll often say “I don’t want to overdo it!” It takes time, but he’ll get there!!

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