The first thing most parents of children on the spectrum say when I recommend removing gluten from the diet is that they can’t as that is all their child will eat. That is usually confirmation enough for me that gluten needs to go! Remember in Part 2 when I said the gluten forms opioid like compounds in the brain of children with autism. What do we know about opioids? They’re addictive. So your child could literally be addicted to gluten!
The first thing you need to do is get educated. In part one of this series, I explain all the foods where gluten can be found. Make sure you are familiar with what is in and what is out.
Next, start to play around with some gluten-free foods. Remember at this stage, we’re not trying to remove all grains, just gluten. That means things like rice are still allowed, which opens a world of rice-based foods like noodles or rice cakes. These are not fabulous foods, as they are purely refined carbohydrates, but this is a journey, and we are only on the first step – removing the gluten.
Now that you have figured out what gluten-free foods your child will eat, create a meal plan. Make sure you are never caught short having to give your child a gluten containing food. Every time there is a slip up, you go back to the start of your trial, which can be really demoralising and difficult for you and your child.
Then hit the shops! You may find you need to change how you shop and where you shop to get the specific foods you need. Being gluten-free has become more manageable in the last 10 years, but it might still be worthwhile looking online or in health-food shops to find what you need.
Next comes the implementation step. You can do it gradually, substituting one meal or snack at a time with a gluten-free alternative, or you can do it all at once. Just remember that you might see withdrawal symptoms if you do it all at once.
Keep a diary. Remember to write down in detail what your child eats and what their symptoms are. Start this a week in advance so you can make a comparison of before and afterwards. The symptoms you keep track of will be specific to your child. They could be related to behaviour, stimming, digestive issues or rashes. Or it could be a combination of all of these!