What is it?
Autism is a neuropsychic disorder, characterized by particular specific behavioral and sensory characteristics. A certain diagnosis can be made after the third year of age, but once established it will be permanent for life.
The causes underlying the development of autism are still not completely clear. There is certainly a damage to the central nervous system, but this is not enough to understand the causes or the cure. In fact autism represents the cognitive disorder most difficult to manage, as it is characterized by a a great variety of symptoms.
The main symptoms include unusual mood or emotional reactions, delayed movement skills, delayed cognitive or learning skills, difficulties in interacting with the external environment, learning disorders such as dyslexia or spelling.
Although there is no cure for autism, an early diagnosis is very important, to apply behavioral analysis, occupational therapy, which help the child to be autonomous.
As with most other intellectual and developmental disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) occurs in every nation of the world. However, the data show that it affects men more than women.
Symptoms of autism spectrum disorder appear early in childhood. Although the symptoms vary from child to child, the most common are the following:
- They do not respond to their name, they retreat to an inner world and have restricted interests.
- They have difficulty developing language skills and tend to mimic facial expressions and gestures.
- They have repetitive behaviours, like hand-flapping, body rocking and improper use of toys.
The diagnosis of autism is the responsibility of various specialists such as child neuropsychiatrists, pediatricians, family doctors, educators, speech therapists and psychomotor therapists.
The specialists will ask the parents specific questions, such as if the child likes to be rocked, if he pays attention during games, if he tends to isolate himself very often.
If the specialist suspects an autistic condition, the child will undergo further psycho-aptitude tests.
The therapy must be above all educational-behavioral, in order to improve the language, behavior and intellectual abilities of the child. The goal of the behavioral treatment is to reduce autism spectrum disorder symptoms and supporting development and learning and to improve states of anxiety or hyperactivity. Although it should be said that this type of approach gives very different results from child to child, with sometimes even the absence of improvements.
In much more serious cases, a pharmacological therapy is used to reduce irritability, stereotypic behaviour and hyperactivity. The drugs used for the treatment of autism are , an antipsychotic and methylphenidate, a stimulant. These drugs are prescribed by a specialist when educational behavioral therapies fail and symptoms worsen. Over time they can lead to side effects such as akathisia and tardive dyskinesia. It is important to underline that pharmacological therapies must not be a substitute for educational-behavioral therapies, but must be complementary.
Children with autism very often tend to eat alone and isolate. children with autism have selective eating patterns, very often associated with refusal of healthy meals, choice of dishes with bright colors and refusal of foods with darker colors. Very often they are not stimulated by new flavors and always want to eat the usual dishes.
Autistic children eat few vegetables. Dark green leafy vegetables are completely absent in their diet, with a consequent deficiency of specific vitamins and minerals, that can lead to fatigue and muscle weakness.
Recent studies show that the elimination of wheat and milk derivatives from the diet can improve the symptoms of autistic children. Since casein and lactose are pro-inflammatory molecules in the intestine and immunostimulants, favoring the consumption of soy or oat milk, also wheat must be eliminated as it too represents a strong inflammatory agent of the intestine, to due to the presence of gluten (inflammatory and immunostimulating molecule), perhaps favoring gluten-free cereals such as rice, millet, buckwheat, corn, amaranth, quinoa and teff.
Scientific studies further demonstrate that autistic children often suffer from intestinal inflammation that can lead to the onset of severe intestinal dysbiosis. This condition can further aggravate the neuro-behavioral symptoms. Researches on the microbiota show that in autistic children the populations of Clostridium, Candida and Escherichia coli, microorganisms typical of chronic degenerative inflammation, increase as the symptoms worsen.
So the main goal of a diet for autistic children is to reduce intestinal inflammation, thereby improving the associated dysbiosis. Therefore, it is necessary to eliminate all pro-inflammatory molecules such as casein, lactose and gluten and to supplemment probiotics and prebiotics, for the restoration of eubiosis.