Gastrointestinal Problems in Autism and the Power of Diet

As autism mothers know, many children with ASDs have gastrointestinal (GI) problems.  This is important because these children are ill and they need help!  

Additionally, this is not only true for children with autism, but true for children with ADHD and other developmental delays.  
In a recent study by Schieve et al. published in Research in Developmental Disabilities “Children with autism were twice as likely as children with ADHD, learning disability or other developmental delay to have had frequent diarrhea or colitis during the past year. They were seven times more likely to have experienced these gastrointestinal problems than were children without any developmental disability.”

In addition to gastrointestinal problems, this study also showed increases in rates of asthma, food allergies, eczema, and ear infections in children with autism and other developmental delays.  

This recent research highlights the importance of biomedical intervention, because it shows that children with developmental delays are sick and need help.  When we see that autism is a “whole body disorder” and that what affects the body affects the brain and behavior, we see how treating the whole child can bring about relief of not only their “medical” issues but their autism too.  Indeed, as this study suggests, autism IS a medical issue.


Why change diet?  Because ASD children routinely present with multiple sensitivities or allergies related to foods (and food ingredients) in the traditional American diet.  The symptoms they suffer from can often be improved by diet.

We know that if you have a food allergy, you should avoid that food – that alone will improve your health.  Additionally, changing your child’s diet by removing the inflammatory foods will often reduce asthma, eczema, and other inflammatory conditions—I’ve seen this in my nutrition practice consistently.  Gluten, casein, soy, corn, eggs or other common allergies, create inflammation, and this inflammation can cause many types of inflammatory reactions such as eczema.

Furthermore, in order to absorb nutrients, food must be properly digested in the gastrointestinal tract. Offending foods trigger the gut’s immune system, affecting a reaction that creates inflammation, pain and digestive symptoms. This perpetuates discomfort, decreases nutrient absorption, and reduces nutritional status—leading to further health issues.

When gastrointestinal disorders and inflammation (i.e. immune system function) are present, addressing diet is most helpful to the comfort and health of the child, and well as their related autism/ADHD symptoms.

If your child with autism has gastrointestinal problems or other medical issues that have gone unaddressed, I suggest you find a physician that will listen to your concerns and treat your child medically.  Additionally, find a physician that is “pro-diet,” so as you make changes to your child’s diet they can guide you or at least point you to a qualified nutrition practitioner that can help you to see what benefit diet and nutrition can offer your child.

Diet offers simple but profound support for many children with autism.  

See my new series “Getting your Hopes Up: Stories of Healing Thru Diet and Nutrition” for information and inspiration on the power of diet for children.

About the Author:
Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Autism Diet Specialist, and author of Nourishing Hope for Autism and Cooking to Heal.  These resources have provided thousands of families with a guide for supporting their children through diet and nutrition.  Visit:, which provides articles, videos, other free resources for parents and professionals dealing with autism and other developmental delays.  Connect with Julie on Facebook and Twitter.
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