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When a Child With Autism Refuses Most Foods

Case report suggests vitamin deficiencies, serious health problems can follow

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It was then that the physicians asked about the boy's diet. His mother told them that he would only eat chicken nuggets, crackers, cookies and water. He refused milk, juice, vegetables and fruits, and would not take any form of vitamin.

To treat him, the physicians put him on "an intravenous concoction of vitamins to replete his total body deficiency," explained Duvall. His heart and lung problems were soon resolved, as was his limp, which had been caused by bone disease associated with his poor diet.

Once home, his mother finally found a way to get him to accept taking a vitamin, Duvall said. She crushed the pill and mixed it into a "peanut butter fluff" sandwich, which involves putting marshmallow cream and peanut butter on bread. That combination successfully disguised the taste of the vitamin. He also started getting regular vitamin injections from his pediatrician.

Duvall emphasized that the risk of severe health problems from nutritional deficiencies goes beyond children with autism or behavioral problems. Those also at risk include people with anorexia and other restrictive eating disorders; the elderly; those with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia; alcoholics; immigrants and refugees; and patients with chronic diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.

The researchers noted that while they did not prove definitively that the nutritional deficiency caused the boy's problems, his health issues were resolved soon after he was given vitamins.

Physicians, especially pediatricians, often overlook the topic of nutrition, Duvall said.

"Pediatricians are supposed to talk about immunization, diet and weight maintenance, blood pressure, bullying, parent violence, all in a 10-minute visit," she said. "They have to pick and choose what they talk about."

Duvall said physicians should routinely screen for vitamin and mineral deficiency with a simple blood test.

The bottom line for young and old on less-than-ideal diets? Take a multivitamin, Duvall said.

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