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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Tips for Parenting a Child With Autism

6. Assess Your Child's Need for Medication continued...

However, these medicines can have side effects, including sleepiness, tremors, and weight gain. Their use is usually considered only after behavior management has failed to address the problem behaviors.

Other medicines that are sometimes used for behavioral problems in autism include:

  • Catapres and Tenex. These medicines are typically used to lower blood pressure, but are also used to treat impulsive and aggressive behaviors in children with autism. Kapvay and Intuniv, respectively, are longer acting forms of these older agents, that have been FDA approved for use in hyperactive and impulsive individuals.
  • Lithium and anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine and valproic acid. Children who are occasionally aggressive may become more stable when using these medicines, although monitoring the level of the drug in the body through regularly scheduled blood tests is required.

The effectiveness of these medicines varies. Side effects are possible and should be discussed with your health professional. Some health professionals may advise going off a medicine temporarily in order to identify whether it is having a positive or negative effect on the child with autism.

7. Learn More About Diet Changes

Diet changes are based on the idea that food allergies cause symptoms of autism, and an insufficiency of a specific vitamin or mineral may cause some autistic symptoms. If you decide to try a special diet for a given period of time, be sure you talk to your pediatrician and a registered dietitian. The child's nutritional status must be assessed and carefully measured. 

One diet that some parents have found helpful is a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. Gluten is a casein-like substance found in wheat, oats, rye, and barley. Casein is the principal protein in dairy products such as milk. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of this diet in individuals with autism, so it's important to ask for guidance from your child's doctor or nutritionist to ensure your child is getting adequate nutritional value from his or her diet.

The theory of the GFCF diet is that in autistic children these proteins result in an overproduction of opiates in the brain, contributing to social awkwardness and thwarting brain maturation. Since gluten and milk are found in many of the foods we eat, following a gluten-free, casein-free diet is extremely difficult.

Parents of a child with autism who also has food allergies or intolerance may be more likely to attempt the restrictive GFCF diet. However, food sensitivities are not proven to be more common in children with autism than in normally developing children. Still, some parents claim benefit from restrictive diets.

One supplement some parents feel is helpful for a child with autism is vitamin B-6, which is taken with a magnesium supplement. The results of research studies are mixed on vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplementation. While some children respond positively, others respond negatively or not at all. You need to be careful with "mega vitamins." It's possible to overdose on magnesium when taking supplements, and that can cause other neurological problems.

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