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Should parents try diets that eliminate certain foods to see whether their kids improve?

Although a recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics suggests no need for dietary intervention, every parent needs to take a hard look at their child's diet. And if eliminating a few substances can put an end to the chronic diarrhea or make kids more communicative, most parents are willing to give it a try.

The first step for parents to try is an elimination diet for about a month to see if the omission of casein and gluten or other highly allergic foods, such as eggs, fish, seafood, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and eggs, can improve symptoms. If the child is drinking lots of milk, I suggest starting with the elimination of dairy and replacing it with calcium-fortified soy or almond milk.

Elimination is a better barometer than testing for these allergic foods, since allergy testing may not be as effective.

After the elimination period, slowly introduce one new food at a time every few days. Keep a symptom diary throughout the elimination and reintroduction periods to determine which foods are tolerated.

These dietary changes may not be easy to implement, but they are non-invasive, no-harm approaches that are worth trying to see if your child improves.

Are there other diet strategies that may work?

Autistic kids who also have a seizure disorder may find relief from a high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. This diet often leads to poor growth, poor weight gain, and increased cholesterol levels, so it is imperative to use this approach under the supervision of a registered dietitian and physician.

Some children are successful when they follow a yeast- and sugar-free diet.

Most parents would benefit from tips and mealtime strategies to encourage their children to accept new foods. Parents need to serve as role models by eating the new foods that are introduced along with familiar foods.

Do you recommend vitamins or mineral supplements?

Absolutely. Most kids with ASDs (or, for that matter, most kids) are picky eaters, go on food jags, and don't eat a well-balanced diet. Parents need to make sure their children are meeting their nutritional needs and a once-daily multivitamin with minerals is great insurance. Stay within accepted guidelines for all nutrients and make sure they are getting an adequate amount of all vitamins and minerals.

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