Autism, Food, etc

James Purser wrote “Stop Using Autism to Push Your Own Brand of Lunacy” about the organisations that use Autism for their own political agenda [1]. He references the ongoing vaccine issue (which didn’t even stop when Andrew Wakefield was proven to have engaged in fraudulent research) and a campaign of PETA.

PETA’s Claims

PETA claims that “many autistic kids improve dramatically when put on a diet free of dairy foods” [2]. They also speculate about the possibility of Autism being caused by dairy.

One thing that confuses the issue is the impact of stress on people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Whatever you are trying to do you will probably do it less effectively if under an excessive amount of stress, and the background stress levels of people on the Autism Spectrum tend to be quite high at the best of times. So add in some extra stress from a food allergy and the ability to emulate an NT can decrease a lot.

There are people who make credible claims about significant behavior improvements in Autistic children after changing their diet. Eliminate foods that trigger a minor allergic response and the behavior of NT kids will improve too.

I’m sure that there are some Autistic kids who have a minor intolerance to lactose or casein who’s behavior would improve if they had no dairy products. There are probably just as many Autistic kids who have a minor allergy to peanuts who would get the same benefit from avoiding peanut butter. It’s not inconceivable that some Autistic people may be allergic to soy or wheat and find that they can cope better if their consume more milk, cheese, and steak and less vegetables!

Also some people on the Autism Spectrum have a better sense of smell than NTs, and it’s fairly common to be more “fussy” about the appearance of food. Force children to eat food that smells bad and their behavior might deteriorate.

The issues of diet and Autism are more difficult than those of vaccines because while people just imagine the vaccines to have a bad affect, there are people who are proven to get a bad affect from certain foods.

Some Ideas for Research

I think that the biggest problem with PETA’s research in this regard is citing a study of only 20 individuals and only testing the removal of milk. A proper study would involve more subjects (maybe 100) and separate tests of removing milk, eggs, wheat, rice, seeds, nuts, soy, fish, spices, and food colorings and additives.

It would also test various methods of reducing stress, having a more quiet environment etc.

PETA do deserve some credit for leaving this URL in the comments [3], it’s a study that disproves the link between milk and Autism. But it’s still a small sample size of 14.

Why They Target Autism

In spite of psychologists moving to define Asperger Syndrome and Autism as the same thing, the people who make such claims aren’t talking about people like me. They want to make claims about people who can’t refute them, such as people who fit the Rain Man stereotype. The Low Functioning Autistic (LFA) people have less ability to communicate and are easier to ignore, so if you want to make some stuff up about a group of people then they are an easy target.

Parents of LFA kids are often desperate and will latch on to any idea that seems to help. They can imagine that things have improved in spite of a lack of evidence and also fail to realise that children can improve rapidly just due to their natural development, 1 month is not much time for an adult but for a 4yo it’s 2% of their life!

Also any supposed research that includes testimony of parents should be regarded as rubbish. If you talk to any child psychologist they will tell you about how difficult it is to convince parents that their child is on the Autism Spectrum, a Google search for “autism” + “denial” also brings up plenty of hits. Parental denial doesn’t stop at refusing to accept a diagnosis, it includes wanting to reject it at any later time based on any shred of evidence that may be available. So when there is a diet change or some other supposed cause followed by some apparently better behavior they want to claim that Autism is cured.

I’ve written a document titled “Some Suggestions for Parents of Aspies” [4] which is largely based on the childhood memories and adult experiences of various Aspies. My document covers many issues and few kids on the Spectrum will benefit from all of them, but I think that there is something there that can benefit every child on the Spectrum – and probably a lot of geeky NT kids too. It seems to me that when dealing with Autistic kids it’s a lot better to seek advice from adults on the Autism Spectrum than from random Neuro-Typical people (NTs), particularly if those NTs happen to have an agenda to push. The sensible parents are the ones who seek advice from psychologists and people like me rather than from random unqualified NTs.

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