flag image

Special Needs Awareness

Sensory Issues and Food for Children with Autism

Making sense of holistic and traditional methods

June 01, 2011
If a dime appeared for every time parents have spoken the words, "Whatever you do, don't give them sugar," the world might never know another recession.

Watchful parents know and understand how their children react after 5 to 15 minutes of eating sugary treats. But for children with autism, those reactions can seem ultra magnified with behaviors ranging from sleeplessness to aggressive mood swings.

As parents are being faced with new autism studies, they find themselves navigating on what seems to be a sea of surfacing information as they seek guidance for making holistic and traditional choices for helping their children.

Dr. Craig Erickson, chief at IU Health Riley Hospital for Children's Christian Sarkine Autism Treatment Center, stated that sensory issues are not well studied and that treatment options become a matter of parents weighing risks, costs, difficulties and benefits.

Dr. Brad Ralston, executive director at Brain Balance Achievement Centers in Indianapolis, cited a study conducted from Purdue University, Indiana, which indicates that elimination diets help 78 percent of all ADD, ADHD, Autism, Tourette Syndrome and OCD affected children.

Brain Balance: A Beacon of Light on a Sea of Uncertainty

At Brain Balance, Ralston and his staff specialize in elimination diets by removing foods with additives from meals that appear to effect behavior. While he noted that medications can help in certain cases, Ralston explained that Brain Balance takes a more holistic approach as he has found connections between Kids with behavioral pattern disorders and diets.

The goal at Brain Balance is to find long-term answers by eliminating the foods and additives from daily diets that are suspect in causing escalated behaviors like hypersensitivity, meltdowns, aggression, mood swings, irritability, broken concentration, sleeplessness, restlessness, bedwetting, fatigue and hyperactivity.

Ralston explained that the first step for parents to test this at home is to round up all of the processed suspect foods like frozen dinners, desserts and canned goods that contain sugars, sweeteners, dyes, peanuts, dairy and eggs that trigger any of these reactions.

He then said to eliminate these foods from all meals for one month, thus replacing them with home cooked organic foods that include steamed vegetables, natural fruits and unprocessed meats instead. Even sodas can be replaced with 100 percent plain fruit juices.

Finally, at the end of one month, the questionable foods that were removed can be reintroduced one at a time, for two days only. During this time any behavioral reactions like those previously mentioned or physical reactions such as headaches, rashes, hives, vomiting or swollen ankles or glands should be noted. The suspect food is then removed again for several more days to see if any delayed reactions occurs.

Brain Balance has nationally recognized full therapy centers across the U.S. that offer testing and methods of quickly identifying problem foods to eliminate them from the diet. A full staff is available to guide parents on "how" to live organic and read product labels before buying.

While it used to be that only specialty stores carried organic produce and gluten, wheat, sugar and egg free foods, larger grocery stores like Marsh & Kroger are now carrying organic foods at reasonable prices making it easily accessible.

Good Earth in Broad Ripple, a smaller specialty store, has always carried organic foods and remains a sound affordable resource for families as well as Georgetown Market.

Larger national chains like Trader Joes and Whole Foods carry many organic reasonably priced items. Local Amish farmers and markets also deliver fresh foods to homes.

Ralston has found that many children with autism have food sensitivities. He explained that they tend to crave what they are actually allergic to. Craving those foods creates an opiate effect in the brain like an opium addiction, but removing the foods from the diet reduces cravings and can lessen or eliminate reactions.

Ralston's work colleague, Robert Melillo at Brain Balance in Long Island, New York, has worked with kids for over 10 years detoxifying them of food sensitivities. Typically the process is not just for one family member, rather it involves the entire family, and making such changes transforms the entire family's lives for the better.

Ralston further noted that this is also a common sense in combating adolescent obesity. Amanda Garant, coordinator at IU Health Riley Hospital for Children POWER Program for Pediatric OverWeight Education and Research, offered that overcoming obesity has a very positive mental and physical effect on people.

Tried and True Comfort Techniques at Riley Hospital's Autism Center

Erickson began working with children at a Special Needs youth camp years ago, prior to those children's symptoms being labeled as autistic.

He then noted that many of the kids had heightened sensitivities to clothing tags, tastes, and noises. He since recognized that the entire field of sensory related autism issues remains poorly unstudied in terms of cause and treatment. From his experiences, he reasons that exposing a child to something that agitates her or him is going to cause behavioral issues and has the ability to lead to self-injury.

Erickson's staff at IU Health Riley Hospital for Children's Christian Sarkine Autism Treatment Center, offers traditional therapies that include specially weighted blankets along with joint compression and skin brushing techniques as well as occupational therapies. All therapies help to calm distraught children with special needs. While medications are usually a last resort in severe cases, they may help prevent situations where a child with autism may lash out and hurt themselves or others.

Laura Grant, Board Certified Behavior Analyst with the Applied Behavior Center for Autism (ABA), concurred that no research study yet has produced enough long-term evidence between behavior and foods. Dietary choices that people make are based more on what they see in their children's reactions to foods or how they themselves feel after eating certain foods. For example, if too much sugar makes the adult feel sick then why give it to the child too?

Princeton University Study Reveals an Unhealthy Food Additive Found in Many Processed Foods

At Princeton University, researchers in psychology professor Bart Hoebel's lab released a study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup on rats over an eight-week period. The study was read by 200,000 CNN and Washington Post viewers on March 22, 2011 on Princeton's Web site.

The sweetener is an additive found in most soft drinks, processed teas, juices and many baked and canned food products. The experimental rats consuming high-fructose corn syrup dissolved in water gained significantly more weight than the rats consuming a regular sugar-and-water solution. A prolonged study further revealed results of abdominal fat and elevated levels of triglycerides, which are both associated with obesity.

While critics offered different responses to the study, Hoebel said, "The one thing everybody agrees on is that we need more research." The neuroscientists follow-up work may cover measured effects of high-fat diets and effects of high-fructose corn syrup on the brain and behavior. This upcoming study may be the missing link to help answer questions surrounding sensory and food related topics with autism.

A Positive Approach to Combating Childhood Obesity Wins Self-Confidence for all Kids at Riley

"The bottom line in obesity rests with sugars and salts in processed foods," said Garant.

Frozen microwavable dinners and canned foods really put on the weight resulting in obesity. In Garant's line of work she educates families in making better, and healthier food choices. She encourages families to not view cooking as a chore and to not give in to processed and fast foods, but rather to make food planning and preparation of home cooked meals fun, at the store and in the kitchen.

On an individual basis, she and her staff build a positive rapport with children to help them face being overweight. Once trust is gained, the children then become excited about making changes that will help them, said Garant.

She stated that the most enjoyable aspect of her work is achieved when children lose weight and become more confident in their appearance which gains them a positive self-esteem.

list visuals View images.
Jennifer Pace is a freelance writer, print/media art director and mother of 3 whose life's works is dedicated to making a better world for her own children and all children worldwide.

Tags: In This Issue, Health, Kids, Local, Parenting, Special Needs, Toddler, Tweens & Teens

Comments ()
Childrens museum
Race for a Cure
St. Francis