Can diet help autistic kids?

April 17, 2009 11:02:39 AM PDT
For years, families with autistic children have tried all kinds of non-medical therapies hoping for help. One is a gluten-free diet.

Doctors have been reluctant to suggest a diet for autism, but some Houston researchers have decided to test this diet and see if it truly does help.

Gordon Boggan, 6, has autism and is on a gluten and casein free diet. Gluten is a protein in wheat and casein is a protein in milk. His peanut butter sandwiches are made with gluten free waffles.

"If I drink cow's milk it makes me feel like my tummy hurts," he told us.

"Before he started the diet he didn't have a large vocabulary at all, he had a lot of fits and meltdowns," said his mother Tiffany Boggan.

After the new diet, his parents say the meltdowns decreased and eye contact has improved.

"Some people think how could a diet do anything about autism since autism is mostly involving the brain," said Katherine Loveland, PhD, UT Autism & Diet Co-Investigator.

UT researchers want to find out if the diet really does work. In a new study, they're giving gluten and casein to autistic children and analyzing their behavior changes.

"There is some scientific basis to think there could be a linkage between what happens in the gut and what happens in the brain as it develops," Dr. Loveland said.

Gordon was in the UT Autism & Diet Study.

"His behavior changed dramatically," said Gordon's father Brandon Boggan. "He started throwing more fits, more arguments, more anxiety in everything he was doing."

After the study Gordon was back on his diet.

"We've had such success with it," Tiffany said. "Life is easier when his symptoms are better and we don't want to stop."

It's a complicated diet because so many foods have these proteins. But they want other families to know its helped Gordon.

"If I eat certain kinds of foods the kids will know what kind of foods they can have," Gordon said.

The study is still open to families with autistic children who are considering this diet. For information on the UT Autism & Diet Study, call 713-500-5669.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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