Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Allergy Unit

Student research

Dietary Modification in the Management of Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
A non-randomised Intervention Study.

Elizabeth Parker
Master of Science (Nutrition and Dietetics), University of Wollongong
Supervisors: Velencia Soutter, Robert Loblay, Anne Swain
October 2005

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In the absence of a known cause or cure for autism, attention has been focused on strategies to treat the associated symptoms.  Dietary modification has emerged as a possible ‘alternative treatment’ for autism and related spectrum disorders.  It has been suspected that autistic children may experience increased food sensitivity to a wide range of foods, and dietary exclusion of suspect foods may result in behavioural improvements and decreased gastrointestinal symptoms.  The gluten- and casein-free diet is one such diet that has gained strong parental interest and support, despite the lack of strong large-scale evidence to support its effectiveness at improving behaviour.  The primary aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of dietary modification at reducing behavioural and health problems associated with autism.  This follow-up study was conducted by questionnaire, with parent rated scores of specified autistic traits and symptoms compared with results obtained prior to dietary modification.  Mean scores of parametric data obtained were compared using the Paired t-test and Independent t-test, and non-parametric data was compared using the Wilcoxon Sign-Ranked Test and Mann-Whitney U test.  Significant improvements (p<0.05) were observed in maladaptive behaviours, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal symptoms in the Diet Group, particularly those undertaking the gluten and casein free diet combined with low chemical.  No significant changes were found in the Control Group.  Overall, increased food sensitivity appears to affect a sub-population of autistic children, and dietary modification may help aid in the management of ASD, resulting in improvements in behaviour and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Funding Source: The RPAH Allergy Unit