A popular treatment for children with autism is the “autism diet” or the gluten free, casein free diet (GFCF diet) because some parents, doctors and researchers say that children have shown mild to dramatic improvements in speech and/or behavior after these substances were removed from the diet. The effectiveness of the diet has become hotly debated – while many researchers claim that there is no scientifically validating data that indicates the “autism diet” benefits large numbers of individuals with autism, antidotal reports from families indicate that some behavioral issues are reduced with this diet, making it difficult for many parents to determine fact from fiction.
Gluten and gluten-like proteins are found in wheat and other grains, including oats, rye, barley, bulgar, durum, kamut and spelt, and foods made from those grains. Casein is a protein found in milk and foods containing milk, whey and even some brands of margarine. It also may be added to non-milk products such as soy cheese and hot dogs in the form of caseinate.
Early studies suggested that the Gluten- and Casein-Free diet may produce favorable outcomes but did not have strong scientific designs. Better controlled research published since 2006 suggests there may be no educational or behavioral benefits for these diets. Further, potential medically harmful effects have begun to be reported in the literature. (National Standards Project, 2010)
The National Autism Center’s National Standards Project was designed to identify the level of research support currently available for educational and behavioral interventions used with people under the age of 22 with autism. These interventions address the core characteristics of this neurological disorder. Knowing levels of research support is an important component in selecting treatments that are appropriate for individuals on the autism spectrum.
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