Autism and digestive problems – Food for thought

The problems is6Over the past few weeks we have explored some of many sensory and other symptoms commonly found in people on the autism spectrum but now let’s turn our attention to the physical problems that also affect many of them, regardless of age.

Ongoing (and sometimes disputed) research indicates that many children with ASD suffer from one or more of a range of dietary/digestive/gastrointestinal problems which can affect not only the brain but also mood and behavior. Even so it is important to note that if the underlying problems can be identified and treated correctly ASD-related behaviors often improve too.

So let me begin by asking whether your child ever gets agitated prior to or shortly after meals? Or sometimes gets so hot and sweaty that he suddenly throws all his clothes off? Does he crave sweet or junk food – only to roar around the house after he has stuffed himself full?

If so he may be suffering from ‘Reactive’ hypoglycemia – a drop in blood sugar levels (not associated with diabetes), a condition that can often go unnoticed in people with ASD. This can affect children who are hungry (as they often are after returning from school), or those who have had an intake of sugar, junk food or stimulants such as caffeine.

That drop in blood sugar can give rise to a whole variety of symptoms which includes weakness, shakiness, hot and cold sweats, a loss of concentration, anxiety, irritability and confusion as well as migraines/headaches; blurred vision, vertigo and, in severe cases, fainting – or even seizures.

Often the first sign is that hot sweat – something that can lead to a bizarre hazard. Author Teresa McLean describes this clearly in her book Metal Jam when she tells us about a time when she was working as a teacher, and having a sudden hypo attack (caused in her case by diabetes) she began undressing in front of her class. Understandable but oh so embarrassing.

That drop in blood sugar also produces an excessive amount of adrenalin: and that adrenalin rush gives rise to its own problems for, being part of the fight/flight mechanism, it gives a sudden burst of energy and increased strength, heightens the senses and even reduces the feeling of pain. Perhaps low blood sugar and high adrenalin explain the boy who, as soon as he got home from school, ran away, undressing as he went.

Top tips

• Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day, no more than three hours apart so:

– Give him a snack when he gets home from school.

– Provide snacks that he can have at school – and let the school know the reason why.

• Eat a well-balanced diet, using foods that have a low glycemic index (GI) – lean and nonmeat sources of protein, and high-fiber foods, including whole grains, fruit and vegetables.

• Avoid foods such as white bread, processed breakfast cereals, cakes and biscuits.

• Avoid/limit sugary foods, especially on an empty stomach.

• Useful resources:



Hypoglycemia is only one of many possible problems so over the next few weeks we’ll look at some of the other common problems some of which are interrelated. That includes:

• Food intolerances – especially to casein (milk) and/or gluten (wheat) – and other foods like chocolate or oranges. Unlike food allergies the effects of such intolerances tend to be behavioral – so that the person may become hyperactive or disruptive – often within a few hours of eating.

• Leaky gut – where the wall of the gut is damaged and lets food particles through. This can cause abdominal pain, heartburn, insomnia, bloating, anxiety, gluten intolerance, malnutrition, muscle cramps and pains, and food allergies.

• Candida (thrush), a fungal infection which can contribute to a leaky gut.

• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – the symptoms of this can be quite variable and can include intermittent abdominal pain, bloating, wind or bouts of diarrhea and/or constipation. Other symptoms may include fatigue, nausea, headache, poor appetite, backache, muscle pains or heartburn after eating.


If you know of any good GI recipes please share them here or on

Reference: Metal Jam: The Story of a Diabetic – Teresa McLean

Got tips of your own?  Please share them.

 Autism and the sixth sense   Steady on!


  1. Eileen Mellor August 20, 2015
    • Stella Waterhouse August 21, 2015