Hi and welcome to Ask Missy Mondays where I respond to email questions from readers who have questions about behavior. Today’s question comes from Anne, a mother of a newly diagnosed child with autism and gluten intolerance. Anne asks,
“My 4-year-old daughter with autism loves pretzels, bread, and crackers and we recently found out that she is does not tolerate gluten. However, I am having a difficult time getting her to eat the gluten-free version of the foods she loves. Is it OK to keep her gluten-free most of the time as long as she doesn’t cheat too often?”
Hi Anne, your question is a complicated one because I am a trained behavior analyst, not a nutritionist, dietician, or physician. However, because I have gluten intolerance, I am intimately familiar with celiac and gluten intolerance, I can share some personal experiences with you.
Individuals with gluten allergies and gluten intolerance respond differently when exposed to gluten. One of my favorite websites for sharing information with others who share gluten issues is celiac dot-com. You won’t have to look too far on the list serve to realize that, upon exposure, one person may have to be hospitalized while another will merely have stomach cramps. Still others report changes in their mental status such as inability to concentrate, inability to sleep, depression, and mania.
These variations make it difficult for physicians to immediately recognize when an individual is affected by gluten. One person may present with diarrhea, another with constipation, and another with both. Side effects from long-term gluten exposure include weight gain, weight loss, iron deficiency, and osteoporosis. For some people, side effects can include eczema and even lymphoma.
So, back to your question, “should you allow your child to cheat occasionally?” My recommendation is no. If your child truly has an allergy or intolerance, she should avoid gluten-containing products at all times. Will cheating with gluten make your child have more challenging behaviors or more symptoms of autism? That I cannot answer as research is not available at this time. I can, however, share stories from parents who report significant changes in their child’s behavior following a dietary infraction.
Good luck moving your daughter to a gluten-free lifestyle. There are many resources available to help you. I will list a few to get you started.
- celiac dot-com
- Talk About Curing Autism website
- Help Going Gluten Free
- The Gluten-Free Goddess (she also has GREAT recipes)
- Web MD (this has a slide show)
- Gluten Free Help
If you have a behavior challenge that you need assistance on, email askmissy at applied behavioral strategies dot-com.