Doctors agree that Coeliac sufferers need to follow a gluten free diet. Autism too, it seems, can be helped by avoiding gluten, along with casein.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Casein is the protein found in milk.
Both products are thought to produce toxic effects in the brains of children with autism. It may also be that these children have gastroenterological problems which the diet can alleviate, making them more comfortable and therefore calmer.
So far the link between gluten and autism hasn't been confirmed by doctors but a growing number of parents are finding it helpful. One supporter is the hollywood actress Jenny McCarthy, whose son Evan was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.After seeing firsthand the results of the diet she has written a book, Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism,on the subject.
Shopping for a gluten free casein free diet can be difficult so you may want to have the useful Gluten/Casein/Soy Free Grocery Shopping Guide by Cecelia's Marketplace handy.
Another book that may help if a family member is following a gluten free casein free diet is the Paleo cookbook. This is a downloadable ebook with over 200 recipes that are gluten free, dairy free and preservative free.
The promise of improvement to their children's lives has convinced many parents to try the diet. However it is not without its challenges. Often the child will form an addiction to the very food that is causing him problems and this can prove difficult to withdraw those items from his diet.
Reassuringly, trying the diet will not cause any harm to the child, and may give spectacular results.
Claims that it lessens impulsive behaviour, helps speech problems and improves lack of focus have been made by many.
So what does a gluten free casein free diet entail? And how should you start?
There are two schools of thought here. One says change over all at once, whilst the other prefers to do it gradually. If you are willing to give it a go, be aware that it can be expensive and won't guarantee results. You may like to start by cutting out gluten first.
Gluten is found in all baked products, many sauces, coatings, and processed foods. However, alternative gluten free flours and grains can be used in place of wheat.
All the recipes on this site are gluten free, and some are casein free too.
Casein is found in all milk products, such as cheese, cream, butter, yoghurt, milk chocolate and ice cream. Read ingredient labels and watch out for whey and caseinate also.
If your child attends a special school or daycare centre make sure that any other people who care for him are aware of the diet change.Having your child wear an Health ID Wristband may make teachers and other adults more aware of his dietary needs.
They will need to know that he can't play with normal playdough or eat the same snacks as other children.
You may face some resistance if you put your child on a gluten free casein free diet as there is yet to be scientific proof that it helps and there are unlikely to be immediate changes in the child's behaviour. In fact it can take up to three months for results to show after starting a gluten free diet. Autism cannot be cured, but it may be worth trying the diet to see if it helps your child.