The Role of Nutrition in Autism
By Jackie Silver, MHSc, RD & member of the Everyday Heroes Kids community — www.ehkidshealth.com
Jackie Silver MHSc, RD, is the founder of Jackie Silver Nutrition, providing virtual 1:1 nutrition counseling to kids and teens across Ontario with a unique focus on autism, ADHD, and intellectual/developmental disabilities.
Check out Jackie’s website: https://jackiesilvernutrition.com/
Download her free Autism Constipation Guide: https://jackiesilvernutrition.com/autism-constipation-guide/
There are many ways nutrition can support autistic kids and teens. Common nutritional challenges in autism include digestive concerns (most commonly being constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, food allergies, abdominal pain, and IBS), picky eating from sensory processing challenges, nutrient deficiencies (such as iron, vitamin D, or calcium deficiency) from limited diets, appetite changes from medications, and not eating enough to support growth and development.
In summary, dietitians can provide support with the following areas:
● Digestive health (constipation, diarrhea, bloating, IBS, food allergies)
● Picky eating and expanding child’s diet
● Creating meal time peace
● Weight gain for children who are underweight
● Filling in nutritional gaps to ensure adequate growth and development
● Iron deficiency
Constipation Tips for Children with Autism
Did you know that autistic children are 8x more likely to have gastrointestinal (GI) issues compared to neurotypical children? It is estimated that 9% — 90% of autistic children experience digestive symptoms of some kind. Digestive concerns along with picky eating are the top issues I see with my clients.
Here are my top 3 tips for dealing with constipation in your child with autism:
1. Add in fibre to recipes your kid already enjoys. Flaxmeal, chia seeds, and oats are great sources of fibre that help soften stool.
Here’s how you can do this:
— Add 1/3 cup or more of flaxmeal into muffins, cookies, oatmeal, energy bites, or homemade granola
— Add 1/2 cup or more of oats into muffins, banana bread, or pancakes
— Use flaxmeal in homemade meatballs or hamburgers instead of breadcrumbs
— Add 1–2 tbsp chia seeds or flaxmeal to smoothies or yogurt
Slowly increase the amount of fiber you use to prevent stomach upset. Start with smaller amounts and then slowly build up to make sure your kid can tolerate it.
2. If your kiddo likes fruit, give them kiwis more often. Eating 2 kiwis per day has been shown to help soften stool and increase the frequency of bowel movements.
3. Keep your kids hydrated! Drinking fluids throughout the day helps soften stools and push them along the gastrointestinal tract, especially on a high fiber diet. Water, seltzer, milk, nondairy fortified beverage alternatives, and juice count as fluids.
I am a Registered Dietitian in Toronto that focuses on nutrition for autism. It has been a long journey to get to where I am today. I always knew I wanted to be in the healthcare profession but didn’t discover dietetics until my third year studying Kinesiology at York University.
After completing my Kinesiology degree, I went on to Ryerson to do a second undergraduate degree in Nutrition and then in June 2020 I finished my Masters of Health Science in Nutrition Communications also at Ryerson.
It was during my graduate training where I discovered my passion for supporting the autism community. I completed one of my internship rotations with Special Olympics Ontario where I ran nutrition workshops and cooking classes for athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was during this placement that I started seeing a huge gap in providing nutrition care for this community and decided to make it the focus of my private practice.
The majority of my clients in my practice are autistic kids, teens, and adults. Let me tell you, it was a big learning curve in the beginning because my dietetic training didn’t teach me much about autism, unfortunately. I’ve since taken courses, webinars, and read books to educate myself on how to best support this community.
I love what I do and I am passionate about celebrating neurodiversity in autistic kids and teens. I believe in focusing on kids’ strengths rather than their deficits.