April, Autism and the Gluten Free/Casein Free Diet


April is the National Autism Awareness Month; on this occasion we will be interviewing Ms. Asmaa EL-Khayat, a speech and language pathologist, to discuss Autism and whether the diet plays a role in improving the state.

Ms. Khayat holds a Bachelor Degree in Speech Therapy. She assesses and treats speech, language and communication problems in people of all ages to enable them to communicate to the best of their ability. She has a wide experience in learning disabilities, hearing loss and deafness, cognitive communication problems and speech and communication impairments.

Interview with a “Speech and Language Therapist”

We have asked Ms. Khayat some several questions on Autism:

1. What is really meant by “Speech and language therapist”?

The role of a speech and language therapist (SLT) is to assess and treat speech, language and communication problems in people of all ages to enable them to communicate to the best of their ability.

As a speech and language therapist, I work closely with teachers and health professionals including doctors, nurses and psychologists.

2. What are the type problems does a “Speech and Language Therapist” assist in?

Mainly, we assist children and adults who have the following types of problems:
• Difficulty producing and using speech: Apraxia, dyspraxia…
• Difficulty understanding language
• Difficulty using language
• Communication problems: Autism
• Difficulty with feeding, chewing or swallowing: dysphagia
• Stutterer
• Voice problems: dysphonia
• Cognitive communication impairments, such as attention, memory, and problem solving disorders such as ADHD( attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ADD ( attention deficit disorder)

We also work with people who suffer the following problems:
• Aphasia
• Learning disabilities: dyslexia
• Physical disability: cerebral palsy
• Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
• Head injury
• Hearing loss and deafness
• Cleft palate
• Dementia

3. Where exactly (Settings) does a “Speech and Language Therapist” work in?

We work in a variety of settings, these include:
• Hospital (both inpatients and outpatients)
• A special school
• Private clinic

4. Can you provide us with a general overview on how a “Speech and Language Therapist” spends her/his Day?

On a typical day a speech pathologist will:
• Use written and oral tests, as well as special instruments, to diagnose the nature and extent of impairment and to record and analyze speech, language, and swallowing irregularities;
• Develop an individualized plan of care tailored to each patient’s needs;
• Select augmentative or alternative communication methods, including automated devices and sign language, and teach their use to individuals with little or no speech capability;
• Teach those with little or no speech capability how to make sounds, improve their voices, or increase their language skills to communicate more effectively;
• Help patients who have suffered loss of speech develop, or recover, reliable communication skills so patients can fulfill their educational, vocational, and social roles

5. If we want to take one problem “Autism” how can we define it?

Autism, is a neurological disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play, and relate to others. People who have an autism spectrum disorder have much strengths that should not be overlooked, since they will be important in making life decisions like developing educational programs or in choosing a career.

Some common strengths:
• An exceptionally good visual memory
• Ability to learn rote material easily
• Exceptionally good long-term memory
• Visual thinking
• Taking in chunks of information quickly
• Ability to perform highly precise tasks
• Perfectionism
• Reliability in adherence to rules or schedules
• Honesty and integrity

6. What are the challenges that face Autism patients?

The three main characteristics of autism:

1. Difficulty with social interaction
2. Trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication
3. Repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests

The main symptom that is reported by most parents is impaired social interaction. As early as infancy, parents may notice the baby is unresponsive to people or they focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others. It can also occur that a child will appear to be developing normally and ten withdraw and become indifferent to external stimuli.

Autistic children usually fail to respond to their name, will avoid eye contact, and have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can not understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and they are usually not watching the person’s face to notice these expressions anyway. Autistic children do not have empathy.
Many autistic children will engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling. They will also at times show self abusive behavior such as biting themselves or banging their heads. They also usually speak later than other children and will often speak in the third person referring to themselves by name instead of I or me.

They don’t know how to play or share with other children; they actually have little interest in the interests of the other child.

Often you will notice an autistic child is less sensitive to pain, but super sensitive to sound or touch. This may explain one of their behavioral symptoms of resisting cuddling or being hugged.

Some very devastating conditions appear to have a higher than normal risk for autistic children. This would include fragile X syndrome (which causes mental retardation) tuberous sclerosis (in which tumors grow on the brain), epilepsy, tourette syndrome, learning disabilities, ADD and ADHD. It is not understood why but about 20-30% of children with autism develop epilepsy by the time they reach adulthood.

7. Have you ever faced an Autism patient with altered appetite? Is diet affected by such a problem?

Every child with Autism is unique. Everyone has his own way and taste in food, appetite and way of feeding. Most of children with Autism are not able to eat alone or choose their taste, a meal doesn’t mean an important thing to them and this surely differs according to the symptoms’ severity.

Food, Diet and Autism

After having a brief on what is a “Speech and language Therapist” and what is Autism, we took the opportunity to discuss the relationship between Food and Autism. The main question lies here on whether Food and Dietary Planning can help out improve the state of Autism.
Several sources have shown a link between some food proteins “gluten” (a protein from wheat, barley, oats, and rye), casein (a protein from milk) and Autism.

The Gluten Free Casein Free Diet has been widely known to be as the “Autism Diet”. But, is this true?
After reviewing several sources, we saw that the supposition a diet free of gluten and casein enhances and improves the state of Autism, is mainly correlated with the digestive system anomaly such patients might encounter.
Thus, improvement in the state of Autism is connected to the improvement of the digestive system functionality and might not be directly linked to the gluten and casein proteins themselves.

Such a diet can only help with some Autism patients, patients that encounter digestive malfunctioning (ex. insufficient enzyme activity) that lead to problems in the break down of casein and gluten that in turn leads to specific symptoms.

To date more research is needed concerning this matter; and as Ms. Khayat have stated; every child with Autism is unique. Everyone has his own way and taste in food, appetite and way of feeding. Most of children with Autism are not able to eat alone or choose their taste; therefore and in conclusion we encourage the enhancement of a balanced diet whenever possible.

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