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Sensory Processing Disorder
Thursday, 23 January 2014

Last month I attended a Dietitians in Autism event where a specialist Occupational Therapist and Speech and Language Therapist shared their experiences dealing with ASD children who have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  I learnt that we have 7 ( not 5) senses and that neurotypical individuals filter out 95% of the sensory information that is constantly supplied to our brains.  SPD actually occurs when either too much or too little of this sensory information is filtered out causing under or over-responsiveness which in turn causes a range of eating / feeding difficulties.

It was interesting to hear that the central ethos is to " help parents to understand the nature of their child's ASD, rather than solve the difficulties for them ".  I thought this was especially interesting because, as practitioners, we often focus on 'fixing' the problem but actually it is fundamentally important to understand the problem.

That's not to say that there aren't lots of practical strategies that can help improve the situation but this must be done with an acceptance of each child's sensory processing capability.  With this in mind, I have reviewed the Restrictive Eater Plan to include a SPD assessment in order to make it even more effective.


If your child eats a limited range of foods and you are concerned, email Emma at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it for more advice.


Posted: January 2014

Source: Dietitians in Autism Educational & Business Meeting, Glenfield Hospital, Leicester (13th December 2013)

Enzymes and Gluten
Friday, 08 November 2013

I recently completed a Masters module in Paediatric Nutrition and as part of the course I did a literature review on the use of enzymes in coeliac disease, which I found fascinating.

Coeliac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disease producing inflammation of the small intestine which is triggered by the ingestion of gliadin - a substance found in gluten, in genetically susceptible individuals.  The research revealed that many people who were apparently following a gluten-free diet still had some traces of gluten in their diet and that this could explain persistent symptoms in cases of unresponsive CD as well as the associated risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers, lymphomas and type 1 diabetes. Preliminary data indicates that certain types of supplementary enzymes could potentially breakdown immunotoxic gluten fragments and control symptoms and reduce morbidity and mortality in this life-long condition.


So what has this got to do with autism ?

Well there is convincing data that gluten-free diets improve gastrointestinal symptoms and behaviour in autism plus there are anecdotal reports from parents that using protease (protein-digesting) enzymes instead of an exclusion diet have had good results with their autistic children, so there could be a connection.

However, good clinical practice needs to rely on a substantial evidence-base and more research is needed to establish how these immunotoxic gluten fragments affect the brain and body.  The good news is that four large-scale trials are in the pipeline and the more we learn about this in relation to CD, the more we can interpret the data in relation to gluten-sensitive ASD individuals.


 Posted: November, 2013

Source: 'The Use of Supplementary Enzymes in Coeliac Disease - A Literature Review' by Emma Mills  Peadiatric Nutrition Masters module The University of Nottingham

Toxic Rice Milk
Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Having recently written an article for the fantastic Autism Eye magazine ( www.autismeye.com) about detoxification, I thought it was worth flagging up the potentially hazardous issue regarding rice milk.  The Food Standards Agency surveyed a range rice drinks for levels of arsenic and although they found only low concentrations they were concerned about very young children consuming large volumes of these drinks, instead of breast milk, infant formula or cows' milk. 

Many children with autism follow a casein/ dairy-free diet and parents may well choose rice milk, considering it to be a safe alternative, especially if it is fortified for key nutrients such as calcium. 

 Because of the potential harm from consuming cumulative levels of arsenic in rice milk, it is NOT recommended for any young children ( aged 1 to 5 years) to have rice-based drinks and because of the association between compromised detoxification and ASD, I would not recommend them for any child with autism.

Suitable alternatives should be used, depending on the age of the child and the nutritional adequacy of the diet. The Nutritional Assessment Plan is a great way to assess your child's diet and food choices.

Posted: June 2013

Source: The Food Standards Agency website

Medical Conditions and ASD
Wednesday, 13 March 2013

An excellent report has just been published by the Treating Autism charity and Autism Treatment Trust which highlights the significant amount of medical problems found in individuals with ASD, which is under-diagnosed and under-treated because it is viewed as ' just a part of autism'.

The range of pathologies include gastrointestinal disease, non-coeliac food sensitivity, allergies, autoimmunity, metabolic abnormalities, immune dysregulation, neuroinflammation, autonomic nervous system dysfunction and seizures. 

A range of case studies appear throughout to illustrate how children and adults with ASD have presented and subsequently responded well to treatment, once they were accurately diagnosed with a particular medical problem.  For example, a 5 year old boy with regressive autism had started developing new behaviours ( striking his jaw forcefully and jumping from a height ) but was found to have an ear infection.  Once treated the behaviours stopped and it was thought that they had developed in an attempt to unblock his ears.

To read the whole document go to


Posted: March 2013

diet drinks alter brain activity
Thursday, 04 October 2012

A recent investigation into the effects of diet soda consumption, which contain artificial sweeteners, has shown an adverse effect on brain activity.  Young adults that consumed the greater number of diet drinks had 'reduced caudate head activation'.  The caudate head is a part of the brain involved in signalling reward and controlling food intake.  Because the intense sweetness associated with these diet drinks is no longer a reliable indicator of incoming calories the brain has trained itself to respond less when exposed to sweet flavours.  In other words, artificial sweeteners actually encourage a sweet tooth and excess calorie consumption.


This study was done in young 'healthy' adults so imagine what these artificial sweeteners could do to the brain of a child with autism......

Much better to choose naturally sweetened foods and drinks, flavoured with sugar, honey and agave syrup but use sparingly.


Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2258385

Posted: October 2012

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