Nutrition For Children With Autism And ADHD

Along with behavioural therapy, diet also plays an important role in managing autism and ADHD.

Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) both are a neurodevelopmental disorder which impacts the same brain functions. Studies have shown that two-third of the total affected children with ADHD show autism symptoms too. There is a thin line of difference between their characteristic symptoms, let us learn about both in detail.

Autism – the isolated self
Autism can be diagnosed in children from the age of 2years. Each autistic child may show different symptoms. You cannot really categorise them into one.
It is one of the syndromes that fall under the range of autism spectrum disorders. The word Autism is a Greek word ‘ autos’ which means ‘self’.
Here are some of the distinct characteristics to look out for in an autistic child:
• They find difficulty in communicating with others
• They prefer to sit alone or play alone. Find it difficult to make friends.
• Sensory Dysfunction – cannot stand loud noises, strong smell or flavour.
• Repetitive Behaviour- Doing or saying the same things over and over again. For example, constantly clap hands.

The cause of Autism is largely genetic. So if diagnosed from start and treated well then it can be managed effectively.

– Most diagnosis is by the age of 2. Hence, an overall approach therapy: occupational, behavioural, medical, dietary and physical would help them to cope with the environment and other children better.
– Being oversensitive to touch, taste and sight, they tend to become picky eaters. They prefer to eat only a particular food item over and over again, making them nutritional deficit. These deficits need to be addressed through supplements under the guidance of the doctor.
– Expose them to different varieties of the same food item. For example, if they eat apple jam, then the child will be open to trying apple pie or apple as a whole fruit.
– Usually, they are sensitive to foods containing casein ( milk, paneer, curd), gluten (wheat, barley, oats) or preservatives (packaged food items). Try to eliminate these items one at a time and observe how they respond.
– Once the sensitivity is known, use the substitutes for it. For example, in the case of casein substitute their milk/paneer requirements with soybean milk/ tofu respectively.
– Gut health is compromised called as leaky (i.e. Gut is permeable to toxins and gets absorbed into the bloodstream). Long term studies have shown that bacteria B. Fragilis helps to recover from leaky gut and reduce the symptoms.
Medical therapy is important as the drugs that are given will not cure autism but reduce anxiety and depression in the child. This will improve their learning and communication skills and make them more friendly and open.


ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Its seen in both children and adults. Usually, difficult to identify at before the age of 5 in children because being inattentive, hyperactive are the normal traits shown by any toddler or kid.

Its symptoms may or may not stand out clearly depicting ADHD affected child. Symptoms include:
• Cannot focus on one task for a long time
• Difficult in paying attention in class or in any given activity or discussion
• Always needs to move around. Cannot sit at one place.
• Usually responds or answers back without thinking much/ Impulsive behaviour

Along with behavioural therapy, diet also plays an important role in managing ADHD. Studies have shown that a diet high in sugar-containing foods worsens the hyperactive trait in ADHD children. This is because sugars provide instant energy to the brain, so they tend to overthink, overreact more.
A well-balanced diet including veggies, fruits, complex carbs like high fibre cereals and more of proteins will slowly help to ease the symptoms.

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Below is the list of foods to be avoided and included:


  • High sugar-containing foods like candies, cakes, cookies, sweetened chocolates, dark chocolates loaded with berries.
  • Fried Chips, wafers, ready to eat noodles Roasted Indian snacks like chivda, bhel.
  • Flavoured cereals- cornflakes, milk powder mixes.
  • Tetra pack fruit juices, colas, soda beverages.
  • Refined products like maida based pasta, pizzas, burgers and other junk items.


  • Homemade dates (khajur) roll or pieces of almonds, raisins. Homemade carrot halwa and sheera.
  • Plain or less of butter made popcorn, roasted peanuts, yellow chana, finger foods like sauteed paneer and ragi wafers.
  • Plain cornflakes – add in bananas, berries, dates milkshake, fruit smoothies, yoghurt.
  • Cut fruits and make popsicles out of it.
  • Choose whole wheat pizzas with more veggie toppings, make up a salad of the kids choice of veggies and fruits, present veggies inside a chapati roll.


• Diet and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (2009, June)
• Natalie B.,( 2006, September), Diet tips for kids with ADHD, Healthline, Newsletter.
• Pelsser, Lidy M., Klaas Frankena, Jan Toorman, Huub F. Savelkoul, Anthony E. Dubois, Rob Rodrigues Pereira, Ton A. Haagen, Nanda N. Rommelse, and Jan K. Buitelaar. “Effects of a Restricted Elimination Diet on the Behaviour of Children with Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (INCA Study): A Randomised Controlled Trial.” The Lancet, vol. 377, no. 9764, 2011, pp. 494-503.
• Pelsser, Lidy M. J., et al. “A Randomised Controlled Trial Into the Effects of Food on ADHD.” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, vol. 18, no. 1, 2008, pp. 12–19.
• Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. January 2016.
• American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Autism – Caring for children with autism spectrum disorders: A resource toolkit for clinicians. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
• Mary L. Gavin, M.D., April 2018., Autism Spectrum Disorder., Kid’s Health.


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