Patient Education

Dietary Interventions for AUtism Spectrum Disorder PRINT BACK

Dietary interventions are based on the idea that:

  • Food allergies cause symptoms of autism
  • An insufficiency of a specific vitamin or mineral may cause some autistic symptoms.

If parents decide to try a special diet for a given period of time, they should be sure that the child's nutritional status is monitored carefully. It is always best to consult with a physican when makiding adjustments to dietary needs.  

The GFCF dietary intervention

A diet that some parents have found helpful for their autistic child is a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. Gluten is a casein-like substance that is found in the seeds of various cereal plants—wheat, oat, rye, and barley. Casein is the principal protein in milk. Since gluten and milk are found in many of the foods we eat, following a gluten-free, casein-free diet is difficult to manage. Typically, foods are restricted in a particular sequence, for example, by eliminating:

  • Dairy products - casein and/or lactose
  • Gluten
  • Eggs, nuts, and berries that are known provoke allergic reactions in children
  • Fruits and vegetables that contain salicylates, phenols, and other reactive substances
  • All artificially colored food.

Parents report varying success with these diets, and combinations of them. Some have seen major benefits simply from eliminating milk; others need to eliminate salicylates or phenols to reach a tipping point; others have found a workable, effective diet in the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Many parents report no benefit from a restrictive diet at all.

If you are thinking about changing your child’s diet, speak with your doctor first. Or talk with a nutritionist to be sure your child is getting important vitamins and minerals.


Some parents use vitamin or mineral supplements in an attempt to improve their children’s ASD symptoms. A supplement that some parents feel is beneficial for autistic children is vitamin B6, taken with magnesium (which makes the vitamin effective). The result of research studies is mixed; some children respond positively, some negatively, and some not at all or very little. Some people argue that vitamin B6 only helps children in the following groups:

  • Those with nutritional deficiencies (e.g., fussy eaters)
  • Those with vitamin B6 deficiency (related to seizures).

However, there appear to be some significant risks associated with high doses of vitamin B6, including peripheral neuropathy, so consultation with a doctor is important.


Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

This article is information only. It is not meant to give medical advice. It should not be used to replace a visit with a provider. Blue Shield of California does not endorse other resources that may be mentioned here.