By Judy Converse, MPH, RD, LD
Many children with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, learning disabilities, or mood/behavior issues have nutrition problems stemming from malabsorption, bowel problems, and/or inadequate diet. These impede learning, growth, behavior, and functioning in all children—not just special needs children. Not surprisingly, when you address the nutrition problems of these kids, the symptoms of their disorder lessen and, in some cases, disappear.
The medical establishment is just now beginning to acknowledge the link between nutrition problems and learning and behavior disorders. Most physicians still regard autism or other learning and developmental diagnoses as brain problems, not whole body problems. They may resist the idea that nutrition supports apply to these conditions, seeing them as static, inflexible afflictions.
My clinical experience with hundreds of special needs children has proven differently.
How to Engage a Reluctant Provider
If your doctor is not onboard with your interest in nutrition supports for your child, you might succeed with a few tactful efforts at bridging the gap. Here are some suggestions.
Don’t burn a bridge if you don’t have to. Don’t give up on your pediatrician yet. Remember: you are demanding a service she may know little about.
Give him something to think about.
At my website, www.NutritionCare.net
, there are links, resources, peer-reviewed medical articles, and a professional learning module you can provide to your doctor to help him learn more about the special needs nutrition care.
Make her part of your team. Think of yourself as the boss, and your pediatrician as one member of your team. Others you might want on your team: licensed naturopathic doctor; gastroenterologist; neurologist; speech, language, occupational, physical, and/or sensory integration therapist; licensed nutrition professional; Defeat Autism Now (DAN) provider; and psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed social worker.
Get the conversation started. Here are conversation tools that may help keep a good but reluctant provider in your corner, if you would like to discuss using a special diet or nutrition measure.
- "I wouldlike your help and support, because we value you as our primary provider. I know these tools are unfamiliar and you want to do the right thing. Could we agree to trial this for six months?"
- "What would be your concerns with using special diets and nutrition measures? I want to be sure we approach it correctly."
- "Would you take a look at this lab test I have heard about, so we can consider its benefits together? I would like to try it, and I hope I can have your input."
- "I’m wondering what your opinion would be on this peer-reviewed literature about using special diets. I found it helpful but it is written for health professionals, and I would value your guidance on how I can use this."
- "I’m interested in gluten-free to start. Can you refer me to a local celiac support group or organization, or a provider familiar with going gluten-free?"
- "My child is still not potty trained and we have tried everything else. Humor me and let us try antifungal therapy. I have heard that it helps children with bowel incontinence in some cases."
- "I’m wondering if my child would benefit from a special diet. Would you be willing to work with us on this?" If not: "Can you refer me to someone who can help? I want to be sure we do this safely and effectively. Would you be willing to communicate with that provider?"
Final Words of Encouragement
It takes a dedicated parent to learn about and initiate a nutrition care program for a special needs child. But know that your hard work and commitment in pursuing this path can pay off. I have rarely seen a child with learning and behavior challenges fail to improve—often in dramatic ways—when his or her parents follow a systematic step-by-step nutrition care approach, and stick with it for at least six months. You can do it—and hopefully, your doctor will help you.
Judy Converse, MPH, RD, LD, is a licensed, registered dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition for learning and developmentally disabled children.
Her new book is Special-Needs Kids Eat Right: Strategies to Help Kids on the Autism Spectrum Focus, Learn, and Thrive (Perigee, 2009). More information for parents of special needs kids is at her website, www.NutritionCare.net.