Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics


Dietary Treatment of Young Children with Autism: Behavioral Effects of the Gluten Free and Casein Free Diet

In a carefully controlled study, a group of preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) were given the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet; meaning they did not have gluten—a protein found in some grains, such as wheat, barley and rye or casein—a protein found in dairy products. After four weeks of being established on diet, the children continued on the diet and were given snacks weekly that contained gluten, casein, neither or both. None of the diet and snack combinations affected children’s sleep, bowel habits, or activity.

  1. The study found small increase in the number of times children engaged in social interaction after eating food containing gluten or casein. This increase did not reach statistical significance. A similar small increase in social language was seen after the gluten challenge. It also did not reach statistical significance. The change was gone within 24 hours.
  2. Larger studies that appropriately monitor for diet and other interventions are needed to determine whether gluten or casein affects social interaction or language among other children with ASD, such as children with gastrointestinal (GI) disease.
  3. Families who wish to eliminate gluten and casein from their child’s diet need to be very careful about their child’s nutritional status. While there is a lot of good general nutritional information online (e.g.,, most families who plan to give their child a GFCF diet should discuss it with their health care and request consultation with a registered dietitian for counseling regarding sources of gluten and casein in foods and to ensure adequate nutrition if they elect a test trial of the diet.

Department of Pediatrics and Clinical Research Center, Golisano Children’s Hospital, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York

Supported By: National Institutes for Mental Health (Studies to Advance Autism Research in Treatment) NIMH U54 MH077397 and the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) NIH UL1RR024160

Study Summary: Presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, Philadelphia, May 22, 2010

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