I am a nanny to an 11-year old girl on the autism spectrum. In the past couple years, her weight has gotten out of control. She is about 4'6" and 110 lbs. Her parents are also very overweight and her dad is a very opinionated and fat-phobic 80-10-10 vegan (as of this year). Since he went vegan, she eats almost all carbs- SO MANY GRAINS. A typical day for her: sweetened oatmeal/waffles/pancakes, 1-2 cups fruit, more fruit for snack, pbj, veggies & hummus, pasta or rice dish for dinner, and some sort of dessert. She is always asking for more melon, applesauce, bagels, etc. She doesn't want to eat nuts because they are "fatty". A lot of vegan idealism in the house. I have been adding eggs and turkey sandwiches into her diet with some resistance from dad. She loves it. She and I do "exercise time" every weekday for 30 mins+. Are there any studies relating to youth, carb addiction, weight gain, or autism, that a vegan parent might be willing to consider? I strongly believe her diet has affected her weight gain, and her parents have solicited my help, but they are at this point strongly against meat-eating. As an ex-vegan, I'm hoping they will "see the light" on their own like I did.
I have to agree with miked on this one. I nannied for a boy on the autism spectrum (severe end) and with a number of other neurological issues back when I was in college. This was a single mother family who was a busy professional and had been used to giving into the cravings of her son. When I arrived, he was living on chocolate pudding cups (like 6 a day), fruit gummies, cake, frozen french toast, fake maple syrup and breakfast sausages. The sausages were the only meat he would eat, otherwise it was mushy, sweet, processed foods. I wasn't paleo back then, but I knew what he was eating was not healthy.
I read the same books and magazines that the mom read, and we discussed diet a bit, but I could tell that it was a sensitive subject. She had a lot going on, her husband basically abandoned them after they learned that their adopted son had all of these issues. There were no restrictions (like vegan or 80-10-10) so I bought groceries to fit into meals I had planned, and they both loved it. It was still SAD in that there was bread at every meal, but clean SAD, with lots of meats and fats added in, as the mother really liked decadent food, and fat was welcome in the home, but it was just a natural transition.
Anyway, I've been there and have seen it, but I never felt comfortable pushing the mom on putting him on some super strict diet, though she acknowledged the existence of these diets on her own. In fact, I am not into pushing diet on anyone, though I offer helpful suggestions if someone asks. It is really personal. I would let it go, and just do what the parents want, it seems like it would be a hassle for you and possibly annoying for them. If the turkey sandwiches stick, then consider that a win.
I don't think this is something you want to get into as a nanny. I (well my wife) spent a bunch of time looking for nannies that would respect and understand our paleo approach to feeding our little guy. I wouldn't stand for any nanny giving me vegetarian literature or trying in anyway to change his diet. They would be immediately fired and get negative references from me forever. As a nanny, your job really is to keep the kid alive and do what the parents want.
I'd get some research together on the role of gluten in autism spectrum disorders and see if they would be willing to read it. There was recently an article I read which not only talked about the impact of gluten on the author's child, but also she talked about how before she saw it in action, so to speak, she thought people who were gluten free were just trying to be trendy, etc. I think the gluten is really going to be a bigger problem for this kid than the lack of meat - maybe they'd be willing to start there. Wow, what a tough situation. I wish you the best of luck. Here is the article: http://www.anchoragepress.com/news/the-gluten-made-her-do-it-how-going-gluten-free/article_39e2478e-4585-11e2-a80c-0019bb2963f4.html
Actually, there has been a great deal of success with ketogenic diets (80% or more fat, 10% or less carbohydrate) in managing autism-spectrum disorder. Here are several journal articles. I would encourage the parents (or you) to hit your local library to request copies of these to actually read the studies. Ketogenic diets started out as a low-side-effect option for managing epilepsy, but over the years, the relationship between saturated fat intake (in particular, including liberal consumption of cholesterol) and brain health have been scientifically documented.
In fact, just this year there was a early abstract at one of the conferences I attended discussing turning around early-onset Alzheimers and Parkinsons with a high-saturated-fat, ketogenic diet!
Application of a Ketogenic Diet in Children With Autistic Behavior: Pilot Study J Child Neurol February 2003 vol. 18 no. 2 113-118
The Ketogenic Diet: One Decade Later Pediatrics March 1, 2007 119: 535-543
The Ketogenic Diet ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition 2010; 2:6 370-376
A Ketone Ester Diet Increases Brain Malonyl-CoA and Uncoupling Proteins 4 and 5 while Decreasing Food Intake in the Normal Wistar Rat J. Biol. Chem. 2010; 285:34 25950-25956
Experience in the Use of the Ketogenic Diet as Early Therapy James E. Rubenstein, MD; Eric H. Kossoff, MD; Paula L. Pyzik, BS; Eileen P.G. Vining, MD; Jane R. McGrogan, RD; John M. Freeman, MD J Child Neurol. 2005; 20 (1): 31-34
Branched Chain Amino Acids as Adjunctive Therapy to Ketogenic Diet in Epilepsy: Pilot Study and Hypothesis J Child Neurol 2009; 24:10 1268-1272
I should also mention, dad mentioned they tried gluten free (I'm guessing only a couple of weeks), and he said they noticed no difference and he gained weight. I'm hoping they'd reconsider and try that or an elimination diet for a period of time. She eats so much wheat. I used to bake at a gluten free bakery and knew many families whose children benefitted dramatically from GF. It seems obvious to me that gluten should be the first thing to go when it comes to autism.
You may want to look into ketogenic diets and autism. There was a study that seemed to show a link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201104/autism-and-ketogenic-diets
There seems to be a lot of literature on ketogenic diets improving many brain related disorders.
Also, ketogenic diets work really really well at getting rid of fat. Although, I can't speak for its long term effects on health.
With parents permission take the child to her pediatrician and have a non sad diet done up for her. My doctors office has a dietitian tied to it and she is a whole foods diet believer. Have the doctor give the parents reading material. Always helps soothe over nonbelievers when it comes from what they consider professionals. Not that your not but us dietitians get treated like chiropractors do.
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