I believe a gluten free diet is nothing but beneficial for adults with Autism. I support a house of adults, some of whom have autism, and one man has a gluten allergy.This is based on my experience supporting a gluten free diet for this man, and seeing the effects when he does have gluten
I try and make most meals in the house gluten free, but sometimes I just have to make two separate meals. There are a few ingredients I always keep in the pantry, and these can make a gluten free meal really interesting. Some of these items are also key in making the meal “the same” as everybody elses, which can go a long way to help somebody feel included.
Rice Crackers, I use these like bread for lunches. I pack them with some lettuce, cheese and tomato and they can arrange them at lunch so they crackers don’t get soggy. They also make great snacks, for when you come home hungry and needs to eat ASAP.
Rice Crumbs, I use these for schnitzel or chicken. They make the food look the same as other peoples and also help to bulk up a meal. These can be quite expensive but last a long time.
Sesame Snaps and Roll Ups are my go-to for lunch box stuffers. Have you ever see somebody with Autism eat a roll up? It’s a sensory experience. They feel nice, smell nice, taste nice… You can tear them up and nibble at them or roll them and stuff them in your mouth in one go. My residents love them, and can take a long time eating one. The sesame snaps are nice because they’re high in calories, and often with a gluten free diet people loose weight, paticularly around the stomach so these help keep your energy levels high.
Gluten Free Baking Flour, this is a bit of a no-brainer and is so versatile. It is quite expensive though and I use it sparingly.
Gluten Free Cake Mix, baking gluten free can be a lot harder when you’re starting out and the cake mixes just don’t fail. They also taste delicious and I often bake them into cup cake wrappers to make single servings. Most people don’t even realise they’re gluten-free.
Gluten Free Cup of Soups, these are great for lunches when you don’t have any leftovers.
Rice Noodles, I use these constantly. They’re a great pasta alternative (and cheaper than gluten- free pasta) and really bulk up stir-fry’s. I also use rice a lot, filling, cheap and goes with a lot of different meals, it can be baked, used for pudding or even as a hot breakfast with some dried fruit.
Things to watch out for which have A LOT of gluten in them are; soy sauce, milo and jam. These were the most surprising for me. In lieu of soy sauce use tamari sauce, Ceres Organics makes a really nice one.
The Gluten Free Grocer in Mount Eden is my usual stop for goodies, they have a really big selection and it’s all very fresh and no crumbly textures allowed!
Gluten Free bread isn’t a big hit with my residents. We tried so many brands and we found that for adults with Autism the crumbley texture (however minimal) was too frustrating and caused a lot of tears. Gluten Free Pasta is incredibly expensive, and I stock it more as a treat or when there just isn’t a substitute (pasta bake for instance)
When the man I support ingests gluten he breaks out in dandruff and flaky skin, and his moods plummets, with him becoming irritable and at times aggressive. When he has gluten over a long period of time (prior to discovering he was allergic to Gluten) his belly was round and pushed out, this has flattened considerably since being diagnosed.
I was very apprehensive about supporting one person in a house to live without gluten, I thought it would be much too hard and I’d be frustrated at having to make two of everything. The truth is, it’s so easy to make meals gluten free. Reading labels and being aware of contamination (crumbs on a breadboard for instance) becomes second nature after a while and I never worry about it.
For adults with Autism, I recommend at least giving a gluten free diet a try, even if you’re not diagnosed with an allergy. Commit to a three month trial and see if it suits you, I’ve found with the people I know they think clearer and are less agitated and annoyed, which in turn leads to a happier life. You don’t need to miss out on anything, and there are gluten free alternatives for almost everything.