Autism Spectrum Disorders

“Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a group of behaviourally defined neuro-developmental disorders characterised by deficits in social interaction; impairments in verbal and non-verbal communication; and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behaviours and interests.”
While the cause of Autism remains elusive, autism is considered to be a multifactorial disorder that is influenced by genetic, epigenetic and environmental factors.

“Approximately 1 in 100 people in Ireland have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Diagnosis.”

If you have a child on the Autism Spectrum you may be well used to things like poor eye contact, poor social skills, interrupted sleeping patterns, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, self-injurious behaviours, lack of speech, repetitive behaviours, obsessive compulsive behaviours, stimming, constipation, diarrhoea, an insatiable appetite or indeed really picky eating habits among others.  Where do you even begin to help your child feel better and function better in their world?

Could looking at diet help?

Diet is such a powerful tool, accessible to everyone and presents great opportunities to support improvements in your child with autism. By making specific changes to your child’s diet, your son/daughter has the opportunity to have better sleeping patterns, less anxiety on a daily basis and positive changes in digestion, for example. The RIGHT nutrients support the body and help improve the functionality of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and a healthy GI tract ensures the proper environment for things like good bacteria, better enzyme functionality and the ability to digest and absorb nutrients. However, imbalances in digestion and biochemistry affect the brain and are often caused by, what I call the “Non-Negotiables”. These are things that we look at, in order to positively affect health, happiness and engaging behaviours in your child.


If your child struggles with any of the following, there could be an overgrowth of yeast in the system. When there is yeast overgrowth in the GI tract, toxins enter the bloodstream and then make their way to the brain where they can cause a myriad of symptoms just like these…

  • White patches in the mouth or coating on the tongue
  • Only eating or craving starches – an intense craving for sweets
  • Dark under eye circles
  • ‘drunken’-type behaviour – silly/giddy at inappropriate times
  • Spaciness /foggy brain
  • Constipation
  • Skin problems like acne, psoriasis or eczema
  • Hyperactivity – bouncing off the walls
  • Stimming
  • Bad breath / thick saliva in the morning
  • Irritability /defiance, meltdowns, tantrums, anger outbursts


More than 1 billion methylation reactions occur every second in our bodies. So what exactly is methylation?
A methyl group contains one carbon (C) atom and three hydrogen (H) atoms. So when we say methylation, we are talking about the transfer of this methyl group for the purpose of modifying a variety of chemical reactions throughout the body.
When this methylation process is impaired or imbalanced in autism, your child will present with;

  • Poor memory retention and recall
  • Poor language development
  • Poor environmental awareness
  • Detoxification problems
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Sleeping issues
  • Immune dysfunction


Inflammation is the body’s way of fighting an invasion/attack. So when a ‘foreign’ substance like a toxin, bacteria or virus, enters the body, a cascade of inflammatory chemicals and processes occur, in order to defend against the invader. Likewise, when the ‘attack’ is over, an anti-inflammatory process begins so as to calm the body down again. This is a very healthy inflammatory process but doesn’t always happen this smoothly for individuals. Some people can become stuck in a constant state of inflammation or attack, where the body is producing these inflammatory chemicals (called cytokines) and over time, these can cause damage to the body.
In the research it has been shown that pro-inflammatory chemicals (cytokines) are significantly increased in the brains of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders compared with controls. The causes for this increase in imbalanced immune response are still unclear but definite contributors are the rise in chemicals, toxins, heavy metals, plastics in our environments and also the variety and quantity of processed foods that we consume on a daily basis.

This level of inflammation in children with autism can cause pain that affects behaviours such as self-injurious behaviour, leaning over furniture, eye-poking behaviours and head-banging among others.


The process of digestion includes six different activities; ingestion, propulsion, mechanical or physical digestion, chemical digestion, absorption and defecation.

Ingestion is where food enters the gastrointestinal tract through the mouth, is chewed and mixed with saliva, which contains enzymes that begin to break down the carbohydrates in the food along with some fat digestion via lingual lipase.

Propulsion is the act of swallowing, which refers to the movement of food through the digestive tract.

Mechanical digestion is a physical process that does not change the chemical nature of the food but makes the food smaller so as to increase the surface area and its’ mobility.

In chemical digestion, which begins in the mouth, digestive secretions break down complex food molecules into their chemical building blocks (so for example, proteins are broken down into separate amino acids). These digestive secretions vary in composition, but typically contain water, various enzymes, acids, and salts. The process is completed in the small intestine.

Food that has been broken down has absolutely no value to the body unless it enters the bloodstream and its nutrients are utilised. This is known as absorption, which takes place primarily within the small intestine.

The final step of digestion is defecation, where undigested materials are removed from the body as faeces.

(See diagram below – reference link

When the process of absorption is defective in individuals, the physical structure of their intestines is compromised. The tight junctions – which control what materials the intestines absorb – don’t work properly, allowing larger substances to cross over into the bloodstream. This is known as intestinal permeability / leaky gut and appears to be an issue with children on the autism spectrum and leads to nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, fatigue, and skin issues among others.


Detoxification is defined as the capacity to remove any toxic substances from the body. It is one of the major functions of the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. Additionally, it is the biochemical process that transforms non-water-soluble toxins and metabolites into water-soluble compounds that can be excreted in urine, sweat, bile or stool.
Things that can contribute to a compromised detoxification system are things like inherited defects or differences in the body’s ability to detoxify and deficiencies of certain nutrients that reduce the body’s ability to excrete toxins. When there is an imbalance in our ability to detoxify we can present with things like;

  • Irritability / frustration
  • Aggression
  • Cellular damage
  • Tantrums
  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Stimming
  • Constipation

Taking the above into consideration, the choices you make about what foods to give your child can have a profound impact on their nourishment and overall health. There are many ‘autism diets’ to choose from and deciding how to begin nutrition interventions can be both confusing and extremely overwhelming.
At Health by Orla, we help parents ensure their daughter/son is getting the RIGHT nutrients for a happier, healthier more socially engaged child. We use evidence-based dietary interventions to focus on improving systemic health, like constipation and/or diarrhoea and reduce challenging behaviours like tantrums, irritability, aggression, self-injurious behaviours and disrupted sleeping patterns for example. We also recommend a series of functional tests like the Organic Acids Test (OAT), heavy metal toxicity tests, stool analysis, SNP’s, glyphosate, to name a few. We chart diet and record improvements and progress in sleep, behaviours, language, eye contact, cognitive ability, imaginative play, creativity, aggression, social engagement, digestive issues, rashes and pain, among others.

To book your ‘clarity call’ today to find out how the right nutrition can help your child become happier, healthier and more socially engaged, click on the link below.

We look forward to your call.

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