News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Q & A: Why is a dietetic analysis important for children with a developmental disorder?

JCCHD | Mon, July 02, 2012 | [Autism Treatment][Assessment Corner][Healthcare][Q and A ]

In addition to a thorough developmental evaluation to identify intervention needs for a child with a developmental disorder, it is equally important to assess health status.  Based on this assessment, a treatment plan may include dietary eliminations and expansions, as well as the therapeutic use of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements.

Most parents have heard of the gluten-free, casein-free (and often soy-free) diet and the specific carbohydrate diet, and they often investigate whole food, organic diets. Many families also look into the use of supplements to address gastrointestinal symptoms, sleep issues, allergies, skin conditions, and attention and focus problems. When used appropriately, these can be effective to reduce or eliminate some concerning symptoms and improve overall health.

However, the use of these interventions, particularly nutritional supplements, is a complicated science. Certified clinical nutritionists and others with advanced degrees in clinical nutrition spend a considerable amount of time (often many years) learning this specific biochemistry.  In addition to knowing how to prescribe and manage these interventions, these professionals are aware that every individual absorbs and utilizes these substances in a unique way. Knowing a person’s baseline status (where they are before things are added) is a critical piece of information that helps establish a solid foundation, and a dietetic analysis is often the best place to begin.

Think of it this way—before a building is built, engineers perform soil tests to determine the bearing capacity of the ground, survey the landscape to determine any barriers, perform a cut-and-fill analysis to determine if any landfill is needed, and complete a project review to decide which plans and permits are needed. The engineers use this information to determine which steps to take to build a strong, safe building. These conditions vary greatly from site to site; even though the neighbor has solid rock to build on, the soil next door might be sandy and loose and require a completely different plan.

A dietetic analysis is very much like these tests and surveys. Data must be gathered on the patient to reveal potential issues and determine the best place to start. Many people think that because you can buy many supplements over the counter, taking them might not require professional guidance. However, these can be very powerful therapeutic tools and while they can cause great improvement, they can also cause harm if used inappropriately.  And aside from safety, we often see people who have tried a particular intervention without full information and guidance and dismissed it as ineffective, when the issue might have been an error in dosage or application.

Skipping an appropriate analysis is penny-wise and pound-foolish. You might save money short term, but the cost in the long run, both in time and money, will likely be higher, and there’s a strong possibility of missing something very important. If you want to build a good building you don’t cut corners when learning what needs to be done, and if you want to build a strong, healthy child you need to do the same.

Spoon full of pills