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Autism and Food Allergies


Autism and Food Allergies

I received a food allergy diagnosis at 10 years old and have spent years learning about allergies while also volunteering for the Autism Society of North Carolina. I began thinking about my experience with food allergies and how quickly I was able to get treatment because I was able to communicate my symptoms. I then thought about how different that could be for a child with autism who may have difficulty communicating, and how important further education about allergies is for children with autism and their families.

The prevalence of food allergies and autism has increased over the past two decades. Parents of autistic children are increasingly reporting that their children have food allergies. Recent reports indicate that the prevalence of food allergies in children with autism is 14% versus 3.5% in children without autism.1

What are food allergies?

Food allergies are an immune system reaction that happens soon after eating a certain food. Small amounts of the allergy-causing food can trigger symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, and/or swollen airways. A food allergy can also cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Food allergy symptoms typically develop within a few minutes to two hours after consuming the allergen.

Some studies are exploring the association between autism and food allergies. However, it is important for parents and caregivers to understand the signs and symptoms of a food allergy and to have tools to help their child understand their allergies and allergy symptoms.

Food allergy symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic recognizes common symptoms and life-threatening symptoms of an allergic reaction as outlined below:

The most common food allergy symptoms include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth.
  • Hives, itching or eczema.
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, and throat or other parts of the body.
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion, or trouble breathing.
  • Belly pain, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.


Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause life-threatening symptoms, including:

  • Constriction and tightening of the airways.
  • A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it hard to breathe.
  • Shock with severe drop in blood pressure.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of consciousness.


Social narratives as a learning tool.

Social narratives are simple stories that focus an individualā€™s attention on the key details of a specific situation and help the person to understand and address that situation. Social narratives are a great way to explain food allergies to your child. Since May is Food Allergy Awareness Month, I would like to share the following social narratives I created to help educate people with autism about food allergies:


I hope these social narratives are helpful. Remember, if you suspect you or your child may have a food or other allergy, please consult your physician.

Click here for more social narratives addressing a variety of topics and needs.



1Ā  Khakzad, Mohammad Reza et al. ā€œThe evaluation of food allergy on behavior in autistic children.ā€ Reports of biochemistry & molecular biology vol. 1,1 (2012): 37-42.


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