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With The Right Diet, Here Is How Autistic Traits In Kids Can Be Managed

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common developmental disability that has a growing incidence. ASD is characterised by persistent deficits in social interactions and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. Unfortunately, the world does not have a suitable response to ASD. The United States Food and Drug Administration has recognised only two drugs for its treatment – Risperidone and Aripiprazole. But these work on the associated behavioural problems and not the underlying cause of ASD. In addition, these drugs have disturbing side-effects such as weight gain and sedation.

In recent years, studies have associated ASD with the state of strong inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s way of fighting protein-based invaders. Autism begins in the womb, and it has been postulated that consuming processed foods during pregnancy increases the chances of the condition. Gut disorders are one of the most common problems associated with autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that children with ASD are three to five times more likely to suffer chronic gastrointestinal disorders.

There are plenty of foods present in our day-to-day diet such as milk, wheat, corn syrup, soy, etc. that increase the complexity of digestion. These food items contain glyphosate, which is the world’s most-used chemical herbicide and thought to be the primary driver of ASD. Glyphosate continues its herbicidal activity within the gut, killing good bacteria and producing toxins in the gut. It also depletes serotonin that plays an important role in our mood, gut health and bowel movements. This is one of the reasons why autistic children tend to have more constipation and diarrhoea.

A research study conducted amongst 70 autistic children had them ingesting a diet free of gluten-casein (present in milk) for 1-8 years. Of these, 81% improved significantly by the third month. The study also showed that children with ASD have low levels of sulforaphane, which is important as it decreases inflammation and promotes antioxidants in the body. Adding cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts, kale, cauliflower, collards and cabbage to the diet can increase sulforaphane. The research showed that the sulforaphane given to children as supplements reflected only low or moderate improvement, but children who were given broccoli sprouts indicated considerable improvements in terms of communication and social responsiveness.

Another substance that plays a crucial role in our body is Vitamin D, which works more like a hormone than the vitamin it is labelled to be. A deficiency of Vitamin D in early life can alter brain development, decrease body and brain antioxidant ability, and alter the immune system. It also has strong anti-inflammatory effects. Brain function in children with ASD has been shown to improve with Vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D levels can be increased by adequate exposure to the sun in the morning, adding fortified plant-based milk such as almond milk, rice milk and pea milk in the diet, and adding fortified orange juice and mushrooms. Apart from this, there are various supplements of Vitamin D available in the market that can help maintain an adequate level.

Switching from a regular diet to a plant-based diet decidedly improves the gut health of the children and eases the process of digestion. A diet that contains milk, meat and processed foods takes time to digest and adds to the intensity of ASD. A plant-based diet contains a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, cereals, and legumes. These foods are rich in nutrients, easy to digest and high in fibre, and hence reduce inflammation and improve bowel movement. Children with ASD tend to have limited food preferences and are generally picky when it comes to food. Parents should keep in mind that these diets require careful planning to make sure that the child’s food needs are being met.

Sadly, there is no cure for ASD and no one-size-fits-all treatment. A rich and healthy diet is not only essential for autistic children, but for every child. Even while a majority of diseases can be cured by food, people end up taking medicines for them. A plant-based diet that is rich in fibre, trace elements, vitamins and probiotics can be the answer to ASD, as it can for many other conditions. If changing a child’s diet can significantly constitute a response to ASD, then this approach surely deserves a thought.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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