Original Article

Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 213-225

First online:

Effects of Gluten Free / Casein Free Diet in Young Children with Autism: A Pilot Study

  • Cynthia R. JohnsonAffiliated withChildren’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Autism Center, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Email author 
  • , Benjamin L. HandenAffiliated withUniversity of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
  • , Michelle ZimmerAffiliated withUniversity of Cincinnati
  • , Kelley SaccoAffiliated withChildren’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
  • , Kylan TurnerAffiliated withUniversity of Pittsburgh School of Education

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With reports of the growing incidence of autism spectrum disorder ASD in the United States, a large number of families of affected children is seeking alternative or complementary forms of treatment. One of the more popular interventions has been use of elimination regimes, such as the gluten and casein free (GFCF) diet. This pilot study involved a three-month, prospective, open label, randomized, parallel groups design of a GFCF diet compared to a healthy, low sugar diet (attention control) for young children with ASD. Both treatment groups evidenced some gains across a range of variables, including measures of behavior, language, and ratings of the core features of ASD. No statistically significant differences were noted between treatment groups. While our results do not support use of a GFCF diet in ASD, it is possible that a greater period of time is required for treatment before gains can be observed. Moreover, no significant nutritional differences or side effects were observed on the GFCF diet compared to the control diet. However, adherence to the GFCF diet proved difficult based on our adherence data.


Gluten-fee Casein-free diet Autism Dietary restrictions