By Emily Merrell
When I think about nutrition, it’s hard for me not to think about weight loss, vegetables and fad diets. Yet, nestled in SF, there is a dietitian focusing her work on the nutrition of children living with autism. Just like how nutrition is important to make significant changes to our bodies, it also plays a key role in how it relates to autism. Brittyn Coleman took her personal experience with autism and created resources and services to help many others out there. Read on to learn more about her story.
SDS: As an Autism Dietitian you focus your work primarily on working with children (and parents of children) living with autism. How did you get involved in such a niche area of your career?
BRITTYN COLEMAN: Autism has been a part of my life for over 20 years now. My younger brother, Barrett, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was about 2 years old. My mom actually was already practicing as a psychologist for kids with autism (it’s crazy how life works!) and was able to recognize the early signs and get him the treatment he needed. 1 in 59 children are on the spectrum today, so it’s likely you have a family member on the autism spectrum or know someone who does. I’ve always been interested in nutrition personally, so being able to combine my love for autism and nutrition was a no-brainer. I started my business, Autism Dietitian, in early 2017 and have served hundreds of families since.
SDS: There seems to be very few dietitians across the country specializing in your area of work. How do you work with your clients if they aren’t within SF?
BC: You’re exactly right. There is just a handful of people that I know of across the nation, so the accessibility to a dietitian specializing in autism is extremely low. About a year and a half ago, I transitioned my practice completely online so I’m now able to see clients all across the U.S. (depending on state-specific licensure laws). Having an online practice is also ideal for my clients as it can be really challenging to travel with a child with autism. The parents I work with love my virtual practice just as much as I do!
SDS: Nutrition and diet is the most important part of many people’s lives, can you tell us how it impacts individuals living with autism?
BC: I agree – good nutrition lays the groundwork for health and wellness for everybody. For individuals with autism, it’s especially important to have a healthy diet. There are three main reasons why individuals with autism need more nutrition support:
1) They often have many sensory sensitivities that will cause them to become really selective and narrow the number of foods they eat. I see many kids on my caseload that have limited the number of foods they eat to 5-10 foods, which is a recipe for nutrient deficiencies. I work with my clients to expand the amount of accepted healthy foods and teach parents the right approach to help them achieve this.
2) Four out of five people on the spectrum have gut issues. The most common issue is something called dysbiosis, which is the imbalance of bacteria in their gut. This can cause food sensitivities, chronic GI symptoms (I won’t go into too much detail, but it often ends in them resorting to Miralax), and stomach pain. This imbalance of bacteria, as well as food sensitivities, can actually increase autistic behaviors, believe it or not.
3) Many individuals with ASD have genetic mutations that impact the way they absorb nutrients, making nutrient deficiencies more common. In that case we have to make sure to manage diet, and often nutrition supplements, to be sure they are getting the right nutrition for their body.
SDS: What are some success stories you’ve had with individuals since working with them?
BC: I have the most amazing successes using nutrition with autism. Because it’s a spectrum, results vary greatly but are still so inspiring at every size. I have kids who double their number of accepted foods, have a normal BM for the first time in their lives, begin to speak for the first time after changing diet and decrease their autistic symptoms drastically. I’ve even had kids who have had to get re-evaluated for autism because of the work we’ve done together! It really is amazing how much of a difference that diet and supplements can make. You can read more of my success stories here: https://www.autismdietitian.com/testimonials.
SDS: Lastly, what are ways we can learn more about your services and your offerings?
BC: It’s perfect timing that you ask, I’ve actually just launched my 1-on-1 6-Month Signature Program! Through the program, we work on transitioning diet, getting an individualized supplement regimen and performing six different biomedical/nutrition panels to get to the root cause of symptoms. It’s so important for me to have lab results before working together because it helps me customize the approach that works best for each child. Every child on the spectrum is so different, that it simply doesn’t make sense to just have one approach. The best way to connect with me is on Instagram or on my website.