Gluten-Free Diet for Kids With Developmental Delays

If your child is not reaching certain milestones at age-appropriate times, she may have a developmental delay. A delay can be thought of as a pause in the process of development. A child may be delayed in motor, thinking or social skills or a combination of the three. Researchers have developed strategies to help children who are developmentally delayed. One approach is a gluten-free diet. But consult your child's physician before undertaking this or any other dramatic change in his diet.


Each child develops at her own pace. A failure to walk at 12 months, for example, doesn't necessarily indicate a developmental delay. But if you observe a delay that seems too long or if your child even regresses, make an appointment with her pediatrician. Your pediatrician can refer you to specialists who will conduct a series of tests with your child. After a thorough evaluation, they will be able to determine if your child has a delay and how to treat it.

Gluten-free Diet

Studies conducted by the Autism Network for Dietary Intervention show that in many cases, children who suffer from impaired social, communication and imaginative skills also show abnormalitites in their ability to break down gluten. For this reason, a gluten-free diet may be helpful to children with developmental delays. A gluten-free diet is a meal plan composed of foods that lack gluten, which is a protein found in grains and wheat. The thinking is that some kids aren’t able to digest gluten proteins. The undigested proteins leak through the intestine and into the bloodstream and finally travel to the brain. They can have an opiate effect on development and brain function.

Foods on a Gluten-free Diet

Feeding your child a strictly gluten free diet means eliminating all rye, barley, bulgar and oats from his menu. You will also eliminate artificial colors, starches, flavorings and malt. Your child can still have a variety of foods, including eggs, poultry, rice, corn, fruits, vegetables and meat. Many food manufacturers make gluten-free products. They can be found in mainstream grocery stores, usually in the health food or organic sections. Health-food stores also stock gluten-free foods.

Getting Started

If you have an official diagnosis of a developmental delay, it’s best to work with your pediatrician and a nutritionist to determine if a gluten-free diet is best for your child. A nutritionist will be able to help you create a menu that will fulfill your child's nutritional needs, while removing any foods that may affect him negatively. It is often best to ease into the new diet. Remove one food with gluten every few days, but replace it with an extra serving of a gluten-free food that your child enjoys. Bookstores and libraries stock many gluten-free cookbooks. Experiment with recipes to find those that your child especially likes.