Autism is a developmental disorder that can affect a child’s social, cognitive and emotional development. The symptoms of autism may be present in infancy; however, other times, diagnosis may not occur until a child is school-age. No one is quite sure what causes autism, though genetics and environment may play a role. Some people believe that certain nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamin B-12, may contribute to their child’s autism.

Vitamin B-12 deficiency in infants can cause developmental delays. There’s no clear evidence that B-12 deficiency contributes to autism, but a developmental delay in infancy can indicate that a child has autism. Vegetarians may not get enough B-12, so their breastfed infants may be lacking this vitamin as well. To ensure that your baby gets enough, talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin containing B-12 if you’re concerned about your intake through diet alone. Many factors can contribute to developmental delays and as such, it’s important to consult your doctor to determine what is causing the delays before you give your baby any supplements.

Many kids with autism don’t get enough B-12. This may have to do with the fact that kids with autism often have sensory issues that cause them to become “picky eaters,” and as a result, their diets may lack certain nutrients. The effects of B-12 deficiency include tingling in the arms and legs and difficulties with balance. Many kids with autism have trouble with sensory and vestubular processing, so these symptoms may seem worse to them. The tingling could feel more like pain to a child with autism. Additionally, if a child already has trouble with balance, the B-12 deficiency could lead to clumsiness and falls.

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If your child has autism and you suspect a B-12 deficiency, talk to your pediatrician. He may recommend B-12 supplements. Increasing the B-12 in your child’s body may reduce the sensory and balance problems caused by the deficiency. It’s hard for any child to function if he’s uncomfortable and off-balance, so as the physical symptoms improve, you may see an increase in positive behaviors and a decrease in self-stimulating behaviors, or stimming, which your child uses to counteract discomfort.

Because kids with autism can be pretty finicky eaters, you may have trouble finding foods rich in B-12 that your child will eat. However, through trial and error, you may hit on something that your child really loves that you didn’t expect and it may provide him with the B-12 he needs. Because kids with autism may prefer bland foods, offer things like scrambled eggs and soy milk, which have mild flavors and are rich in B-12. Fish, meat and poultry all contain B12; try things like turkey burgers or a mild fish like flounder. Dairy foods contain B-12 as well, and kids with autism may find the texture and flavor of a smooth, fruit-flavored yogurt appealing. If your child simply can’t get enough B-12 through his diet, ask his doctor about giving him a multivitamin with B-12 or a simple B12 supplement. Children ages 1 to 3 should get .9 micrograms of B12 per day, while ages 4 to 8 need 1.2 micrograms, and ages 9 to 13, need 1.8 micrograms daily.