Kids with special needs are at an increased risk for food allergies compared to the general population.

This may be due in part to abnormalities in their digestive and/or immune system.

Understanding how food allergies may be affecting you child and eliminating problematic foods from their diet is critical to their overall treatment plan.

Although many people use the terms “allergy” “intolerance” and “sensitivity” interchangeably, they are three different food-related conditions.   

A true food allergy involves an adverse immune reaction to a food protein.  

This is when the immune system mistakenly identifies a specific protein found in a food as a harmful substance and defends against it.

The following foods are responsible for 90 percent of allergic reactions:

- Milk

- Wheat

- Soy

- Eggs

- Peanuts

- Tree Nuts (pecan, walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazel and Brazil nuts)

- Fish

- Shellfish

Milk, wheat, soy, eggs and peanut are the most common food allergies under the age of three.

A food sensitivity is a general term to describe an abnormal reaction to a food or food additive. 

Food sensitivities are different from food allergies because they do not involve the immune system.

Food sensitivities tend to be milder but the symptoms are still the same.  

Artificial food additives are common culprits and some major ones include:

- Sulfites

- Aspartame (artificial sweetener)

- MSG (monosodium glutamate)

- Yellow Dye No. 5

- Preservatives (BHT and BHA)

Remember, eliminating artificial ingredients is important whether or not your child is showing sensitivity to it.

Similar to food sensitivity, a food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. 

It occurs when a food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person has too few or none of the enzymes needed to digest the food properly.  

This will often times cause excess gas, bloating, abdominal cramps and/or diarrhea. 

Most people are familiar with lactose intolerance, where the body doesn’t have sufficient enzymes to digest the lactose in milk and milk products.

How do I know if my child has a food allergy? 

If your child suffers from one or more of the following symptoms frequently, a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance may be to blame:

- Frequent ear infections

- Nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose

- Tearing, puffy eyes, dark circles

- Swelling of the lips, tongue, mouth and throat

- Hives, eczema, red cheeks, itching

- Difficulty breathing coughing, wheezing

- Reflux, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation

- Headaches, migraines, and behavioral problem

If you suspect your child suffers from a food allergy, sensitivity or intolerance, take them to see a board-certified allergist for a definitive diagnosis. 

Along with other tests, they may suggest a short-term elimination diet. 

This diet involves two basic steps. 

First, you need to eliminate the suspected food from your child’s diet for two weeks. 

This will give your child’s allergy symptoms time to subside. 

Once your child has been off the suspected food allergen for the appropriate period of time, you will then reintroduce the food to their diet for one week and watch to see if their allergy symptoms recur. 

If you eliminated more than one food, add back one food at a time each week.


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