Parent Perspective: Educators and Diets
Home » Advocacy & Resources » Parent Perspective: Educators and Diets facebook
Presentation: Dealing with Diet: School and School-Aged Children - Kelly Barnhill, MBA, CN, CCN

From Tami Giles of Autism Recovery Resources of Washington (ARROW)

While some teachers may view your child's special diet as an inconvenience, there is ascientific evidence that supports the need in children with autism and other developmental disorders. Many (possibly most) children with autism have food allergies or sensitivities that affect their behavior. Suggestions:

  • A doctor's letter: Teachers and others need to understand that a gluten-free, casein free diet, or other restrictions, may be imperative to your child's physical and behavioral health, just as a peanut allergy must be respected for children who are allergic to peanuts.
  • Documentation: Provide some information to the teacher to explain the medical reasons behind your child's diet. You can also offer to send special treats for your child to school for parties, and encourage the teacher to use rewards other than food if you’re aware that’s being done.
  • Legal Rights: Federal laws require schools to support students' medically necessary diets. Under the USDA's Section 504 and child nutrition regulations, schools participating in federal school meal programs are required to make a reasonable effort to provide, at no extra charge, special meals to students whose diets are restricted due to their disabilities [7 CFR Section 15b.26(d)(1)].
  • In order to be eligible for modified meals, a student must present a statement signed by a physician. The statement should include: (a) the disability of the student and how the disability affects the student's diet; (b) the major life activity affected by the disability; and (c) the food(s) to be omitted from the student's diet and those that may be substituted [7 CFR Section 210.10(i)(1) and 7 CFR Section 220.8(f)]. Adjustments to meals may include changing the texture of food, modifying the calories, and substituting different foods for those listed on the school menu.
  • Parents are responsible for: (a) requesting modification of their child's meals, if appropriate; and (b) providing the school system with a doctor's statement certifying their child's disability and describing the child's special dietary needs. If officials at the school are not familiar with these regulations, parents should contact their state school food service director, who is usually employed by the State Education Agency.
  • Because the IEP serves as a communication tool among service providers, parents, and the student with a disability, stating nutrition goals and objectives in the IEP "will facilitate instruction on dietary needs and compliance".
  • The law states that schools may not charge a student more for their special diet; this applies if the child is eligible for reduced or free lunches.
  • The USDA has an excellent free resource for parents, schools, nutrition directors, and IEP teams who want to understand this federal law

Other Helpful Links:

  • North Carolina School resource page (which has omitted autism as a condition, but the same laws apply).
  • The USDA has a special list of reading for those who are interesting in learning more about the laws.