Can Iron Intake Cause Poor Behavior in an Autistic Child?

By Scott Thompson
Autistic children may be especially resistant to eating iron-rich foods.
Autistic children may be especially resistant to eating iron-rich foods.

Autistic children tend to be very picky about what they are willing to eat and parents often struggle to get their autistic children to eat regular meals. When an autistic child refuses iron-rich foods such as meat, iron deficiency can result. Iron deficiency can slow a child's development and affect his mood, according to a study at the The Children’s Centre, Royal Glamorgan Hospital, entitled "Iron Deficiency in Children With Autistic Spectrum Disorder."

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency is a common problem for autistic children. According to that same study, 22.5 percent of children diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, also suffered from iron deficiency. Approximately 40 percent of children with Kanner's autism, a more severe autism spectrum disorder, were also iron deficient. Iron deficiency was the most common among those children with the most severe autism symptoms.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

When children don't get enough iron in their diets, they can develop iron deficiency anemia. This is a condition in which the body doesn't produce enough hemoglobin to make red blood cells, according to KidsHealth. A child with anemia may appear pale, fatigued or irritable. He may complain of feeling dizzy or lightheaded and may show little appetite. In some cases, anemic children develop pica, a condition in which the child eats things that aren't food. Iron deficiency anemia can be dangerous, so your doctor may recommend an iron supplement if your child isn't getting enough iron.

Iron Side Effects

Iron supplements can have some side effects. The Mayo Clinic lists dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting, headaches, fever, and aches and pains in different parts of the body as common side effects of taking iron supplements. Behavior problems are not listed as either a common or a rare side effect of taking iron supplements, but children do tend to get irritable when they feel unwell. If your autistic child is experiencing side effects from taking iron, the discomfort caused by the side effects could be making him a little more irritable.

Iron Poisoning

Iron overdose is a common cause of childhood poisoning, so you should never start giving your child iron supplements without talking to a doctor first, warns KidsHealth. The Mayo Clinic lists vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and fever as possible signs of an iron overdose. Blue-tinted palms, lips or fingernails, seizures, pale skin, weak heartbeat and quick or shallow breathing can be signs of severe iron overdose. However, even in cases of iron overdose, the Mayo Clinic does not list behavior problems as a potential symptom.

About the Author

Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.