A popular diet that eliminates wheat and milk protein does not appear to help children with autism, but early behavioral treatments do, researchers reported yesterday.


The findings are sure to disappoint many parents who have been trying to manage autism, which affects as many as 1 in 100 U.S. children.


“It would have been wonderful for children with autism and their families if we found that the gluten-free, casein-free diet could really help, but this small study didn’t show significant benefits,” said Dr. Susan Hyman of the University of Rochester, who led the study. “The removal of gluten and casein from the diet of a controlled group of young children with autism, all of whom were screened for celiac disease ... did not demonstrate a change in sleep habits, bowel habits, activity or core symptoms of autism,” Hyman said, noting that other diets may work.


Hyman’s team studied the diet after seeing Internet reports from parents who believed they saw effects in their children. There is some evidence linking autism with some potential abnormality or activity in the intestines and theories suggest proteins absorbed in the bowels may affect autism symptoms.


While on the special diet, the children took part in early childhood education programs, and those seemed to help their symptoms, Hyman said.