Just What is An Autism Spectrum GPS?
What I hope to provide for families is what I wished for: the shortest, cheapest, most time-efficient path to healing of autism. Autism Spectrum GPS is a modern road map or guidance system, tailored to where your child is at, at any given time. If I cannot provide that, I will refer you to someone who can. I like to say the GPS is "a compassionate compass".
Walk the journey with your eyes wide open...
The first step on this road to healing is to know what you're dealing with. There's an ancient Chinese proverb that says "the beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right name." A diagnosis of autism is meaningful in that it opens a pot of money and special education services. It may also lead to sympathy on the part of some and judgment on the part of others. Let's forget the diagnosis now that we're walking together.
Let's look beyond the label and figure out what's going on and what we can do about it.
We know that there is an immune-gut-brain connection. After the immune system tissues, the gastrointestinal tract has the second highest population of immune cells in the body. Stopping inflammation eases the symptoms of autism.
So let's begin with the gut...
First, we'll examine your child's diet...
1. Put a clipboard or journal in your kitchen and keep a 3-5 day log of what your child eats. Notice carefully their response to meals:
- Do they get down from the table and begin spinning in circles?
- Are their eyes dark and swollen?
- Are their ears and/or cheeks bright red? Is there extreme hyperactivity?
- Are there certain foods they crave, like dairy?
- Is your child unable to potty train, despite all the teaching you have done?
- Observe your child's stools. Are they normal and formed? Is your child constipated and straining, producing rock-like stools? At the other extreme, is there chronic diarrhea and loose, watery stools? Bits of undigested food? Blood?
Any observations in these areas should be carefully journaled.
There are so many beliefs tied to food. If you knew that your child had a peanut allergy, would you continue giving them peanuts? Of course not. The gluten (wheat), casein (milk) issues in so many children with autism are not dramatic like peanut anaphylaxis, but they are devastating to the gut and result in the problems listed above. Many families find that soy, corn and other foods like tomatoes, chicken and turkey, are offensive as well once they journal the foods their child eats and the results. Consider removing gluten and casein from your child's diet and continue your detective work to document the results.
A few things to keep in mind:
Casein is eliminated quickly from the body, within 2-6 days.
Gluten takes up to 6 months.
Gluten is hidden in many places: bath bubbles, shampoos, conditioners, and spices. You must eliminate it in every area of your child's life, including cross-contamination in toasters, fryers, utensils, pans and countertops. Even foods that seem wheat-free or dairy-free, but are processed on the same line in a factory, are likely contaminated.
If you can eliminate everything in a "cold-turkey" fashion, you are more likely to see results. If you see any sign of improvement, you must continue to do the diet and dig deeper. This "elimination diet" is the best test of food intolerance.
Gluten isn't just in the food.
It is found in many art supplies,including crayons, play-doh, paper, paper mache, glue, paint, and even board books. At this point, Crayola art supplies are gluten-free.
Does this "non-food" gluten matter? Possibly. Some kids cannot even touch gluten-containing crayons without a reaction. My son would eat art supplies and board books just to get his gluten-fix. People who are allergic to gluten and casein actually crave it, almost like an addiction.
Be a detective and look everywhere in your home. If you have to put paper out of reach for awhile because your child is eating it, do so. Advise the school or your child's aide to be vigilant.
A gluten-free and casein-free diet is more costly than "typical" food. A pound of rice pasta can be double or triple what it costs for a pound of wheat pasta.
If your budget is restricted, here are some ideas for reducing costs:
- Do a once-a-week pasta dinner with Gluten-free Casein-free (GFCF) meatballs.
- Save the more costly, processed foods as special treats.
- Cook like your grandmother or great-grandmother did, which is the only true way to be certain of what is in your food.
- Use rice, potatoes or quinoa as a daily staple.
- Shop the sales and stock up.
- Check with the manager of your favorite grocery store and ask if they will give you a discount if you order a case of your favorite brands. I have never had a manager refuse.
- Check Amazon.com and buy online.
I am feeding a family of 5 on the GFCF diet, so I buy exclusively gluten-free foods. If you are doing this diet for one child, you will save money on groceries. It is more difficult, though, because you must keep your child's food free of contamination from your gluten-containing products. And the tempting foods will always be in front of your special child.
You have to consider your budget and all the variables. I guarantee that the benefits of doing the diet will outweigh the cost. If you truly cannot afford it, then consider other healing diets, such as The Body Ecology Diet (BED), The Paleo Diet, or The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). These are more restrictive diets so they won't be easier. None of the typical grains are allowed so you will be making all the food yourself. You will save money on prepared food.
Just what will your child eat be eating?
Rejoice! You are lucky to be starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet now instead of ten years ago. The selection of products has grown exponentially in number, quality and taste. Stores nationwide have entire gluten-free sections.
I made a very short shopping list of foods and brands my family loves that are gluten-free. If you buy just this list along with a bag of rice, meats, eggs, fruits, veggies, olive and canola oil, McCormick Spices, and sea-salt, you can feed your child or family breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week and you've implemented a gluten-free, casein-free diet. If you intend to bake, buying a roll of parchment paper to prevent sticking is a great idea. Just add quality water to drink! You can go organic, home-baked, sugar-free...this can be tailored to your family's specific needs.
Keeping it Simple
Most people who don't want to give this diet a try think it is too difficult, so my choices listed below are easy, practical, store-bought items that can be packed in lunch boxes or made quickly before school.
My short list:
- Betty Crocker Gluten-free Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix (www.Bisquick.com/glutenfree)
This mix makes pancakes, waffles, biscuits, strawberry shortcakes, pizza crust, ultimate chicken fingers and oven-baked chicken. Betty Crocker has many other mixes that are gluten free as well. I combine honey and mustard to dip the chicken fingers and get rave reviews!
- Boar's Head Gluten Free Fully Cooked Naturally Smoked Bacon (sold in a box)
Most of Boar's Head's products are gluten free, so this is a brand for lunch supplies and hot dogs as well.
- Tinkyada Rice Pasta or Trader Joe's Rice Pasta
Post Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles
Kellogg's Rice Krispies Gluten Free (only the box marked gluten free!)
Chex Cereals (except the Wheat Chex, read your labels)
Health Valley Rice Crunch 'Ems
Some EnviroKids cereals, like Gorilla Munch - read the labels
- Other goodies
Awelicious Sandwich Bread, Dinner Rolls, Hamburger Rolls (Gluten Free Creations www.glutenfreecreations.com)
Rice Dream or Pacific Foods Rice Milk
Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (comes in soy or soy-free if you end up removing soy, too)
The Pure Pantry Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix (gluten, dairy, soy, nut and egg-free If you use the Earth Balance Soy-free spread and use egg replacer)
Kettle Brand potato chips
Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate mini-chips (dairy, soy and nut-free) I make chocolate chip pancakes with the Bisquick gluten-free mix and pour maple syrup on top. Kids love it!!
You are doing a good thing by being a food detective for your child. Offer the new foods with excitement and joy. Don't say, "Ummmm, here, do you think you might want to try this??" Instead say, "Honey, you have GOT to try this! These are AMAZING!" Do you hear the difference? Your child can read you like a book, so let them read confidence and joy instead of fear and despair.
Don't listen to anyone who says, "I tried that, it didn't work." You don't know how long they tried or if they cheated. Perhaps it wasn't right for them but it may be right for your child. Use your instincts and watch your child carefully. You are the expert!
Four major steps...
Healing journeys generally require peeling away layers of harm, followed by detoxification, restoration and rebuilding. The first steps in autism recovery are to stop the damage coming from toxic foods, environment, and microbes. Peeling each layer takes time, and like peeling an onion, sometimes results in tears. Hopefully, they will be tears of joy, like "thank God, we figured this out!" Based on our experience, don't expect an overnight miracle. Your goal is to remove any and all allergic triggers and gain a collection of improvements. For example, a changed diet might give one child a 10% improvement. Nutrition and listening therapies might bring the total up to 40% improvement. Healing, re-wiring and sensory integration take time, but you must stop the damage first. Your goal is to build your collection of improvements in each layer to 100%. When your child’s body is healthy, normal development will take over where it left off when they became ill. When you are at the final stages, you will look back and know it was worth the journey.