“Heal the gut, Heal the brain”
One of the first steps we took as a family was to reach out to a Doctor who specializes in working in Biological intervention with children with Autism by focusing on healing the gut by way of dietary changes, supplements and behavioral intervention. They provide a protocol based on the study of the biochemistry of Autism. One of their beliefs are ”Heal the gut, Heal the Brain.” The goal is to improve the health of the gut-brain connection through diet and supplementation. We were very grateful and lucky enough to get referred to a great Doctor in California with the help of Jenny McCarthy and Candace McDonald from the non-profit organization, Generation Rescue. His name is Dr. Dan Rossignol http://www.danrossignolmd.com. We also used another Doctor in New Jersey by the name of Dr. David Dornfeld http://www.mdvip.com/DavidDornfeldDO. The pediatrician we use is Dr. Giuseppina Benincasa-Feingold, MD http://www.moonlightpediatrics.com and Peta Cohen, M.S., R.D., is a Clinical Nutritionist and Metabolic Specialist and the founder of the Total Life Center, an Integrative Wellness Center located in downtown Englewood, New Jersey. http://www.totallifecenter.com/aboutpeta.html
We learned that many children with ASD suffer from a “leaky gut” which means that they have a permeable intestinal tract, so when they eat foods containing gluten and casein or other specific food intolerances, their intestines leak toxins that are absorbed into the bloodstream that can’t always be fought off by their immune system so it creates a toxic overload and can affect parts of the brain that affect speech and auditory integration. It’s basically food proteins that aren’t broken down properly by the body that enter the blood. It produces an opiate-like affect on the child, like a narcotic, that can increase the Autism symptoms. I noticed that Nicholas would start to giggle out of nowhere after he ate gluten. He would act really silly. Sometimes he would roll his eyes up and to the side of his head and just start spinning or throwing himself into the couch over and over. He would cover his ears putting a lot of pressure on his head. He also had increasing tantrums and wasn’t sleeping well. This led to our decision to start Nicholas on a GF/CF diet. Check with your Doctor about the different types of testing that can be done to check for Gluten and Casein intolerance.
Learning, Experimenting, And Planning = Success (LEAPS)
Learning about the GF/CF diet can be quite overwhelming at first, but once you figure it all out, and learn to plan your meals and snacks by trial and error, it becomes simple. Not all gluten free/Casein free food will be to their liking. It’s a lot of work in the beginning but well worth the results. My son, Nicholas, is an extremely picky eater. He doesn’t like food with certain colors, textures, shapes and/or smells. He can also change his mind on what he’ll eat from day to day, so he is limited as to what he will eat compared to some other kids. Finding his food choices took a lot of trial and error. I’m still searching for more options. I’ve gone out of my way to buy him certain foods and even make him meals that he wouldn’t even look at and I would have to start over and try something else, only to have him turn it away again. It can become frustrating at times. I have to find new and clever ways to disguise fruits, vegetables and supplements into the foods that he will eat so that I can make sure that he is getting the proper amount of nutrition into his diet. Nicholas won’t eat fruit or vegetables on his own. I’m learning to read food labels. I’ve started to recognize what contains gluten and casein. I’m learning to watch for and avoid cross-contamination from pots, pans, cookie sheets, cutting boards, colanders, toasters, as well as cross-contamination that can happen in the facilities that make make certain brands of food. It’s a long process. Eventually, you will find the brands of food that your child likes and what they will eat. You will learn what foods are better to make from scratch, in bulk, that you can freeze, save, and use later. It eventually becomes easier.
Learn about the benefits of putting your child on a special diet!
Unfortunately, the wait to get in to see a developmental pediatrician, or whoever is evaluating your child for a possible Autism diagnosis, can take months, as it did in our case. I was looking for something that I could start doing to help my son while we waited for his appointment. When I first suspected that my son may have Autism, I did some research about the disorder on the “Autism Speaks” website. One of the first things I learned, before his actually diagnosis, was about the benefits of putting your child on a Gluten-Free/Casein Free (GF/CF) Diet. I learned that there are many pieces to completing the entire puzzle of recovering Autism, but I found diet to be an important piece.
Do you remember that old saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, I believe there is something to that. It just makes sense. I learned from being a Cosmetologist of many years that what you eat can affect your hair,skin and nails so I didn’t doubt at all, that what you eat could also affect your brain. I don’t think that all people process and respond to certain foods the same way. Alcohol, like food, can affect some people differently than others so why can’t the food we eat? People’s bodies react differently to certain things we put in it, or on it. Some people will break out in a rash by putting certain things on their skin. Try giving a kid a bunch of candy and watch how quickly and differently they start to act.
The reason we choose to work on my child’s diet first, was because we felt that if our child was the healthiest he could be, starting from the inside, the better he would respond to other therapies that could help him. It is very common for ASD children to suffer from gastrointestinal problems, and because of that are either constipated or have diarrhea.
Think about it, if you were sitting in class or work with cramps from diarrhea, being constipated or had a migraine, how productive would you be? If you had trouble sleeping because of these symptoms, it would also be hard to concentrate the next day. You may also be a little cranky. I didn’t want my child to have to live with symptoms like that, especially if there was something that could be done to avoid that. Also, his diet was one of the few things that I could have some control over.
LIST OF SPECIAL DIETS
- BODY ECOLOGY DIET-
- ELIMINATION DIET-
- FEINGOLD DIET
You may want to add the Feingold Diet to do along with the GF/CF diet. This diet removes food
additives, colors and preservatives in the diet that are triggering particular symptoms. The goal is to
RID THE BODY OF TOXINS! For more information on the Feingold diet, go to their website at
- GAPS DIET
- GLUTEN FREE/CASEIN FREE DIET– Nicholas is on this diet and we have seen improvement in him since we’ve started it, so I will give you more information this diet, but I believe the others are great as well.
- LOW OXALATE DIET,LUTEIN-FREE DIET (AKA SARA’S DIET)
- ROTATIONAL DIET
- SPECIFIC CARBOHYDRATE DIET
LIST OF FOODS & ADDITIVES TO AVOID
- Acetic Acid (E260)
- Additives(synthetic sweeteners like aspartame)
- Arsenic (Found in Rice Milks)
- Artificial ingredients(High-fructose corn syrup-HFCS)
- Bouillon Cubes
- Cane Sugar
- Carmel flavoring/coloring made from butter and milk, barley malt, or Starch Hydrolysates
- Children’s Nutritional Shakes
- Chocolate Milk
- Cow’s Milk (including lactose-free, organic, raw, evaporated, and casein free) NO COWS MILK WHATSOEVER!
- Flour tortillas
- Food dyes on a label look like FD&C followed by a color name(artificial coloring).
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Lactic acid
- MSG Monosodium glutamate E621)
- Malt Vinegar
- Meat Products Nitrates/Nitrites
- Microwave popcorn
- Modified Food Starch
- Natural Flavors or Ingredients/Artificial Flavoring
- Noodle Soup
- no GMO’s
- Oatmeal (Unless Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Oats)
- Pesticides sprayed on food
- Processed/Luncheon Meat (hotdogs, ham, sausage, cold cuts)
- Rice syrup
- Shoyhu (Soy Sauce)
- Soy Milk
- Soy/Fruit Beverages
- Sports Drinks
- Just Stay Away From Chemicals!
LEARN TO READ FOOD LABELS! THERE MAY BE HIDDEN INGREDIENTS YOU NEED TO AVOID!
What do I add or eliminate from the pantry?
Empty out your pantry! Just take everything out! Wipe it clean and start over. Eliminate all food containing Gluten or Casein. It is recommended that you start by eliminating dairy first and then the gluten. You could fine tune the diet even more by doing food allergy testing to determine what other foods could be triggering particular symptoms and then eliminate those.
Try to go 100% (or all) natural and 100% Organic! It must say 100% for it to be free of chemicals and preservatives. Another thing you can try is eliminating the top food allergies which are Casein, Yeast, Sugar, Soy, Eggs, Corn, Nuts, Potatoes, Peanuts, Tree nuts, Fish, Shellfish, Wheat, Milk
Fine tuning the diet!
We decided to get our son tested for food allergies and intolerances so that we could fine tune his diet even more. I was shocked to find out some of the foods he was intolerant to. Once we eliminated those foods from his diet, his bloated belly went down and his stools became more regular and solid. Today, Nick is on a Gluten Free, Casein Free, Wheat free, Dairy Free, Soy free, Chick pea/Garbanzo bean Free Diet and we have limitations with other food! We are now thinking about eliminating corn as well, and looking for other replacements. We will start by only giving him non-GMO corn. (Baby steps!)
Even though fine tuning his diet has been a long, tedious process, it has helped our son to focus more and stim less. He is overall more calm and less irritable now. He has become more engaged with his surroundings and with others. The rims of his eyes aren’t as red and the dark circles under his eyes have lightened up. His eyes are becoming as bright as his future. We noticed that the diet, at least in my son’s case, made huge improvements in my son’s Autism signs and symptoms. At least we have noticed that it has helped him to be more focused during his treatments and therapies, so as a result, he is getting more out of them..
We believe in giving Nicholas Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics with foods daily to aid in digestion and help to replace the good, healthy bacteria that live in the intestines which can help to build up his immune system.
Give the diet 100%
To get the best results, you need to follow the diet 100%! I learned after some time of occasional cheats here and there that even just one crumb of gluten can set them back at least 6 months! One bite of Casein can set them back weeks.We weren’t following the diet 100% in the beginning because I didn’t completely understand how the diet works. Now that I understand it better, I treat all food that contain gluten and casein as if it were poison and we do not allow him to cheat on it at all anymore. His behaviors improved.
What if everyone in the house is not GFCF?
Of course it is best if the whole family can follow the GF/CF diet together, but in my food obsessed family it was very difficult to stick to it 100%. I don’t allow the option to quit the diet for my son, Nicholas, because I’ve seen what the results have been for him by sticking to it 100%. If you learn your child has Celiac disease (a disease in which the small intestine is hypersensitive to gluten, leading to difficulty in digesting food) you’ll need to take it a step further and be very careful to avoid cross contamination of food and appliances, pots and pans, cutting boards, etc. You may have to buy certain kitchen items to be used only for your child on the diet and keep it separate from the other ones that you use for the rest of the family.
I keep a separate hidden shelf of Nicholas’s forbidden treats in my upstairs linen closet that my other son can secretly still enjoy. We are careful not to tease Nicholas by letting him see us with something that he can’t have. I tried to get both of my son’s on the GF/CF diet but CJ, my older son, was having a real hard time with it and felt it unfair and unnecessary that I was making him stick to the same diet as his brother. We decided to allow CJ to still enjoy some of his favorite snacks….for now. Because of his age and his acquired taste for non GF/CF food, the transition for him may have to go at a slower place.