Nicole Michelle Aponte May 2011
Several years ago I had no idea what the words gluten or casein meant. However, when I learned what they meant, it meant the world to me. I am a mother of an 8 year old son with Autism. Asperger’s may be a better diagnosis for him now. But, it was certainly Autism when he was evaluated as a toddler years ago.
Back then, I was researching so many articles, web pages and books that my head was spinning! But, I trusted that God would lead me to the right treatments to make a difference in my son’s future. At the time, my son was “zombie-like”. He had a vocabulary of less than 20 words at 4 years old. He barely engaged with our family or anyone else. He didn’t like for his grandmother to hug him. He didn’t play with his brothers. He couldn’t follow the pointing of my finger to an object being pointed at. He was lost inside his own little world and we were desperate to gain entrance and pull him out.
A few books I had been reading focused on nutrition, in a way I had never heard of before. The gluten and casein free diet was the “go to” phrase, also known as the GFCF Diet, when it came to Autism dietary intervention. I was not encouraged by the Child Neurologist who diagnosed my son to try these diets. He warned me that it was dangerous and unhealthy. He said that people were trying anything to heal their children regardless if it had no substantial evidence of being beneficial. He was adamant during his monologue that he turned red!
Well, the children in the books I read had recovered from their Autism through these dietary and biomedical intervention coupled with therapies. So, I walked out that Dr.’s office and sternly told my husband, “I don’t care what he says! In the books I have read, the children have recovered using these techniques. So we are doing it!” I am so glad that we did.
Gluten is the protein derived from wheat. It is also found in barley, oats and malt. Casein is the milk protein found in cheese, yogurt, and many other dairy products. These proteins are not easily digested by children with Autism. When they are improperly digested, they become a sort of morphine. They give off a “high”. It might sound like fun, but it is devastating to the young mind of a child with Autism. In this “fog”, it is difficult for them to concentrate, talk, focus, make eye contact and more. The GFCF diet is all about removing foods that contain these proteins and replacing them.
We began shopping at local grocery stores in the Organic sections and health food specialty stores to obtain Gluten free breads, cereals, waffles, cookies and pasta. We also replaced my son’s milk with Rice milk and Soy milk. This was an easy switch for him being that when he was a baby, the pediatrician had us put him on soy formula since he was showing reactions to regular milk based formula. He never complained about the food. Perhaps, it is due to the fact that these foods were healing him. He probably was feeling better than he had in a long time.
One week after we began the GFCF diet, I heard my son call me “Mommy” for the first time. What a joyous moment! He used to lovingly call me “Sandy” or “Patrick”, SpongeBob’s best friends. He was unable to comment or share his emotions or needs before without using a script from a TV show. But, soon after beginning the diet, he began expressing himself in new ways!
It wasn’t over yet. I began learning about other dietary interventions for children with Autism that included eliminating food dyes, corn syrups, MSG and preservatives. I learned that certain spices have healing qualities such as turmeric, cumin and saffron. As much as possible, I began to implement this as well. The whole family enjoyed the taste of my cooking with the new spices!
Continuing further, I discovered that children with Autism tend to have many food allergies when tested. I scheduled an appt with our family allergist for food testing and sure enough, my son tested positive for many food allergies. We began immunotherapy treatment and eliminated the foods he tested positive for.
Once again, he began making strides in his development! Not only did this research benefit my son but it was a miracle for me. I had been suffering from stomach problems since I was 19 and there were no answers from any doctor I had seen. I decided to get the food allergy testing and was positive for many food allergies myself. Eliminating those foods made a world of difference in my life! I couldn’t rid all of them from my diet as I had many allergies. But, I had learned that many families used enzymes to help children with Autism digest their food and eventually come off of the GFCF diet as they got older and had progressed substantially. I decided to try these enzymes myself and found I could now eat foods I couldn’t before! I began gaining some weight after years of being too skinny and I was feeling healthy!
Now, my son is amazingly different from the sad little tike he used to be. He talks, jokes, comments and enjoys our company. Not to discredit the therapies we did, because they played their part in his growth. But, I believe his body needed the proper nourishment in order to focus on the therapies he was getting and receive the information being sent to him.
It has been almost 5 years now and we still serve him GFCF meals during the week. However, due to the effectiveness of enzymes, we are able to be lenient and allow him to eat some of the previously forbidden foods, such as pizza and cheeseburgers.
I am not a physician, just a mom who went the extra mile to pray, research and walk in faith for my son’s development and recovery, trying dietary intervention as my first method. Jenny McCarthy is now a famous mom in the Autism Moms circle. She described recovery as a parallel to a bus crash victim. My take on her explanation is this: It can happen to someone and he is victim of it. However, if he survives, he can recover from it through treatments and therapies. He may never be completely the same as he originally was, but he can gain back a quality of life he never would have had, if he had not persevered through interventions and treatments.
My son is recovering daily. He continues to progress every year and that is recovery to me. His development has not stopped. He loves to talk, sing, dance and show love. When asked by his speech therapist, “What do you like to learn about in school?” (We homeschool.) He responded, “God” She continued, “What else?” He said, “Jesus” “Anything else?” she asked. “Helping people,” he replied. That’s a success story if I ever heard one. Dietary intervention can be a sacrifice at times, but in the end, it’s worth the effort when the reward is your child’s future.