Autism: Alternative Therapies

You can read about our son’s autism diagnosis here and the process of beginning services here.

Brody was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 16 months old. Very young for an autism diagnosis, but as it turns out, it was spot on. The developmental pediatrician gave us hope and said that with the right services and a lot of hard work, it was possible that by age three, he would “catch up” and autism wouldn’t really be a big part of our lives anymore.

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

Though he was making progress through Early Intervention and then preschool, he was not making the gains we had hoped. Though his doctor didn’t promote the change we were about to make, he warned us that Brody really needed to start making a lot of growth in the next year, otherwise “his brain might never understand.”

My husband and I realized that we needed to up our game and try something different.

My sweet nephew, who is only two weeks older than Brody, was also diagnosed on the autism spectrum at a young age. He and most of his family have always been gluten, dairy and soy free due to food allergies. But his parents (my sister-in-law and brother-in-law) changed his diet to eliminate Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) and switched to mostly organic food. His results have been nothing short of miraculous. He is not “cured” by any means, but his progress has been amazing and encouraging. They had gentry encouraged us to do the same many, many times, but we weren’t ready to do something that drastic. I had read about the “Autism Diet” (check out here and here), which meant eliminating gluten (the protein found in wheat) and casein (the protein found in milk).

After a disheartening doctor visit and parent-teacher conference just before Brody turned three, we decided to go all out and do it. And do it ALL.

No gluten. No dairy. Organic. GMO-free.

Immediately, my mind began racing. Where would we find all of his food? How would we afford it? What if he refused to eat it? He loves macaroni and cheese – does that mean he can’t ever have it again? How will we eat out at restaurants? What are we going to do about preschool and daycare? What if they aren’t on board and accidentally give him gluten or dairy?

We found out the answers to all of these questions and more. Here is how we did it:

1. Pantry Clean-Out and Grocery Shopping: My husband and I are not on the same diet, so we didn’t have to necessarily throw a lot of food away, but we did clean off some shelves in the pantry and fridge for all of Brody’s new food. We got a babysitter one afternoon and spent two hours at Trader Joe’s and Shoprite shopping for food for our little man. Yes, it was very expensive. But luckily, gluten free food is getting easier to find (a lot easier than just a few years ago). Thank goodness Trader Joe’s opened in our area last year and Whole Foods just last month. TJ’s carries a large selection of inexpensive, organic produce as well as pantry items that are free from artificial food dyes. Thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, many foods now need to be clearly labeled if they contain any of the eight common allergens (wheat, milk and peanuts to name a few).

2. Get Your Child’s Other Providers on Board: Brody spends a good chunk of the day away from us at preschool and daycare in the afternoon. We talked to, and were very clear with, his teachers and daycare provider about what we were doing. We provided all of his food throughout the day, including snacks at school, lunch at school and snacks and drinks at daycare. It certainly takes a watchful eye to make sure that he doesn’t steal someone’s cookies at lunch or swipe another kiddo’s Cheerios at snack. But we’re so thankful for everyone’s efforts. As we explained to them all, if this works, it will only benefit them in the future as well. He has definitely had a few slip ups at daycare, school and home. He’s quick and sneaky at times! But we still hope that our efforts will make a difference.

3. Find Alternatives: I knew we wouldn’t have a chance of making this work if we couldn’t find alternatives for some of Brody’s favorites. Luckily, there’s only been a few foods that we can’t find a safe option for. Instead of regular yogurt, he now eats almond or coconut yogurt; sandwiches are now made with gluten free bread; cow’s milk is now organic rice milk.

4. Plan Ahead and Stock Up: I try to meal plan every weekend and shop for the meals we’ll have for the week. I also try to make some meals that the whole family can enjoy together (that are GFCF) but I will be honest and say that I really, really love cheese. Dairy-free cheese?…well, it’s just not the same. So I have the pantry and freezer stocked up food for Brody that we can heat for him while my husband and I have something else. Some things I’ve made and/or keep on hand are: chicken tenders (organic chicken breasts coated with GF flour and GF breadcrumbs), turkey meatballs, muffins, brown rice pasta, organic tomato sauce, GF bread for sandwiches or pizza, frozen waffles, cereal, hummus, fruit snacks, cookies, pretzels, chips, crackers and of course, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  

It’s certainly been a challenge to follow this “diet”, but the positive changes make it worth it to continue.

Just to name a few successes since we started this lifestyle change… Brody stopped using his pacifier (just stopped using it one night out of the blue), he’s now more affectionate, showering his Dad and myself with hugs and kisses. He’s talking more, labeling things, spelling his name, playing with toys for longer periods of time and requesting things more often.

Now I’m no fool. I know he still has a long way to go, and do I think his autism will ever just “go away?” No. But he’s our little guy and we love him to bits. Going GFDF was just another step in the right direction for us. 

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