ASD and Diet – Can Diet truly help?
If you have read either of our journeys you will notice that both our children have benefited from some sort of strict food elimination diet and that in both cases we have seen pretty dramatic improvements in our children’s behaviours and moods. Diet is often a touchy subject with many parents on the spectrum as some believe it cannot possibly do anything to help, others have tried it to no avail and others, like Rebecca and I, are living proof that for some children dietary changes make a huge difference.
For my family there were two driving reasons to start the SCD / Paleo style diet. One was that I had heard so many amazing things about the GF/CF diet for children on the spectrum. The Monkey wasn’t really talking, had eczema that would not go away on his legs and bottom, and his meltdowns were getting increasingly longer and more intense. Secondly I was at the end of my rope dealing with the RA (Rheumatoid arthritis) that appeared after the birth of the Monkey. I was in pain everyday as well as on and off of prednisone and seeing as I wasn’t even 30 yet I refused to believe this would be my life forever. So I began researching diet and autoimmune disorders.
Through my research I came across the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the Primal Blue Print and The Paleo Solution: The original human diet. All these books had one big similarity they eliminated all grains from the diet which they all consider highly inflammatory foods. Then they differed: SCD allowed for hard aged cheeses and some legumes but no added sugars of any kind. The Primal Blueprint allowed for pretty much all types of dairy in moderate amounts if wanted and natural sweeteners like honey but eliminated all legumes and grains. The Paleo Solution suggested eliminating dairy and legumes entirely as well as the grains and that some natural sweeteners like honey were ok in moderation. So what to do with all the information???
First I read more on the Autism Diet and they suggested also eliminating casein which is the protein found in dairy. So eliminating dairy would be part of the task as well. So I went on the diet cold turkey and eliminated grains, dairy, refined sugars, soy and added in meat. For the Monkey we decided to transition him a bit more slowly for obvious reasons. Children on the spectrum are often very rigid and introducing new things to them takes time. So instead of putting him on a diet as strict as I was we put him on a gluten free diet including healthy sources of meat with occasional non-compliant treats here and there. Even this less restrictive diet still showed many improvements in his health. Off and on we tried eliminating dairy and this seemed to be the hardest thing to get out of his diet. We then decided to follow the SCD guidelines for dairy and included hard cheeses and the 24 hr yogurt that they advocate for in the book. The increase in probiotics from the yogurt might very well have been part of the reason why he improved so quickly. My condition followed suit with him and I eliminated the need for all medication and no longer have any pain from RA. I however need to stick to a very strict diet and when I slip into unhealthy eating patterns that are high in sugar and include even some GF grains I begin to feel the inflammatory effects pretty quickly. For the Monkey we did notice an increase in behaviors in the days following a gluten filled treat but my mentality was that a kid needs to be allowed to be a kid sometimes. I was deluding myself to the fact that he was doing great even with the diet being slightly more just GF geared and not truly eliminating all necessary foods.
This Christmas I took a break from Paleo and began to indulge in GF treats that I had not been consuming before. It felt so nice mentally to eat a piece of cake or a sandwich on GF bread but after eating like the Monkey for 2 months I had gained a bit of weight, my hands were sore again and my bowels were less than happy with me. If his diet could do these things to me what were they doing to him? If food affects me this drastically is it not possible that all the things I cannot eat he possibly shouldn’t eat either?
This was not the only revelation that lead to the experiment that we are on currently. The Monkey had started to show signs of regression for the last few months. He was becoming more distant with his peers, his meltdowns were more intense, and his anxieties had escalated to a more then unhealthy level where he needs to know every detail of everything. He even began forgetting words to things that he has known for a long time like the word grape. He just cannot recall the word and to me that is scary. We worked so hard on his language that I cannot imagine him regressing to the point where words no longer exist.
So we decided, as a family, that at the beginning of January we were all going to follow a completely grain free, dairy free, sugar free, soy free, legume free diet and see what would happen. I knew for myself that this was the best decision as it is the only way I can fully control my RA without the need for medication. Gary and the Monkey both had a bit of detoxing happen and although Gary’s only lasted a few days the Monkey’s moods quickly became not so awesome. He was angry, short tempered, increasingly anxious but we held out and he has officially had no dairy, grains, sugar, soy or corn in 2 weeks. I am hoping that the elimination of these foods will help his anxieties. With this we have also added in a Vitamin D supplement.
For more info on Autism and diet I am sharing the following video. After watching this video and writing my journey page I remembered how sick the Monkey had been his first year of life with all those infections and I do believe many of his symptoms are acerbated by a possible yeast overgrowth. I will not say this enough however, these experiences are my own and because they have helped the Monkey’s symptoms it does not mean that your child will have as dramatic of a change but I would ask anyone to give the diet a fair chance of 6 – 12 months and see what happens.
Here is the video:
Here are the links to each book:
Have a great day!