Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pros and Cons of a Strict GFCF Vs Mixed Diet Household

When you have a child with autism or ADHD and you choose to implement dietary changes, the question becomes - do we all do it or just the one child? I'll discuss this in reference to GFCF (gluten free, dairy - casein free), but it could also be broadened to any dietary changes you wish to make.

Depending on your personal situation, you may or may not choose to have a strict GFCF household when you initially convert your special needs child onto this diet. Having personally experienced both sides of this topic, I'd love to share with you some of the pros and cons of each.

Strict GFCF for Everyone

Pro - When the entire family "goes GFCF" (or whatever dietary changes you choose), it shows complete support for the one who needs it.

Pro - Eliminates the risk of cross-contamination when you are preparing, cooking and serving foods that contain these ingredients.

Pro - There are additional health benefits (other than reducing or eliminating ADHD and autism behaviors and symptoms) that can be experienced while on this diet. There are over 300 symptoms of gluten intolerance alone! If the whole family goes GFCF in support of the one who needs it, they will likely be surprised at how they benefit as well.

Pro - Simplifies life. One meal plan, one shopping list, one set of cookware and utensils, etc...

Con - If you are restricting everyone's diet due to food sensitivities of one person, it could be that others are unnecessarily eliminating these foods. (Of course, see point 3 above - these changes will most likely benefit them as well!)

Con - It is more expensive to purchase specialty food items and if everyone eats them, you will need more of these items. (Sticking to whole foods, not based on breads and dairy, instead of using GFCF alternates eliminates this con!)

Con - If your children are aware of the fact that they must follow the special diet because someone else needs it, there could be resentment. (Inform the family you are making general healthy changes and don't pin it on the one child.)
Mixed Diet Household

Pro - This is more flexible. When having other people in your home who aren't familiar with GF alternates, you have "regular" food on hand for them. (Although it never hurts to serve your GFCF foods and show them how good they really are!)

Pro - For families with more than one child: If you only have to be strict with one child's food, it's not as complicated trying to organize food for every event, outing and meal away from home. (Although, once you create a routine for one, it's easier to implement for everyone.)

Pro - Because you are more aware of cross-contamination issues, it's more likely to be easier on you when around foods not in your diet. You already have plans in place for keeping food pure.

Pro - Easier on the budget. (This can be outweighed by the cost to keep extra equipment... )

Con - The possibility for cross-contamination is high, especially with younger children who spill, make more mess while eating and don't yet clean up after themselves. (The older your children are, the easier this gets, but the risk is always there, even with adults.)

Con - There is opportunity for the GFCF child to sneak foods that shouldn't be eaten. (This is a possibility for any child who is away from constant supervision, of course, and the older the child is, the more freedom they have over their food. Awareness of what the food is and how it affects them is key to avoiding this.)

Con - There is a greater need for organization to separate foods, have a place for acceptable foods, and know which food is for what diet type, label it all, etc...

Con - Must have extra sets of cookware, utensils and be super diligent to not use the wrong item for the wrong food.

Con - Must buy multiple versions of the same foods or cook more than one version of a meal, which can be time-consuming and complicated.

Con - The child following the special diet alone might feel left out. (While this is a fact of life one must accept on a restricted diet due to food sensitivities and allergies, it's nice to know one is supported in their own home.)
As you can see, there are many reasons one might choose to keep a strict GFCF household or allow mixed dietary plans. Some of the pro reasons for one choice are simply the con for the other choice, just presented in the opposite perspective.

You may see a general trend in the pros and cons and my comments on each and realize that I am generally pro- keeping it strict GFCF in the home. While each choice may have more pros or cons listed, it's not the amount that counts. What counts most is what matters most for you.

Your unique needs and family lifestyle are more important that someone else's opinion. Do what works for you now. You can always change it if it doesn't work best for your family.

Top 5 Kitchen Organization Tips for a Stress-Free Diet for ADHD, Autism and Allergies

Being organized and efficient in the kitchen is a must for stress-free maintenance of a special diet for autism, ADHD or food allergies.

When things get out of control and chaos takes over, it's not pleasant to work in the kitchen. You are more likely to avoid it and make a run for the nearest restaurant, 'fast food drive through' or pre-made processed foods.

When dealing with food restrictions due to allergies or intolerances, those conveniences aren't an option. And when you do have allergen-free options, they are still less healthy than home cooked meals with increased risk of cross-contamination.

Here is my top 5 list of tips to keep your kitchen and pantry organized and clean:

Keep a shelf or place in the pantry, fridge or cabinets designated for allergen-free foods and utensils only. This helps avoid confusion with other members of the household, saves time when looking for items, and prevents cross-contamination with foods that don't belong. *Especially important if living in a household with mixed diets!

Place appliances and utensils where they are most used in the kitchen for convenience. For example, I keep my juicer and blender near my sink for quick and easy clean up. It's easier to use these items for green juices and smoothies when they are already out and ready to go. I have a strainer/basket that hangs in the sink. I rinse off the juicer parts after use, put them in the basket to dry, and simply put the basket in the cabinet to store once dried, while the main juicer unit stays on my counter top. I'm much less likely to use these appliances when they are put away and out of sight.

Put foods you want to eat less of in hard to reach places. Better yet, get rid of them entirely. Not ready to do a complete clean out or have a family member who still eats them? Put things like snack foods and sweets on the highest shelf in the pantry or at the back of the top cabinet. Maybe even move them to a space in the garage! Do what it takes to make healthy MORE convenient.

Label everything. Even if you have a designated storage place for allergen-free foods, it's still a good idea to label everything to avoid mix-ups. If someone absentmindedly puts an item in the wrong place, you can catch the mistake by having the foods labeled. For example, if everyone eats almond butter, but not everyone in the home is gluten free, you will want a jar of almond butter that is dedicated gluten free so that children aren't contaminating the jar with bread crumbs. Keeping it labeled, and teaching everyone in the home what that label means, will prevent accidental food ingestion and keep yourself organized.

Keep it Clean. It's hard to keep up with housework and the kids, I know! But, if you can maintain one thing, I recommend keeping your kitchen clean. As a mom to 4 young children, personally speaking, I can't keep up with it all on my own. But I must keep my kitchen clean. If I walk into a mess, it makes me want to walk right out. You can't cook and prepare food if the counters are cluttered and dirty dishes are everywhere. This is the one place I must hold myself accountable to keeping clean. The only time I leave dishes in the sink overnight is if the dishwasher is full and running and I will be putting them in first thing in the morning.
Try to wash those dishes by hand that don't go in the dishwasher, wipe down all surfaces, and sweep the floor every evening. Taking the time to prep for breakfast or school meals will make the morning much easier as well. You don't have to be Martha Stewart, but a clean, inviting kitchen is great motivation for healthy cooking!

Set aside some time, perhaps a morning while the kids are in school or an evening while they are with Dad or Grandma. Go through and take out what you won't be using anymore and then follow these tips for re-organizing everything that will stay. Once the initial makeover is done, the maintenance is easy. And it will make your life much easier as well!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surviving Halloween on a Special Needs Diet

It's an exciting time of year. Change of seasons, finally settling into school routines and the promise of fun-filled holidays ahead. With Halloween right around the corner, it is the first of many food-oriented holidays and party-filled evenings to come.

Are you prepared to handle the masses of treats and sweets freely flowing over the coming days?

Here are 5 ways to avoid sugar highs and mood swings with plenty of tips to follow through:

1. Arm yourself some with information as a back-up for when you are wavering in resolve and about to give in to your child's (and your!) desire for the bottomless bag of treats.

Just 2 tablespoons of sugar is enough to reduce your immune system's function for 4 hours! Cold and flu season is here and this is not the time to feast on pure sugar. What we DO need is a load of vitamins and minerals, which are basically non-existent in a sugar-loaded diet.

Blood-sugar issues can mimic ADHD type symptoms: irritability, inability to concentrate and focus, anxiety, etc... We certainly don't need to add to our children's issues here!

Simple sugars interfere with absorption of important minerals like calcium and magnesium, as well as B vitamins. It's well known that ADHD / Autism Spectrum children are most likely deficient in these important vitamins and minerals. Not only will too much sugar reduce their intake of these, it will also interfere with the absorption of what little they do consume.
2. Provide plenty of acceptable treats that won't break the list of the biggest risks: no artificial ingredients like colorings, flavorings and preservatives, gluten and casein (meaning most grains and dairy), refined sugar... you are probably laughing right now asking what's left for Halloween treats!

Homemade treats can be simple and just as yummy if you familiarize yourself with the new ingredients and preparation methods.

Look for healthier (though not actually healthy!) options for candies at your local health food store or online. These still contain sugar, so they aren't optional. But, being realistic with transitional needs, they are a starting point for making better choices.
3. Pre-plan on alternatives for what to do with the motherload of candy that is absolutely irresistible sitting around waiting for you to change your mind!

Agree on a pre-determined exchange for the entire bag. A toy or special outing in place of everything. Make it something special that is worth giving all that up, but not so much that you break the bank for a bag of junk candy! For older children, a simple money exchange is enough.

If you have several parties to attend as well as actual trick-or-treating, I would agree on an exchange for everything together. Otherwise, you will be haggling over tiny bits and pieces coming in from all sorts of places as well as the multiple party collections.
4. Continually discuss the why's of eating healthier and the benefits they will receive for it.

Of course, do it in context when appropriate and don't turn it into nagging. When the situation arises, like the sudden appearance of candy at Halloween, talk about what those 'foods' do to our bodies and why it's better not to eat them. Keep the focus on positive benefits of our good choices.
5. Actually get rid of it!

Don't let it sit around waiting to tempt you when you least expect it.

It is probably best not to do it in front of your child. You don't want any last minute panic attacks when it comes down to it. Make sure it's not just sitting on top in the trash can, either! Bury it under something else!
As with every holiday and special occasion, try to focus on the fun of the season or event and not on the food you're missing. Whether the party is at home or away, you should make the activities and costumes your focus. Have fun with it and Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mild Symptoms of Autism

I remember the joy I had some 11 years ago when I came out of the theatre with my bundle of joy. A handsome boy, Jeremy had been given to me as a gift and I intended to bring him up in the best way I know how. I had fun with him as a baby and at some point when his speech was slow in coming I just thought that it is because he is an only child. At the age of three, I took him to school so that he could enjoy interacting with others and he enjoyed it so much. He never threw a tantrum when I woke him up to prepare him for school. In fact there were many days when he was already up before I went into his room.

I had a good rapport with his teachers and especially the headteacher and would take time to talk about his progress in school from time to time. At one point the headteacher suggested that I take him for speech therapy as this would help him with whatever challenge he had in that area. I took him to one of the best institutions and it helped us greatly. I learned a lot about speech development and I continued this faithfully for about a year.

At this time I had to move from where I was staying due to some challenges and this meant changing schools too. I again enrolled Jeremy in the premier schools in that area and he was doing well in school. One day I got a call from the teacher informing me that Jeremy would not stop crying and this was still early in the day. So instead of reporting to the office, I went straight to school and I got him and we went home. Of course by this time he had calmed down completely.

The teacher requested for a meeting with me the following day after work and I obliged. When I got there, I met also the headteacher to this prestigious school that was larger in capacity and so we had never met. We got into the office and it seemed that the headteacher did not want my child in her school because, as she put it, he was abnormal. Imagine my shock at hearing those words. How can my son be abnormal? Just because he cannot communicate as others do. I was miffed to say the least and yes, Jeremy never stepped into that school again.

So I decided to look into the matter further and I got a government testing center to assess Jeremy. That is when they broke the news to me. My son is mildly autistic, they said. It was a shock. I did not even know what that means so it meant continuing with therapy at the same institution but from a more informed perspective.

I think the reason why it comes as a shock to many when they learn of Jeremy's condition is the fact that you would never tell unless it was told to you. He has his moments when he get quite hyper and some have thought him to be just a spoilt child. But generally, he is calm, thanks to prayers and wisdom in raising him. I do watch his diet somewhat but I have decided not to be limited by it so he eats what we eat. He is very responsible and quite adorable especially now that he has a little brother.

I believe he is growing out of it and yes he does go to school - regular school and not any special institution either. As a family we do not think of him as limited in any way and treat him like we would treat others. I believe this has helped him to not view himself differently and us to know that he can outgrow it and he will soon be out of the woods.

If you have an autistic child or any child with special needs, take heart and believe that you can do it. They need you to believe in them and treat them as such. You owe it to yourself to trust that God gave you a beautiful gift to shower with love and affection.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Facing an Autism Diagnosis

An autism diagnosis is a shock for any family to bear - even though you know it's a possibility. It's not what you want to hear, and secretly you're hoping to hear something different. If you've questioned a diagnosis of autism - convinced that it's wrong and that it can't be the explanation for your child - you're not alone. It's a very usual initial reaction. And after that can come a flood of other feelings and emotions, turning these early days into a rollercoaster ride.

In this article we look at some of the common responses, and consider ways of coming to terms with to the autism diagnosis.

Diagnosis Denial

You are never fully prepared for a diagnosis of autism, and - as we said above - refusing to accept it is a very common first response. Rather than face the fact that there's a problem that needs addressing, you might blame the doctors for not understanding your child, or accuse them of getting something wrong.

But although denial is an initial coping mechanism, it's not helpful longer term as it could blind you to the fact that your child needs help. So even if you don't initially agree - even if the very thought makes you angry and sad - take time to listen to the facts and consider the information. Keep an open mind.

Sadness and Grief

These are well known emotions people have to deal with when they receive a serious medical diagnosis. And when that's an autism diagnosis for their child that seems to shatter the dreams they've had for their child, the sadness and grief can, initially, be overwhelming. But they are normal responses, so don't beat yourself up or try to bury the grief. Try to work through this real mourning phase and if you need a good cry, then have one. Just swallowing the pain can cause you more damage. Remember - you're not being depressed; you're experiencing a normal emotion and you can work through it to get to acceptance.


From the passivity of sadness to the exploding activity of anger - and it can happen in a minute, so don't let it take you by surprise. You can see-saw from one to the other throughout the day, and the anger can often be towards those closest to you or towards parents of healthy children. No, it's not pleasant, to experience or receive. But it is a normal response - a way of warning people that you are deeply hurt, and a release of tension. Keeping anger bottled up is bad for you, but so is letting it explode. So talk to people about how you feel, don't try and hide your emotions completely.

Finally - Acceptance

If you're having any of these problems with your child's autism diagnosis, be reassured that they are part of a journey, not the destination. The destination is acceptance and with it the ability of being your child's best and strongest advocate.

Be Gentle With Yourself

All this can take time, and different family members may need more or less time to adjust. Once there is acceptance the real work can begin and you can start to help your child. Research autism as much as you can, get an understanding of the treatments, and see your child begin to make progress. In summary: an autism diagnosis is just the beginning - and it can bring hope.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recognizing Signs of Stress in Kids With Autism

There are many things that can cause stress in any child. This can include a change in family dynamics, fighting with siblings or typical tension in the home. While these may be manageable stressors for adults, they can be big deals to children so it is important not to dismiss them.

Other stressors for children include issues at school such as teachers, class difficulty, bullies, homework, friends and much more. If you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder you can add even more triggers to the list such as sensory sensitivities, an inability to communicate his or her needs effectively and difficulty de-coding confusing social situations.

Never assume that your child with Autism is without stress. Wouldn't you be if you had to live in a world that was foreign to you?

Whether on or off the spectrum, children do get stressed but they may not display the same signs of stress that adults show. Therefore, it's important to watch for the common signs of stress in your children so you can catch stress before it builds and causes other problems.

If your child has more than his share of emotional meltdowns and you want to minimize the ones that are caused by anxiety and stress then you need to sharpen your detective skills. Below are several common warning signals of stress found in children.

• Withdrawal: Most people can relate to a desire to escape when tension begins to build. This is one area where children often become invisible. Parents tend to see quiet time alone as a good thing and they appreciate the peace and quiet this may bring. But children on the Autism spectrum retreat into their own little world enough as it is so any increase in this type of behavior can be a red flag.

• Unexplained Aggression: Many stressed-out children begin to act out in ways that are uncharacteristic for them and are aggressive in nature. For example, if your child doesn't typically show aggression that involves actions such as kicking, hitting, biting and other aggressive actions - take heed once they begin to engage in these new behaviors.

• Anger - Anger can produce stress when you don't understand what is happening or you are lacking the tools to deal with it appropriately. Not knowing how to identify or deal with angry emotions can heighten anxiety in children. It is scary when angry feelings get out of control, especially if they are your own. Also, even when children understand how to deal with anger, stress can make them less likely to handle it properly. Therefore, be on the lookout for unexplained outbursts of anger that don't fit the crime.

• Lethargic Behavior - Children can become depressed when they are overrun with stress and one of the common signs of this is a lack of energy, or lethargic behavior. It may not be depression exactly, but may just be your child's way of dealing with the stress.

• Developmental Setbacks - If a child is stressed out you may notice that he or she is regressing or adopting habits that have long since been broken. For example, it's not uncommon for young children under stress to resort back to thumb sucking and/or lose the ability to dress him or her self or anything else he or she may have recently mastered.

• Repetitive behaviors - Children with Autism often have a tendency to engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and hair twirling that help to calm them when they become anxious. Don't wait for a full-blown 'stimming' episode to occur before intervening to reduce stress levels. Pay attention to what happens just prior to escalation and intervene with distraction or alter the environment.

Stress may be a part of everyday life but there are many things one can do to prevent stress from building and alleviate it when it occurs. The first step in this process is to recognize the signs and label them as warnings. Knowing what those red flags are will help you intervene quickly when you see them.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Potty Training A Child With Autism

Ahh... Toilet training! That delightful challenge every parent has to face... and it can be pretty hard work at the best of times, even with healthy children. So imagine how tricky things can get when you add autism into the mix. But help is at hand, and we're going to look at a few tips and techniques you can try to make potty training easier and, hopefully, more successful.

1. Patience - Your Number 1 Virtue

Never lose sight of the fact that it's going to be a bit of a journey and it won't be straightforward. So don't get totally wound up and don't feel a failure. You might have to try more than one thing to find the right solution for your child. Every child is different and there's no one-size-fits-all quick, clean easy answer.

2. Is your Child Ready?

Just because you might have read somewhere that children are ready at the age of two, it doesn't mean that it's the magic age for your child. You have to look for signs of readiness, and these could show much later than average. For example, look for signs of your child:

being aware that they have a wet or dirty diaper/nappy - they could pull at it, or take it off, for instance
being able to imitate what you do - so you can effectively demonstrate sitting on the toilet
responding well to positive reinforcement - when you give your child something they like they're more likely to do the behaviour you're teaching them. (We call this 'loving bribery' in our house)
staying clean and dry most nights
3. When should you start?

If your child shows the readiness signs later than average children, don't worry - it's quite usual for autistic children. Just make sure that your child is happy to co-operate, can sit on a potty for a toilet for a short time, is able to dress and undress and recognises the clues that mean they need the bathroom.

4. Coping with Impaired Social Interaction

Problems understanding language and logic could mean that your child finds it difficult to understand what they're expected to do. Why should they pee or poop in the toilet or potty rather than their diaper or nappy? And they also may find it difficult to express what they need. Your challenge here is to recognise their cues and help them to tell you what they want.

5. Coping with Sensory Problems

Unusual reactions to sensory stimuli - for instance, smells temperature and sounds - are experienced by many autistic children, so watch how your child reacts in or near the bathroom. Do the different smells from cleaning liquids and perfumes in the room cause problems? Is the bathroom colder or hotter than other rooms and do they respond negatively to the change in temperature? Do the noisy pipes and flushing toilet upset them?

The key here is to remove as many of the upsetting obstacles as you can. That could mean putting lower wattage lights in the room, making sure your child wears socks or slippers on the tiled floor or explaining the noises and making them into a game.

6. Using Rewards

This is my family's 'Loving Bribery' system! By the way, it works a treat with all toddlers and most adults, so by all means use widely! First, identify something your child loves. This could be a food treat or special drink, or maybe a particular toy. Then make sure that everyone only gives your child this reward as part of toilet training. The aim is to associate the loved thing with a specific behaviour and so increase the likelihood of that behaviour happening.

7. Identify Your Child's Routine

By creating a time log of what your child does and when - and what the outcomes are - you will be able to build these times into your toilet training. So, over a week, write down times your child eats and drinks, wets, soils and is changed. Then when you know, for example, that your child wets 15 minutes after drinking you can make that part of the toilet training process.

8. Punishment is Outlawed!

Toilet accidents are not to be punished. It's far more useful to use them as opportunities to explain to your child why they should use the potty. Make sure that everyone who has contact with your child understand this and follows your system.

9. And Stress is Outlawed, Too!

There is absolutely no benefit to you or your child getting stressed and harassed over potty training. If your child feels pushed into a corner they won't co-operate and they'll turn against the very things you're trying to get them to use. Let them get used to the potty or toilet without expecting results. make as much of this into a game as you can. And DON'T get wound up yourself. You do need to be strong, cool and calm.

And finally... Remember what we've said throughout this article: the Potty Training Process IS going to take time... just give it the time it needs for your child to latch onto a new idea and a new skill. And stay positive!