Anumita shares the struggle with food for her children and tells us what the rule book does not. Every mother and care givers need to be vigilant and responsive to the specific diet need of their children. Here’s a candid account.
‘We become what we eat’ is a constant thought that is imbibed in us since childhood. Food is one of the elements, which nourishes body and mind. I am a mother of two Autistic Apergers Syndrome (AAS) children (although one is a young adult). I would like to share a few things I have experienced with my children, especially about their eating habits and food in general.
With the ‘fab about food’ increasing among health conscious people of today, so is the thought that food is causing some illness or deficiencies popping up. Among all the illness, Autism, Aspergers, Pervasive Development Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) might be aggravated by certain foods. AAS was not heard of till a few decades back. Today, there is an increasing trend in these cases.
I decided to do a bit of snooping of my own to understand and work a way out, if there was one. I had even enrolled my younger kid into a well heard of center to help him stimulate his brain waves. They had this nutrition system, which made all the food in the kitchen not suitable for my child. This left me shocked and in doubt.
We all would want to do our best to help our kids to succeed and make things a bit easier for them. Searching through the net, I found a barrage of information that was mind boggling. Food is the balancing factor for most of us. It makes or breaks our routine, day to day. Often that is the first thought, when we wake up, and the last one, at the end of the day. There is a sense of completion when the type of food we like is on our menu.
According to health experts and many Autism physicians, some food categories that are regularly served causes road blocks for most of the Aspergers diagnosed people. The facts are not black and white, but there are many case studies that support these theories. There are cases where sufficient amount of improvements have been recorded. The specialists say that if this regime is added to the process of specialised education to the students, then there would be drastic changes in the success levels. Casein-free and Gluten-free diet is a common prescription among the Autism and Aspergers experts.
Casein is the protein found in mammal milk, including mother’s milk and that of cow, goat, sheep, buffalo or camel. Gluten is a mixture of two proteins found in grains, mainly wheat, oat and barley, which give it the elastic quality to the dough. Studies show that most of AAS diagnosed children and adult suffer from types of gastrointestinal disorder. It is said the proteins in milk and grains do not break down properly and it might leak into the blood stream. It causes a blockage of sorts, leading to the lack in alertness. The case studies of different medical officials like Dr. Karl Ludwig Reichelt, Dawn Privett, Dr. Coury, J. Marc Rhoads, M.D., Deborah A. Pearson, Ph.D., and various others from around the world have emphasised the fact that casein and gluten are the major culprits. It is said that casein and gluten cause sensitivity to the system. It is different from being allergic.
A diet that is essentially casein-free and gluten-free, often, is found to have positive effects as, improved intestinal function, better sleep pattern, reduced tantrums, increased social skills, and even improved communication and so manifesting appropriate emotions. I have often seen and experienced that children and people with AAS have certain finicky thoughts attached to their food. My older child initially would not eat anything, which is red. I had to religiously avoid tomato, tomato sauce or tomato ketchup from his food menu. With time it changed, but it was a real issue for some years. He still has issues with soft cooked food; he likes all meat to be well done. On the other hand, my younger child (who is also diagnosed with AAS) does not like well done meat and he devours ketchup, as if it is not a condiment but a dish itself.
It is said the colour, texture or even the dish and the table used for the eating might have some connection for an AAS eater. It is the sensory part of the AAS person that causes this. Following a diet, which is balanced, yet does not irritate both the emotional and physical aspects of an AAS eater, would be perfect. To do that it is advised to eat more raw fruits and veggies. Cooked food is fine as long as it not processed or added preservatives are not used. Processed food is not good for anyone. If milk and wheat are removed from the diet, a substitute would be needed in its place. Soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk or cashew milk would be great substitutes for milk. A regular calcium supplement is advised too. My younger son has taken to walnut chocolate milk, and he refuses to drink any kind of cow milk. He does eat little cheese and yogurt, but in moderation. I have added a snack of nuts mix, consisting of walnuts, almonds and pecans in his lunch box, which gives him the essential oils.
To control gluten was difficult. Although we eat Indian cuisine at home, my children are big fan of roti and paratha (both made of wheat). Incidentally, most Asian dishes are gluten free. To change the whole structure of meals from breakfast (which consisted of pancakes, waffles, pop-tarts and toaster straddles) to dinner, was a big struggle. I decided to hunt down some products from the stores like Raisin Rack, Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s. It was a nightmare to find food, which had something in it and not the other. My credit card bill shot through the roof. This would not help either of us, so I turned to the internet for help. I found excellent websites that had receipts for gluten free cooking, but they used ingredients I never heard before. I ordered some of these online and day after day I struggled to make a proper paratha from non-wheat grains. Alas, the parathas neither looked nor tasted like one. I could not watch my child struggling with his food on the plate. I ate what he did, but it wasn’t a good meal. I tried to indulge in the meat products he loves; even then, he started losing weight drastically. Let me be clear, I am not saying that this it is not the right diet, but it was not the right one for my child. I decided to make partial changes. I slowly reintroduced some of the gluten, mixing it up with the gluten-free food. His appetite increased and his mood uplifted.
He was also tested for sensitivity for foods like Salmon, and broccoli. My child does not enjoy any of these. I decided that these may be omitted from his diet and would not cause any stress. It is up to the parents to find out sensitivity factor and decide either to omit that food from the menu or work around it. It would be advisable to introduce the gluten-free and casein-free diet gradually, as it would be easier both on the AAS diagnosed and the one preparing the meals.
I found out that there is no hard and fast rule of being gluten-free and casein-free for an Aperger’s child, as it all depends on the degree of sensitivity of the diagnosed. There is an easy blood test by which the sensitivity of foods may be tested. For those who do not have access to such testing, use your observation power and check out which food is causing any kind of discomfort or irritability in your child. It might be stopped for a week and noticed, then reintroduced and noted again. The trial and error method gives a clearer picture.
We all want our children to be happy and successful. Let’s try one more way to make that happen. I will not say it is easy, but it is worth a try.
Pix from net