As someone who advocates for autism through my website and social media I get asked a lot of questions, and talk to newly diagnosed Mom’s, on a weekly basis. One of the topics I get asked advice about most is diet. My biggest piece of advice for those who ask for it is to cut out gluten. I wish someone would have told me to do the same when we were first diagnosed. It took months of research to uncover this little gem! ‘Luca is a different kid now’. I hear this from friends and family all the time. He’s present, he makes eye-contact, he communicates, and he talks through his frustrations and tantrums. And the best part about trying this? You don’t need to pay a doctor or a therapist and you get to try this on your own. If this is something you are going to try then my next piece of advice is to please give it at least 6 months before judging the results. It may feel daunting to start, but there are so many gluten free options now and even restaurants are starting to accommodate those with gluten sensitivities. Once you set your mind to this and once you find your rhythm you will notice that it is easier than you may have anticipated. And when you start to see the changes in your child, it will push you to keep going! Also, reach out to me with your questions and your progress and even just for ideas.
Here are a few signs to note if your child might have an intolerance to gluten:
- Constantly moving/running around. This is their way of distracting themselves from the discomfort in their bellies.
- Tantrums over minor things. Think about when you aren’t feeling well. Remember how irritable you are? How the littlest things drive you crazy? Now put that on your kiddo ☹. Especially the kiddos that are non-verbal. Of-course they are going to tantrum.
- Lays down a lot, or puts their belly on things. Does your child press his belly into a table, the back of a chair, your leg? Or does he/she lay down and squirm around a lot? Chances are those movements help their belly feel better.
- Trouble with bowel movements. Either constipated or diarrhea. And sometimes a fluctuation between both.
“My kid is too picky. I don’t think I can cut out gluten because he/she won’t eat anything else”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this, and I used to say it myself. And there is a reason your kid only likes mac’n’cheese, pasta, crackers, etc. Gluten has some addictive qualities. It’s like sugar. I’m not going to go into that here. Do a little google search or watch some great documentaries on the effects of gluten. The best thing you can do is educate yourself. But I will give you some methods that worked for us when we took out gluten:
- Get the gluten out of the house! Whether you want to wait until it’s all gone, or you are ready to toss it, Do It!!! If it’s still in the house and your child starts to tantrum, chances are you will cave and give in. If it’s out of the house, simply explain that it’s ‘all gone’. And sure, you might face a tantrum, but let your child look for it and make it a game: Let’s look together! Also, start to weed out soy. Look at all ingredient lists. You’ll find that soy is placed in a lot of products. I gave myself about a month after we took out gluten to get rid of the soy in the house. Soy’s reactions in the gut/brain are similar to gluten. So get it out!
- Start with the foods your child will eat that are gluten-free. Things like oranges, apples, strawberries, bananas, etc. Most children have at least one fruit they will eat. And if they will eat a vegetable, get that in there as well. You might have several meals that involve only that favorite fruit (please buy organic. To be explained in a later blog). And no, you won’t be starving your child.
- SLOWLY introduce gluten-free variations on their favorite food. If your kid loves mac’n’cheese and Monday you serve it and Tuesday you switch to the gluten-free variation, of course they won’t eat it. If you wait a few weeks, and eat whatever other foods they will eat, then when you re-introduce it they will be so excited to have it back, chances are they won’t notice the switch. Examples: We love quinoa chips instead of crackers. They are very crunchy and taste great. You can get them almost anywhere. Or get an organic tortilla chip. If you use flour tortillas, switch to corn tortillas. Switch regular pasta for gluten-free pasta. When first switching pasta, the variety made from corn have a similar consistency to regular pasta, so start with that. But eventually, you’ll want to cut back on corn as well (again to be explained in a later blog). Trade gluten-free bread for regular bread. For the best tasting bread, find a local gluten free bakery. They have some awesome options that have similar taste and consistency to regular breads.
- Get your kids involved in the cooking process. When I first cut out gluten for Luca, I got him to help me add spices. He liked to smell them. And at first, he wouldn’t try anything as he was afraid the spices made it too spicy. But when I explained spices simply add flavor, he was curious enough to try it. Luca loves to help with stirring, measuring, reading directions, etc. It gives him a sense of pride and he is more willing to try his creation.
- Cut out gluten for the whole family. Sure, brothers, sisters, dads and or moms might protest. But explain its only for a short while and you are doing this to help your child with autism. Make a theme night every night. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wild Wednesday. Let your family help you pick recipes that look interesting and let it be a food adventure.
- Check the menu before you go out to eat. We’ve met up with friends at restaurants and found limited options. So when friends want to meet, I google restaurants in the area and pick one that has several options for us. Lots of places offer gluten free options, sometimes you simply have to ask.
As always, I'm sending you lots of LOVE on your journey. Please reach out if I can help support your gluten-free journey.