Saturday, February 20, 2010

The journey of a thousand miles....

The saying goes that a journey of a thousands miles begins with a single step. The road to recovering a child from Autism is a long, challenging, and rewarding journey. The best way to begin that journey, I tell people, is with a single step. Start slow and easy - don't try to tackle too much at once. There are several reasons for that:

1. It's too overwhelming to do everything at once and you can become easily discouraged.
2. It's best to try one thing at a time so that you can know for certain if what you are doing is working. If you do everything at once, you don't know what is causing improvement and what isn't.
3. The changes can be a hard adjustment for the child - changing over time gives the child time to adjust before something new is introduced.

When we suspected Doodle had Autism, we took a series of steps to start her on her recovery. First and foremost, I saw my doctor. I told her what I was planning on doing and asked her some questions. This was difficult, as most traditional doctors don't believe that changing a child's diet will do any good. I was prepared for this challenge and told my doctor I was going to do it anyway. Eventually, she came around.

Second, I did my research. I read many blogs, books, and cookbooks to find out everything I could about recovering my child from Autism. These resources I found the most helpful:
Once I felt like I was armed with the information I needed, I took the plunge and started to change Doodle's diet. The first food we took out of her diet was all milk based products to make her diet casein free. I goofed the first few days, forgetting that coffee cake at Starbuck's has dairy in it, but corrected that mistake immediately. Within a week of making the change, we started to see some improvements. Doodle was much calmer, not as hyper, and could play for a longer duration of time by herself. We also soon found out that dairy was an issue for Doodle when daycare accidentally gave her a slice of pizza about a week after we started the diet. That night was awful - Doodle was cranky, throwing up, and all out of sorts. This is common when you re-introduce an allergen after having been without it for a period of time. I knew we were headed down the right path.

We went a month being dairy free before we took our next step - going gluten free. So many people think this would be a difficult transition, but it really wasn't. We quickly learned how to substitute GF flour for regular flour and I started to experiment with different recipes. Doodle and I enjoy cooking treats for the week every Sunday. It's become a weekly ritual - mostly because Doodle loves to lick the bowl and sneak sugar here and there!

We didn't see immediate improvement after removing the gluten, but it takes 6 months to a year for gluten to completely be removed from your system. We had some tough moments the first year when others weren't recognizing the results that we were seeing. I felt very frustrated but we knew we needed to be persistent as the diet was making improvements. She was coming out of her shell, back into the real world.

Next I started to introduce vitamins. See my post on the vitamins we use. I made sure that we only introduced one vitamin at a time, so that we could measure the effect. If there wasn't improvement over time, we stopped using the vitamin. Each child is different and the combination of supplements necessary to recover a child is as unique as the child themselves. For us, the key vitamins are Vitamin D, a Multi-Vitamin, 2 forms of Essential Fatty Acid, Zinc, and a Pro-Biotic. The Vitamin D addition was the key turning point in Doodle's recovery - it completely transformed her!

Finally, I went all natural! I removed all of the harsh cleaning agents in our house and replaced them with more environmentally friendly products. Fortunately, there are many of these products to choose from now. I noticed a significant different in Doodle's tantrum's once we removed the harsh cleaners - the number of tantrum's significantly reduced once I changed to natural cleaners. Our favorite is Green Works All Purpose Cleaner because it is available in most stores (which is important when you live in the middle of nowhere!)

All of this work paid off this past November when Doodle had her conferences at school. Her OT, PT, Speech Therapist, and Special Ed teacher were astounded at the progress she had made over the summer. Doodle had just started OT services at the beginning of the year. The OT commented that she thought she had her work cut out for her before the school year started, but was so surprised that she hasn't had to do much with Doodle at all because she has come so far. The speech therapist stated that Doodle's autism symptoms had "disappeared" and was recommending that she would not need speech therapy the next year. In fact, she more than likely will not need any kind of special ed services next year. What wonderful news!!! My husband and I were thrilled and so happy that we have stuck with the diet, even when others told us it wouldn't make a difference. I'm thankful that I didn't listen and stayed true to my beliefs that Doodle was so much more than a diagnosis and so much bigger than an Autism label.

The journey certainly is not complete. My new mission is to work on the ADHD symptoms that persist. We'll continue to tweak her diet and supplements to find out what works best for Doodle until this diagnosis disappears as well.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Perfect GF DF Fried Chicken

We used to love making our own fried chicken. It was a labor of love on a Saturday night where we would indulge in sumptuous fried chicken right out of the deep fat fryer and paired it with the perfect mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. I'm drooling just thinking about it. So, ever since Doodle became Gluten and Dairy Free, I've been attempting to recreate the perfect fried chicken. I have failed miserably until a week ago when the stars aligned and I finally found the perfect mixture to make GF DF Fried Chicken. I learned the trick while listening to a cooking program on NPR where a caller was frustrated that her fried chicken in Boston didn't taste anything like the fried chicken in Texas. The secret - adding corn starch to the flour - genius!!! I tried it and it turned out beautifully. I hope you find success in this recipe, should you be so inclined to try it.

Gluten Free Dairy Free Fried Chicken

1 can Coconut Milk
4 Chicken drumsticks - rinse and pat dry
4 Chicken thighs - rinse and pat dry
Paprika, Creole Seasoning, Salt, Pepper, and Jamaican Jerk to taste

1. Place the chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Add coconut milk and seasonings.
2. Marinate in milk mixture for 2-4 hours (or overnight).

1 Cup GF Flour (I used Sweet Rice Flour)
2 Tbsp Corn Starch
Desired seasonings (I used the same as listed above)

3. Place flour, seasoning, and corn starch in a paper bag and shake vigorously.
4. Remove chicken from plastic bag one piece at a time. Place in paper bag and shake vigorously.
5. Line a cookie sheet with a cooling rack. Remove chicken from paper bag and place on cooling rack. Repeat until all chicken is completely coated in flour.
6. Allow chicken to warm up for 45 minutes. This step is very important since it prevents moisture from getting under the skin while frying which causes the coating to separate from the chicken.
7. In a large skillet or deep fat fryer heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. If using a skillet, make sure the oil is high enough that it covers 1/2 the chicken when frying.
8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Turn the skillet down to medium heat or 300-325 degrees. Add the chicken and cook on each side until browned - 5-7 minutes.
9. Place chicken in an oven proof dish, tent with aluminum foil. This will allow the inside of the chicken to cook, yet keep the outside crispy. Cook for 10 - 20 minutes until the inside of the chicken has clear juice.

I love to serve fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, and roasted asparagus. Hope you enjoy this recipe as well! Happy eating!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Gluten Free Taco Salad

Tonight we made delicious Taco Salads for dinner. We love combining new ingredients each time we make the salad to incorporate new tastes and textures. Taco seasoning from the grocery store, however, often contains hidden gluten. So, beware when buying packaged taco seasoning! Tonight we used this simple home made version of taco seasoning:

Homemade Taco Seasoning

5 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Chipotle Chili Powder
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 Tbsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder

1. Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl.
2. Add 2 Tbsp (or desired amount) to ground beef while cooking.
3. Add 1/2 cup water to ground beef and cook until water is reduced.

We served our taco salad tonight with Gluten Free corn tortilla chips, yellow rice, stir fried corn, and loads of lettuce. Since Doodle is dairy free, she eats hers without any dressing. The remainder of us enjoyed some nice spicy ranch dressing bought at the local grocery store. Best thing about it, there's plenty left over for lunch tomorrow!