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.

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