Teaching kids about nutrition

This e-book, called Real Food Nutrition FOR KIDS, by Kristen at Food Renegade, looks fantastic. Here is her description:

Do you want to teach your younger children about Real Food?

To use child-friendly lessons inspired by the same love of wholesome, traditional foods that you find in the cookbookNourishing Traditions, the work of Weston A. Price, the Slow Food movement, and farmer’s markets everywhere?

To avoid the twaddle put out by the USDA which features their sub-par Nutrition standards?

A beautiful book full of fun illustrations, coloring pages, and activities for younger children?

She has created 15 lessons with coloring pages, copy work, activities, and teaching on topics like “How Your Body Uses Food,” “What Are Nutrients?,” “Healthy Fats,” “Sweeteners,” and more.

I’ll post a full review later this month!

This post is part of the 31 Days writing challenge, during which I’m detailing our family’s journey through autism as it relates to the one lifestyle change we made that had the greatest impact on our son’s recovery: nutrition. Click here for a list of all this month’s entries as they are posted.

Book review: Seeing through new eyes

Last week, I finished reading Seeing through new eyes: Changing the lives of children with autism, Asperger syndrome and other developmental disabilities through vision therapy by Melvin Kaplan. Dr. Van Dyke at the Rimland Center tipped us off to this book and the work this author/doctor does. I had never heard of anything like it.

Kaplan uses prism lenses (special glasses) and vision therapy to alter how people see and perceive their world. He posits that many “undesired” behaviors we see in autism — toe-walking, hand-flapping, dragging hands along walls, stimming, staring at spinning objects (like Nate does) — are children’s coping mechanisms, their “logical strategies for adapting to sensory disturbances” (p. 45). These children are “seeing” 20/20 but are not perceiving correctly. He writes that these behaviors are not the problem; they are the solution! They show us what is going wrong perceptually.

He writes that children’s toe-walking, stimming with their hands, touching walls when they move “stem from their inability to handle both themselves and space simultaneously. To orient themselves, they flap their hands or touch objects, providing sensory input that tells them where they are in space” (p. 18). Many people with autism have problems with orientation of self (where am I?) and/or organization of space (where is it?).

The purpose of ambient prism lenses is “to actually alter perception in ways that cause patients to reoganize their visual processes[…]. The behavioral changes caused by this alteration of perception often are instantaneous and dramatic. Patients with autism or related disabilities have spent a lifetime developing strategies to compensate for their visual deficits. By the time they arrive at the optometrist’s office, these strategies — eye turns, postural warps, self-stimulating behaviors, etc. — are habitual and ingrained. Ambient prism lenses instantly create a new visual world, in which those adaptive mechanisms are no longer either necessary or relevant. As a result, patients must rapidly re-awaken previously suppressed visual processes, in order to make sense of their altered surroundings” (p. 34). Kaplan believes that altering these patients’ perception can level the playing field in a way, making it possible for other therapies to be even more effective.

Kaplan includes many interesting and relevant case studies in addition to descriptions of the tests he uses in his practice (including tests for non-verbal patients).

This book was a page turner for me, not only because I found the case studies so interesting, but also because I saw so many children I know reflected in the pages. I see many children at Nate’s therapy center walking on their toes while dragging one hand along a wall while a therapist leads them by the other hand. Though I’ve read of other explanations of some of the behaviors (e.g., toe-walking is the body’s response to painful GI tract problems), many of Kaplan’s explanations really resonated with me.

I’m not sure if Nate is an excellent candidate for vision therapy, as he doesn’t display some of the markers Kaplan mentions multiple times. Nate doesn’t toe walk. He doesn’t drag his hands along walls. He doesn’t flap his hands regularly. However, here are the tidbits in the book I did highlight that describe Nate:

“[Individuals with autism] display a fetish for numbers and letters, as well as spinning objects […]. Higher visual development, in contrast, involves smooth eye movements and visual search patterns. The autistic pattern is marked by static attention, which is unsustainable, where the latter involves dynamic attention and is sustainable. Dynamic attention requires a concentration of internal energy, and patients who cannot coordinate their eyes are unable to achieve this level of concentration” (p. 55).

“Sometimes children will be comfortable watching certain sections of a video, but cover their ears, scream, or turn their eyes away during other sections. Such behaviors provide valuable insights into the type and amount of visual and sensory input a patient is capable of handling” (p. 61).

There are other times when Nate seems to completely zone out/stare into space when a question is asked, and I’ve often interpreted it as sensory overload, which may include visual/perceptual components.

I plan on recommending this book to anyone who asks for my “long list” of autism treatment information.

Intro to treating autism (originally written 11/21/07)

I’m no longer feeling overwhelmed by all the information out there on treating autism. But I remember what it was like starting out with Nate, feeling like there was so much to learn but nowhere to start. Here is my primer on treating autism, including books I’ve read and treatments we’ve tried. (I’m writing this as much for myself as for anyone else; I like to get all these thoughts down in writing but also want a place to point people to if they come to me asking about the things we’ve done for Nate. I am definitely NOT an expert on this subject, but I’ve been learning a lot through research and through friends and acquaintances who have been through it too.)

First, autism is treatable. It isn’t just a brain thing. Mainstream/traditional treatments like behavioral therapy are really helpful and should be pursued. Alternative/biomedical treatments are also effective and should be vigorously pursued… as early as possible.

What are the treatments?
Mainstream – Many children with autism are put in behavioral therapy, like ABA (applied behavioral analysis). ABA is a play-based therapy where they work on social skills, eye contact, appropriate play with toys, imaginary play, whatever the child needs help with. Children may also be placed in occupational (for self-care skills, eating, oral motor movement, sensory issues), speech, and physical therapies.

“Alternative” – This is where the list of possibilities seems to go on and on. I use quotation marks because pediatricians and other doctors are often ill informed and don’t know about or believe in these treatments, so they would think of them as alternative; however, they are working for many, many children. Because autism is tied up in many systems in the body, not just the brain, it seems logical to treat all of the affected areas, especially the ones that seem to start the chains of symptoms that lead to the ones in the brain. Many parents see results when they put their children on a special diet (like gluten-free/casein-free).* This is because children with autism don’t seem to process certain foods correctly, and parts of those foods end up acting like drugs, attaching to the opioid receptors in the brain and thereby altering behavior (among other things). Along these same lines, enzymes can be used (alone or in addition to diet). Here is my post on enzymes. Also, since their bodies often don’t process nutrients correctly, these children may benefit from various (and many) supplements. The first book I list in the books section has lots of information on helpful supplements, what they do, and why they are needed. Some other biomedical treatments include hyperbaric oxygen, treating for yeast overgrowth (Candida), chelation/toxin removal, and methylation (which has shown to help over 90% of patients with autism in some way! See here, here, or here). 2014 update: Without question, the most effective and important change we made for our son was drastic changes in diet. We made these gradually, and we’ve ended up in quite a different place than where we were in 2007. Read the rest of my blog for details!

Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians – This book changed the way I understand autism. I had read bits and pieces in other books about autism being more than just a brain thing, but Jepson’s book fully lays it out. The first half is very technical and very informative, explaining what goes on inside the bodies of children with autism. He cites many, many studies and explains them in good detail. The second half spells out biomedical treatments to try. Jepson doesn’t give specific dosing information, because most of the things should be under a doctor’s supervision. I like that this book presents the “why” and not just the “what” for treatment.

Children with Starving Brains – Written by the grandparent of a child with autism and the founder of Autism Speaks, this book is written along similar lines as Changing the Course of Autism but is a bit more practical. I still haven’t finished this book (am only 1/3 of the way through), but it is on many recommended readings lists.

Enzymes for Autism and other Neurological Conditions – This book is not particularly well written, but it details using digestive enzymes in a very practical manner. DeFelice details what enzymes are, how they work in the digestive system, how to start using them, what to expect when starting, the myriad benefits of using them, etc. It is also from this book that I found out why and how to use magnesium (in the form of epsom salt lotion).

Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child’s Life – This book is written from a strictly behavioral treatment standpoint. It explains some good philosophies for how to interact with children with autism, encourage them to use language, steer them away from stims, etc. However, it was sort of depressing for me to read: I read this book early on–before Nate was talking at all, and so many of the strategies were for children who were already talking. Overall, I wouldn’t say someone should read only this book, but instead read this book in addition to some of the biomedical treatment books. This can help provide a broader, comprehensive treatment picture.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome – when I read this book in 2011/2012, it changed the way I think about food. While we don’t strictly follow this diet anymore, it gave me many tools and a lot of knowledge.

Nourishing Traditions – as of 2014, my favorite book about nutrition and what our bodies need.

Steps to take
If your child is diagnosed with autism (or you suspect it), here is what I recommend you do:

– Get a regional center/state services evaluation. Here is the Orange County CA reg center website. This will start the process of getting traditional therapy for your child through the state.
– Attend your child’s therapy and learn to interact with him/her the same way the therapists do so you can continue the learning at home.
– Look into changing diet gradually; pay attention to your child’s behavior and see if you can tell a difference. (Remember to wait out the adjustment period.)
– Find a DAN! doctor and/or a good naturopath. Many successful biomedical treatments (like supplementation) should be attempted under a doctor’s supervision.
– Read, read, read!
– Have someone to talk to–it doesn’t have to be someone who has a child with autism, but at least someone who can sympathize, lend a listening ear, and encourage.
– Remember that your child is still your precious, unique child!

Talk About Curing Autism – This Southern California-based organization’s website has lots of resources for parents, including help with special diets, vaccine recommendations, support meetings, and more.

Autism Research Institute – Home of Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!), the ARI website also has many resources, including an overview and myths about autism, a recommended reading list, a video “My Child Was Just Diagnosed With Autism — What Do I Do Tomorrow?” (under “First Steps”), and the official list of DAN! doctors.

GFCF Diet – Help with starting the gluten-free/casein-free diet.

Kirkman Labs – Supplier of many supplements, enzymes, and other products many parents use.

Houston Nutraceuticals – Where we get Nate’s current enzymes, Peptizyde and Zyme Prime.

Enzymes & Autism Yahoo Group – Forum where you can ask questions about enzymes and other biomedical treatments.

Autism Speaks – Contains current news, videos, and research information.

GAPS diet – after the GFCF diet, we moved on to GAPS and a much healthier way to eat. Instead of replacing gluten with other nutritionally empty foods (e.g., Rice Chex, Fritos, ketchup), we began to feed our bodies what they really needed.

* 2007: We still haven’t put Nate on a special diet, but in anticipation of being asked to do it when we take Nate to the Rimland Center next month, I have removed straight milk. He hasn’t seemed to miss it. Next will be yogurt. It will be hard to get rid of cheese since Nate has a quesadilla at least 6 times per week.

2007 – Nate has been full GFCF since December 2007.

2012 – We started the GAPS diet in 2012.