Triumph through Judgment

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One day over the summer I took the girls with me on a marathon of errands. It was not an ideal situation, but on that particular day I had no other choice. One of our stops was school supply shopping at Wal Mart. Charlotte’s behavior in the store had not be great and while I was loading my bags from the cart into the back of my mini van, I was talking to both girls about making sure they were good listeners at our future stops in order to earn their reward of protein-style burgers at In-n-Out.

During my lecturing and unloading multi-tasking, I noticed a man clearly eavesdropping as he slowly parked his cart in the cart corral next to our car. My mommy instincts kept me close to my car as he approached me and said he couldn’t help but overhearing the conversation I was having with my daughters. He continued to say that he was a parent and grandparent and that he had great success with this particular parenting book.

I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked him politely. As I quickly got in the car, buckled myself and drove away, I took a deep breath a felt a flood of emotions and feelings–Violated and Defensive. Shocked and Angry. I was upset that I hadn’t defended myself and my actions. I replayed the scene in my head where I retorted in anger that “My kids are my kids and mind your own business.” I was overwhelmed and stressed at having to continue the rest of my errands under this blanket of negative feelings.

I posted my experience on my personal Facebook page and received many warm messages of support. Many of them encouraging me to just let it go, and I did, for the most part. But the encounter got me thinking a lot about parenting and judgment.

As a parent and grandparent, the man in the parking lot felt that our shared experience as parents and his status as an elder or more experienced parent granted him the right to share a resource that had helped him achieve success in parenting. I can certainly understand the logic in that.

But what I have come to understand is that any of us who witness parenting in action on any given day have a choice to make. We can observe the interaction between the parent and the child and leave it at that. It’s like taking a picture–it’s a moment in time when the child needs the help of the parent to control impulses, stay safe, learn appropriate responses, etc. The same situation may look different tomorrow or even an hour from now, based on the temprement of the child, the patience level of the parent, or even the time of day.

Judgment comes in when we take our experiences and project them into the situation. Whether helpful or not, our personal parenting successes, fears, and triumphs can be whisked into the interaction we are witnessing and sometimes create a false and unncecessary need to help the arguably struggling parent.

What I realized about the encounter in the Wal Mart parking lot is that I have become uniquley adapted to handling judgment. I once naively believed that a child’s behavior was directly tied to how well they were parented and even how much they were loved. This theory was tested when Charlotte, at age 2, began sensory meltdowns and temper tantrums everywhere we went. I felt out of control and helpless and also judged by others and myself.

It has been years of therapy and hard work, but I have learned to silence the harmful thoughts of judgment in my own head. Charlotte’s behavior is not a direct reflection of my parenting or love. I have come to see any behavior as a moment in time when she is calling out for help or letting us know she’s feeling comfortable in her environment.

Last week I picked Charlotte up from school and had our first “rough day” report of the school year. While anxiety, fear and self judgment wanted to bang on the door and take me down, I was pleased to ultimately feel numb and disconnected from any judgment. I used the opportunity to begin a back and forth journal with her school staff, sharing information about what helps Charlotte at home. I included notes from our recent success–using key words like “warning” help her set boundaries and know that a consequence is coming if she continues he behavior. I let the staff know we were comfortable with reports of Charlotte’s poor behavior and its consequences.

The next week I spoke to Charlotte’s Occupational Therapist about a disinterest and  resistance in certain activities. Again, I let the numbness and lack of my own judgment take hold of my thoughts. As we continued our conversation I was reminded of how she had recently behaved similarly at her summer ballet class. I spoke with Chad about it over the weekend and we began to put some big pieces of information together about Charlotte’s behavior when there’s a lack of stimulation or challenge.

After the yogurt experience earlier this month, I can clearly say that eating Paleo has improved her health in such a way that these patterns of behavior can be monitored and adjusted with our parenting. Had we not been eating a Paleo diet, the sensory issues, behavior issues, and sleep issues would be unsolvable mysteries, wearing down our energies and fueling more self doubt and judgment. We can now proudly say that own parenting triumphs include using Paleo as a tool to help our child, allowing fixable patterns of behavior to emerge. The success and rewards we see and feel everyday in the smiles and laughter of our children.

The experience in the parking lot sat deeply with me for a lot of reasons. I got so comfortable with not judging myself that I dropped my guard and let myself be judged by someone else. It stung to think that the man with the cart thought that I needed support or help in parenting my kids. Maybe my tone was too harsh or maybe my words not encouraging enough for his parenting style and his experience with his own children.

If I were to have that encounter again, I would have taken a step back from the harsh and shocking feelings of being judged and explained what I would write in my own parenting book. Parenting is a deeply personal experience. The way we care, love, and discipline our kids is uniquely ours. Please give me the freedom to find my own success and triumphs.

It takes Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom

Each day I pick up Charlotte from preschool, I immediately check her lunch box. She has recently started attending 3 full days of pre-kindergarten and now eats lunch and takes naps at school. The transition has been exceptionally smooth and I find that if I stock her lunch full of her favorite foods, I’m pretty guaranteed to see only crumbs left in her Planet Box.

Last Wednesday I found her precious salmon cakes in the protein compartment completely untouched. I got little information from her teacher’s aide about why her lunch wasn’t finished, and it was ultimately Charlotte on the car ride home who provided me with the key piece of information that I needed.

When she shared from the backseat that she had enjoyed a smoothie at school today, I pressed further. When I asked her what was in the smoothie, she promptly reported strawberries, raspberries, and yogurt. Yogurt? I began scanning my brain for the last conversation I had with her school staff about dairy. Had I made it clear that she couldn’t have dairy? I probably didn’t remind them this school year. So worried about gluten and grains, I completely forgot dairy! Swirls of guilt and confusion set into my thoughts and they were only made worse by what I saw when we got home.

I asked Charlotte if she had experienced a tummy ache or if anything hurt. She told me she felt fine, but while I watched her watching her favorite movie, Dora Explorer Girls, I saw the regulation and predictability around her behavior that we had recently gained slowly evaporate. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t sit still. Sensory seeking behaviors like pacing around the table, pushing on the edge of the table with her foot, and inverting herself in weird positions into the couch cushions were telling signs that things were not right in her body–all of a sudden.

A few minutes later she was arguing with her sister and communicating less. What she was saying wasn’t making sense. Her delicious Paleo dinner sat untouched, and I predicted a difficult night shift for myself, as Chad was out-of-town. Sure enough, at some point in the middle of the night, I woke up to find her pacing around my room in the dark, argumentative and upset about going back to bed.

Thursday morning I woke up feeling overwhelmed and upset. We had a full day ahead, and I was dysregulated myself–struggling with PMS and interrupted sleep. I was feeling angry and distressed, wondering why everything in my life has to be so hard.

And then I stopped. 

I found the strength that is found in clear and healthy thoughts, and I pulled out the mental tool box I have developed to help myself in these situations. I meditated a bit in the morning, said the Serenity Prayer several times, and then made a plan to help Charlotte.

When we arrived at our Occupational Therapy session a few hours later, I explained the situation to our wonderful therapist and asked for a restorative and regulatory session to get Charlotte’s nervous system under control. I took a brisk walk during her session to regulate myself and when she emerged, I could already see by the way that she sat down in the chair next to me that she was restored on many levels. I thanked our therapist profusely, and we went about our day with very few issues. The next day I spoke to her school and asked that dairy not be served to Charlotte. I asked the staff to substitute the gluten-free cookies that I had provided as an alternate treat.

I’ve often said that when Charlotte’s routine changes, it’s like a switch is flipped internally. She becomes dysregulated, withdrawn, frustrated, and just more autistic than we normally see. This was the first time I had ever see it happen with food. It was scary and empowering at the same time. I thought back to The Autism Revolution, which I continue to reread in parts every couple of days. The following quote stood out to me about our recent situation. From page 107 in Chapter 5 Help the Body Mend the Brain:

“…that autism may be more of a ‘state’ that can change than a ‘trait’ that is fixed and unchangeable. Change can come very quickly when a blockage is somehow removed or a previously unworkable connection is made.”

As parents we know these workable connections so well. In the form of eye contact, verbal processing, clear and understandable questions and answers, or even a lack of repetitive speech or nonsense talk, it’s when we reach our kids and see them respond. It’s exhilarating and inspiring. We keep at it and work toward more growth, improved communication, and the holy grail of self-regulation.

It’s my belief that when the workable connections break down, the child needs our help to restore order. No one else knows what they need like we do. From twisting into pillows in the couch to screaming at me in the middle of the night, I knew that Charlotte was calling out for help.

It’s a big responsibility. It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and lonely.

Parents of special needs children must wake each and every morning and recommit to helping their child get exactly what they need using varied skills and strategies–carefully planned meals, critical but objective observation, appropriate and efficient communication with others who deal with the child, as well as walking a tight rope schedule that challenges the child to be a part of the outside world while preventing their total load of stressors from reaching the dreaded tipping point.

My victory over yogurt last week taught me that in addition to all of things listed above, the skill of taking care of myself is a crucial step in regulating Charlotte. After pushing through PMS symptoms, anger, and guilt I was able to get to a place of problem solving and solutions.

It’s taken me years of difficult experiences to build a tool box full of helpful strategies and support, but over time I am learning to find the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and most importantly, the Wisdom to know the difference.

TGIF

Thank God it’s Fall.

This summer we faced challenges that forced us to take a hard look at our expectations, our lifestyle, and our reality. We had to dig deep, reevaluate and refocus on the health of our family.

We didn’t go off the rails with food. I wish we could say that having a few cheat meals or non-Paleo parties taught us that our health is a fragile state that cannot be taken for granted. It has nothing to do with food. While staying squeaky-clean Paleo we learned the hard lesson of how stress can be just as toxic to the body as gluten-filled pastries or a plate of pasta.

It is with relief and gratitude that I write this post to share how we weathered the storm of a stressful and dysregulated summer and made it to a place where we can continue to share our experiences in the hope of inspiring your journey toward better health.

When I reread the post where I regretfully signed off of this blog for the summer, I can feel the underpinnings of stress and anxiety in my words. I can sense the unrest that was setting up shop in our world and the waves of challenges that were forming. The girls’ dance recital, Chad’s emergency surgery, and other emotional stressors in the month of June began to shake our rock solid sense of control.

Reality

Parenting a fairly well-regulated, mainstreamed child whose ASD symptoms stood safely in the distance became upended with the change of seasons. It started with Charlotte’s nighttime wakings and like a switch that was flipped on her last day of preschool, restlessness took hold at night. Limited sleep descended upon all of us.

It was the first hint that the excitatory neurons that cause her ASD behaviors were unsettled and disorganized and had come out to play in the summer months.

Charlotte’s typical mildly defiant nature was replaced with regressive behaviors in unusual and unpredictable patterns. A lack of effort and defiance at ballet class, a loss of skills at swimming lessons, and screaming and tantruming at occupational therapy sessions were windows into the stress and disorganization she was feeling inside.

This unsettled and disorganized state is familiar to us. Charlotte tends to have more ASD symptoms in times of stress and change of routine. What was different about this period of dysregulation was how the change in her behavior effected the dynamics of our entire family and each family member individually.

I can tell you with certainty now that stress spreads. Like a virus that doesn’t respond to your best herbal treatments, it creeps into the thoughts and behaviors of all family members showing symptoms like conflict, exhaustion, pouting, and insomnia, not to mention the marital and sibling discord.

Without the distractions of school and activities the stress is constant–unending from daytime to nighttime and back to daytime again. Can Mommy get a break?

I was faced with the daunting need of my own flailing mental health while managing a household that was clearly but temporarily off track. It was all so familiar and traumatic. Like 2008, but with bone broth, salmon, and grass-fed beef instead of Zoloft and Ativan.

Choices

It was on our family vacation that my insomnia set in, and I recognized my adrenal and mental health issues were at a point of no return. As much as I tried to undo the anxious and negative thoughts that had gotten me to a place of unrest, I couldn’t undo the nighttime wakings and unsettled thoughts about Charlotte and her future that had set up camp in my consciousness.

I had the needs of my kids in my face 24-7, and I was beyond the point of yoga and meditation to help myself and my family. I considered going back on my meds as a quick fix. Numbing the pain would be helpful to my daily functioning, but I knew they would also blunt my creativity and passion for fighting through this challenge.

Digging Deep and Finding the Light

I’ve done it before and knew I must do it again. I reread my favorite self-help author Brene’ Brown and got inspired to Dig Deep. I found comfort and restorative energy in reading other blogs of special needs parents, learning all I could about Autism and regression, and continued to eat clean and get as many nutrients as I could find.

I got smart about the challenges that Charlotte was facing. I really wanted to combine all of her challenges into one big ball or misery and exhaustion, but I forced myself to peel apart the behaviors and address each one separately and deliberately. I made social stories to present acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in a visual format.

I began to feel like there was an overlap in the issues and feelings that Charlotte and I faced–a unsettledness that changed from day-to-day, a general feeling of not doing enough with our bodies and minds to feel fulfilled. I built on the exuberance and excitement that Charlotte felt on our family vacation to the mountains, and I got us outside as often as possible. I plugged into Paleo philosophies that were new to me–beach trips and bike rides, and as many trips to the pool as I could manage. We ventured out to nearby lake for fishing and playing, and we all found nature peaceful and calming like nothing inside the home could ever provide.

Toward the end of the summer, we began to find a rhythm within ourselves again. I had more energy to keep the girls entertained, and I began to understand that boredom was the bane of our existence. A more stimulated Charlotte was a better behaved and more regulated Charlotte. Everything and everyone felt better. It was counter-intuitive to everything I was working toward, but I let go of a strict routine, structure, and predictability, and let adventures and experiences help everybody. I tested my theory and took both girls on a road trip by myself right before the start of school.

I was amazed at the children that I saw before me. A full day of new experiences–from the beach to the zoo and out to dinner, their behavior was manageable and acceptable. I was in control again and having fun. I could feel my cortisol levels dropping as we connected and healed.

Learn and Grow

There were so many times when I wanted to come to this blog and write/scream/vent all of feelings of anger and frustration at the state of my life. How could I let this happen again? What had I done to deserve this state of stress and misery?

I knew you didn’t have the answer. I knew it was within me. I had some growing to do, and I was the only one that could help me with that. I went back to what worked in the past and built on it. Living Paleo has taught me to find strength and positive energy in things that come from natural sources–a good meal, a talk with a friend, and a walk around the block build patience and trust that lead a well of happiness and gratitude at the end of a long road.

The rhythm of the school year is upon us and I’m already seeing the familiar behaviors of motivation for learning, play and a good night’s sleep to finish the day. Boredom and restlessness have been replaced with inspiration and excitement.

While I’m happy to see this long and challenging summer come to an end, I know that we are all richer and wiser for the experience. I will take these powerful lessons and turn them into tools to stay healthy next summer. We will plan to stay busy and active, get outside everyday, approach behavior and sleep with a new perspective, and focus on staying relaxed and connected.

Life’s challenges are seasonal–always changing and deeply rewarding. This particular season taught me so much about my own health, the depth and power of my own strength, and the gifts that are my children.

Eating Paleo in the Real World: It’s a Jungle Out There

 

Most people I speak to about the Paleo lifestyle understand its benefits and can see it working for their family on some level. I most often hear the what ifs and what abouts around things like birthday parties, restaurants, grandparents’ house, and even school. In fact, my WordPress stats show me that many people come to this site via Google searches like Paleo lunches, Paleo birthday parties, and Paleo on the go.

Clearly, this is a valid question for most people considering the switch to Paleo, and I completely understand these concerns. So today I thought I’d share with you the crazy-updside-down week that my family and I just lived through. After reading this you will see that eating Paleo is possible when life pulls you outside of the comfort of your own kitchen.

Scenario #1: The Dance Recital

Dana and Charlotte participate in weekly ballet lessons, and twice a year their studio puts on performances. Last December, Charlotte made her performance debut in The Nutcracker. After agonizing over the decision of whether she was ready for a commitment to the classes, the rehearsals, getting on stage, and the chaos of it all, she put our mind at ease and performed like a champ.

Her motivation to perform and endure the challenges that come with it most likely come from the years of watching her sister dress up in costumes and make-up to be cheered and praised by friends and family. Having survived the stress and anxiety of the December performance, we knew she would love the performing experience again and we used what we learned to be better prepared this time around.

On the night of the dress rehearsal, we were told to arrive at 5:00pm. Both girls needed to have hair and make-up done and were instructed to bring dry snacks, not to be eaten in costume. As you can imagine, examples of dry snacks were non-Paleo foods like crackers, pretzels, and granola bars. I entertained the idea of eating an early dinner just before we left, but with a 30 minute drive to the stage, hair and make-up to be done, and a nap for Charlotte until the last possible second, packing food for dinner was the only option. I had planned ahead the night before by roasting a large chicken with lots of meat and baking a few extra potatoes, ensuring easy-to-pack leftovers.

Dana’s Planet Box is shown below. The foods were not exactly dry, but not messy either. I kept an eye on her in the holding area backstage and made sure she used her napkin, didn’t eat in her costume, and washed her hands immediately upon finishing her dinner. I also let her know that other kids would have junk food/fast food, and that just wasn’t an option for us.

Charlotte’s dinner was similar, but catered to her preferences. Lots of napkins and washing hands kept her and the costume clean and her belly full.

Since I was camped out with Dana at the dress rehearsal until 10pm that night (Chad picked up Charlotte earlier) I knew that Paleo food was the only way to survive the marathon of dance numbers I had the privilege of watching. Here’s my dinner:

Both girls performed beautifully and the recital was a huge success!

It’s worth mentioning that the anxiety that comes with hours of waiting in a holding area filled with jittery, young dancers brought Charlotte’s needs for sensory input out in the open. I managed to snap a few shots of her regulating herself in a stressful environment. While these situations are not ideal, I was very proud of her for finding ways to stay calm enough to avoid a meltdown, still remember her dances, and even smile on stage.                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenario #2: The Hospital

On the night of the recital, Chad mentioned to me that his stomach was not quite right and he was feeling pain and discomfort. At 3 am, he woke me up from a sound sleep and let me know this stomach pain was like nothing he had experienced before. We phoned the ER, and he was told to come in with a driver. I made a call to my amazing friend Siiri, and she arrived at our door within minutes to stay with our sleeping kids.

After isolating the pain to the lower right quadrant of Chad’s abdomen and getting a CT scan, it was determined that he was in the midst of an appendicitis attack. We were thrilled to see our friend Dr. Mike at the hospital who reassured us that this was a random event that had nothing to do with diet, lifestyle, or overall health. With a sigh of relief, Chad slipped into a morphine nap and we waited for an OR to open and have his angry appendix removed. 

I checked on the kids and then began to think about some breakfast for myself. Seeing that my health issues tend to center around stressful events, bringing on excessive adrenaline, I knew that some clean food was in order to get me through a long day at the hospital. I fought feelings of panic and anxiety as I approached the hospital cafeteria cautiously, expecting to find nothing suitable for to me eat.

I was delighted to find a bar of warm food with eggs, sausage, and bacon. I loaded up my plate with dry-but-edible scrambled eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, and some starchy carbs in the form of tasteless hash browns. (I’m one of those carb eating Paleo people, and I do much better keeping potatoes in the rotation a few times per week)

After my Paleo breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, I felt much better and Chad and I hung out until it was time for his surgery. After I got word from his doctor that he had made it through surgery, I ventured back down to the cafeteria for lunch. I ordered a bunless hamburger from the man at the grill and cheated with some sweet potato fries (I’m sure it was not coconut oil that I saw in the deep fryer).

Once Chad was settled in an overnight room, I was back at the cafeteria for dinner and asked for a grilled chicken breast to sit on top of lettuce greens and veggies from the salad bar, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When I returned to Chad’s room to eat my dinner, he joked at how Paleo it was and that we should consider a date night at the hospital cafeteria.

While it was surprising to find Paleo options at the cafeteria, it did take a certain amount of will power and focus to walk past plenty of packaged foods and treats that seemed to be more tempting in times of stress and little sleep. Resisting this temptation and eating clean paid off when I returned home at 8pm and found that I had enough energy and sanity to put my very tired kids to bed. I gave huge hugs to my incredible friends Kimberly and Siiri who not only kept my kids entertained all day but managed to feed them Paleo all day as well.

Scenario #3: Junk food at Summer Day Camp

There was no rest for the weary over the weekend at home as I tended to Chad in his recovery, nursed Charlotte with a throat virus and a fever, got my house back in order, and managed my own needs for sleep and rest. In the midst of this chaos, I kept the upcoming week in the back of my mind. Dana was scheduled to attend a week-long day camp at our church, and I had been informed of the provided snacks via email. While we normally opt for packing our own snacks at events where a non-Paleo snack is provided, this situation provided a bit more of a challenge.

All of the snacks were tied thematically to the day’s lesson, and most of them involved junk food, including goldfish crackers, pretzels, marshmallows, whoppers, and other candies. I knew that asking Dana to sub a box of raisins for these super fun activities and treats was too much to ask. She is still a kid, after all.

I talked to her about the situation, and the food options would may have worked fine if it were just a one day camp. But given that the camp was all week and the fever bug was running through our house, I knew I needed a more Paleo option to give Dana the best chance at staying healthy and enjoying the camp.

I remembered seeing a cookie-like treat made with sunflower seed butter in our copy of Eat Like a Dinosaur by The Paleo Parents. I was so relieved to find a quick and easy recipe for Mini Nut Butter Cups. We made a bunch of super-yummy, kid-friendly, nut-free, muffin-shaped cookies with just a few ingredients that were easy to transport. This morning we filled a baggie with a bunch of grapes and a few cookies and sent her off to camp with a snack that she was excited to eat, despite what the other kids had. 

We survived this week and managed to eat clean with the help of our amazing friends, some luck, lots of preparation, and a wonderful resource. It has taken two years, but I can proudly say that we have established a lifestyle around Paleo. We were able to make it work in the most trying of circumstances. So the next time someone asks us about Paleo and all of the what ifs and what abouts, I’ll remind them that it’s not just a way of eating, it’s a way of living.

For more inspiration on staying Paleo in trying times, read about NomNomPaleo’s adventures of living in a hotel room with her family for the last 2 months.

Nutrients & Anti-nutrients

Since I’ve experienced a significant reduction in my PMS sytmptoms and had a noticable difference in my hair re-growth, I have come to accept nutrient-dense beef liver one of the staples in my diet. Rather than treating my thinning hair and severe PMS as unfixable and unfortunate genetic gifts that I was just going to have to live with, I’ve recognized these annoying traits as important messages from my body. As a reward for paying attention, my body has responded with thicker hair and a better mood.

What’s amazing to me is how the body knows to prioritize these sacred nutrients. Now that I realize that it takes nutrients to make the systems of the body work together (something that I had always just taken for granted before), I can understand that my life-giving organs (heart, lungs, etc) and my life-making organs (uterus) take what they need while somehow my body knows that I will survive another day if my hair health and happiness level remain unattended for a while.

What’s beautiful about my Paleo journey is that I can apply it to the adorable bundles of genetic material sitting at the breakfast table with me every morning. Feeding their bodies fresh pastured eggs and fresh fruit gives me a sense of pride and relief that they are getting a host of nutrients that will power them through their day and give them a better foundation of overall health. I recognize that their bodies and minds are developing faster than I can keep nutrient-dense foods in them, and with unlimited funds and energy, I’d be giving them the cleanest, pastured-raised and most nutrient-dense proteins alongside locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables.

What’s puzzling to me about the food industry is how foods that we were not designed to eat (grains, legumes, and even dairy) end up in packages containing messages of health and nutrition for those who consume them. Bagels and cereal are disguised as food when really they are the opposite of health. All grains contain anti-nutrients, and as you may have guessed by my recent love-affair with nutrients, they are something that I want nothing to do with. In fact, I’m hoping that this post gets you seriously thinking about replacing your nutrient-deficient bowl of cereal with a nutrient-rich scrambled egg.

So what is an anti-nutrient and why is it so bad?

From the What is Paleo? page on this site: It is important to think of grains as a plant that lives in the wild and must defend itself from predators like any animal would. Grains and like plants use toxins called anti-nutrients (lectin, gluten, phytates) to protect themselves from being eaten. That is why they must go through extensive processing to be edible for humans. The heavy processing still leaves inflammatory agents in the grains that wreak havoc on our digestive systems, insulin regulation, and other bodily functions. Contrary to Conventional Wisdom, even whole grains are not healthy.

In addition, anti-nutrients do just what their name implies–they prevent the body’s absorption of these crucial vitamins and minerals.

Respecting the body and learning its signals is an important part of regaining our overall health. In our case, using the Paleo diet to restore nutrients to mine and Charlotte’s depleted systems, we enabled a healing process that is leading us out of a desperate situation. We’re not alone. A nutrient-rich Paleo diet has healed many broken and depleted systems.The internet is filled with Paleo success stories of individuals healing themselves from everything from Fibromyalgia to GERD.

Adding nutrients to improve Autism may be catching on. In this article on minimizing Autism incidence, posted by my friends Molly & Leah at A Ventography, nutritional deficiencies were listed as a critical component to treating Autism. And while I recognize that the causes and severity of Autism and related disorders are complex and vary from child to child, it doesn’t seem to make any sense to continue to feed our children and ourselves anything that would prevent the optimum absorption of nutrients.

I often say that we treated Charlotte’s Autism by treating it as a symptom of distress within the network of systems that is her body. All of the nutrients that she eats and the anti-nutrients that she avoids have given her body the ability to heal itself. As she grows and understands how food makes her feel, she will learn the valuable lesson of listening to and respecting her body’s capabilities and limits.

For more information on food politics and the over-production of grains, see part 4 of this HBO Documentary: The Weight of the Nation.

Click here for a video clip of Mark Sisson discussing the effects grains have on our bodies.

Robb Wolf’s post on Kids, Paleo, and Nutrient Density.

Autism Awareness Day

I took Dana to Home Depot this weekend to buy our blue lightbulbs in support of the Light it up Blue Autism Awareness Campaign for Autism Speaks. She knows enough about Autism to know that her sister has been affected, but she wasn’t really clear about the term awareness.  I explained Awareness as people talking about and listening to those who have been touched by Autism as a way to bring about change and help the families that need it–just like we try to do with our website.

She nodded and said she understood. I initially felt good about our conversation and educating her about this grown up topic, but later I struggled with the term awareness and what April 2nd was supposed to accomplish. Does Autism really need more awareness?

People are aware. Just last week the CDC reported that Autism effects 1 in 88. That’s staggering. With those numbers, Autism will hit close to home, for many people. If it’s not your brother’s son or cousin’s daughter, it will soon be your child’s classmate, a coworker’s child, a neighbor down the street, or a child at the park.

People are aware. They are seeing it in their homes, schools, and community, and parents of children with other special needs wish their child’s issues were as widely known and accepted as those with Autism.

People are aware. So now what? What can I do about it? How can I make Awareness the way I described it to Dana–listening to those families who have been affected to bring about change.

The day is here. And with a small platform and a big voice, I have so much to tell you. What can I say on a day when everyone is listening that will make a difference?

It may not be life-changing or ground-breaking, but I feel like I’ve done my part today if I share the following things with you:

Toxins

The cause of Autism is unknown, but no one can ignore the daunting words like environmental toxins that swirl around the comments and chat rooms posted by moms and dads of Autistic kids. Toxins are everywhere and scary and they affect each child differently. It has been said that Autistic kids are canaries in the coal mine, letting us know that something in our environment is making the most sensitive very sick. Our experience tells us that toxins in foods contributed to Charlotte’s delays. Gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy were harmful to her system and caused neurological issues.

Removing these toxins improved her symptoms.

I can’t speak much for toxins in vaccines, but I will share this with you. The vaccine and Autism connection scared the crap out of us even before we had kids. Seven years ago when Dana was an infant the numbers were 1 in 166. That was enough for us to take alternative action. We were overly cautious and set up an alternative schedule for vaccinations for both girls (only 1 or 2 at a time/1 week apart). But despite our best efforts to avoid Autism, it was still handed to us.

That being said, Charlotte’s symptoms have always been very mild. She’s had only minor social delays with some repetitive language and sensory processing issues. She had no delays in receptive or expressive language and no significant motor delays.

It is our belief that if we had adhered to the standard vaccination schedule, her issues would be much more severe.

Support and Services

When Charlotte received a medical diagnosis of Autism in 2010, we were told that we would receive adequate support to get her what she needed, based on the information collected during the 5 hour testing process. This was not the case. While she had enough “deficits” to qualify for the label of Autism, she did not have enough “delays” to receive ANY treatment or services. We were referred to our local school district, whose tests indicated that her medical diagnosis did not match her scores for an educational diagnosis. In other words, she had the ability to learn and excel academically but she wouldn’t be able to sit still in her chair, do her work without interrupting other students, and would probably have trouble making friends on the playground.

We had to fight tooth-and-nail for her services based on the testing done at the time of her diagnosis. After four months of fighting with our insurance provider, we did get a contract in place for Occupational Therapy that helps tremendously with Charlotte’s mild motor delays, impulsivity, and sensory issues. The OT helps regulate her system so she can try out her new social skills, learn how to get along with her sister, and communicate with her peers.

Day to Day Life

We feel very fortunate to be where we are in this journey with Charlotte. We have overcome tremendous obstacles and taken control of her health issues while bringing the child trapped in sensory dysregulation and social anxiety out of her shell. We work hard to make sure she is feeling and acting her best every single day. We cannot let a day go by without checking to make sure we’re doing everything we can for her. Our meals, schedule, and life must be documented and planned to ensure that it works for Charlotte. Even small changes to her routine or environment can dysregulate her and turn our lives upside down.

With all of this in mind, please consider the following…

Autism is caused by environmental factors and affects the most sensitive of children.

Environmental factors like wheat, mercury, and milk may be harming our kids, but nothing will be done about it if it means loss of income for Big Food or Big Pharma.

No one can make money on a “cure” for Autism. Each child responds differently to his or her environment and each child must be treated and cared for based on their individual needs…there’s no pill for that.

Insurance companies are quick to diagnose kids on the spectrum, but turn the families over to school districts, who do not have funds or services to handle the increased numbers of children with needs.

Each parent who cares for an Autistic child must work diligently against the clock to protect their child from these environmental factors, while fighting for the services and therapies to help them.

I’ve done my part if you are now AWARE of what Autism really is…for our family, at least.

Living Outside Your Paleo Bubble–kids birthday parties

We recently had a birthday party for Dana and Charlotte. It was a relatively small gathering for a few friends and family members at our home. We served lunch, sang happy birthday, and enjoyed cake. No one would ever know that our family, and specifically, our kids ate a diet that was different from any other child at the party.

The lunch spread included deli trays of ham, turkey, roast beef, salami, cheeses, and other antipasto treats like olives and sun-dried tomatoes. We did provide some dinner rolls for those who chose to make sandwiches. The crowd favorite was an enormous bowl of freshly made guacamole. We provided corn chips (gluten-free) and veggies for dipping. There was also lots and lots of fresh fruit. We received many comments on how fresh and delicious the food was. It was not limited to a Paleo diet, as most of our friends and family members eat grains and dairy, but we were still able to provide the birthday girls with a delicious lunch of their favorite Paleo foods.

I can assume that the positive comments that we received from our friends and family were based on the fact that our fare was considerably different from a typical meal served at a  kids’ birthday party. Foods of convenience like pizza or frozen hot dogs or hamburgers are the mainstay at kids’ birthday parties these days, and if you are trying to raise a Paleo family, you recognize what a challenge this is.

In the defense of other parents who choose throw a *traditional* party for their child with pizza delivery and store-bought cake, it was a lot of work and a significant expense to provide the spread we did. We woke early to prepare food, made a trip to pick up the deli trays, budgeted the expenses, and planned ahead to find a gluten-free cake that would be okay for the girls to eat. Our situation and lifestyle demands this type of planning and preparation.

We take that same mindset into modern-day parties and social events outside of our home when we know that there are going to be limited options for our kids to eat. Being prepared to attend a birthday party or social event with your children is the same as being prepared to go anywhere. You pack your child’s homework and anything they need for the day when they go to school. You pack a suitcase for going on a trip. Before a birthday party, you even buy and wrap a gift. Thinking about the food that you and/or your child will eat at that party is an often missed but crucially important next step.

Here’s some things to think about when you RSVP for your next kids’ party:

Meal or Entrée

*Email or call the parent and ask what they are planning to serve at the party before you attend. Explain that you are making some changes to your child’s diet and you want to be prepared. You may get lucky and have grilled sausages or barbecued chicken with fresh fruit and veggies.

*Feed your kids a big breakfast or lunch before attending a party where the entrée is not Paleo approved. If they feel full and don’t have a strong desire to eat, allow them to nibble on a few pieces of protein and spend their time playing and enjoying the party.

*Bring your own food. Pack a large snack or a lunch box for your child just as you would if they were going to school. If you feel the need, reach out and explain your child’s special diet. In my experience, this typically does not offend a party host or hostess, especially if you’ve taken care of the meal yourself.

Cake or Dessert

Oftentimes, the cake is the most sought-after part of the party for kids. After they have just consumed pizza or other convenience food, they can’t wait to wolf down a store-bought cupcake loaded with unrecognizable dyes and flavors, not to mention gluten and sugar.

My trick for the cake part of any party is providing a substitute treat that my kids love to eat.

Our family favorites include Curious George Bars and Tootsie Pops. These products including are sugar-laden, but typically gluten-free. (They may not be labeled as such as they may be produced in a processing plant that also processes wheat–please check with the product manufacturer if your child is particularly sensitive) Other options include homemade Rice Krispy treats or a homemade grain free dessert. Our favorite cookbook and website for delicious homemade grain free treats is from Bill & Hayley at the Food Lover’s Primal Palate. We all love the Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting in cupcake form.

Preparation–for the kids

This post wouldn’t be complete without a note about the uniqueness of your kids. After living Paleo for 2 years and attending numerous birthday parties with a 4-year-old and 7-year-old, I can safely what works for us, but I can obviously not predict what will work for your family.

Some kids are more sensitive to eating something different from the other kids. Other issues may be around giving up favorite foods and sacrificing party foods may just be too much, too soon. If you are leading your family on this Paleo journey, only you know what your kids can handle.

That being said, talking to your kids before any non-Paleo outing and setting expectations is a good rule of thumb. Understanding the needs and listening to the concerns of your kids before you are stuck in a no-win situation at party mealtime goes a long way. With Charlotte, we often show her pictures of where we are going, show her the food we have packed for her to eat, and let her know she has her own treat instead of cake or a cupcake that will “give her a tummy ache.” Dana can tolerate more non-Paleo treats than Charlotte can, so we often compromise with her. She’s a smart and sassy 7-year-old and has learned what we can live with as parents and when we put our foot down. She recognizes that this is our lifestyle, but we also try to be sensitive to how she feels eating something different from other kids. If she really wants a cupcake or piece of pizza, we try to discuss it before we arrive so we are all on the same page.

All of this may seem overwhelming and intimidating at first, but it does get better. Try to be as consistent as you can with your kids while still understanding that they are just kids, after all. As you progress with eating more Paleo foods, they realize that eating birthday party foods makes them feel yucky and cranky. Consistency with your food choices also helps your friends and family members understand that you are making conscious health choices for the sake of your child. Over time, they may become more sensitive and accommodating to your dietary needs. Until then, preparation and practice are the keys to success.