Resolutions Reconstructed

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We are officially one week into the New Year so it’s time to resolve to get fitter, stronger, richer, and better organized. I’m big on resolutions. I love thinking and planning so all of this is fun for my nerdy left brain. You may have read last year’s post where I outlined some very specific Paleo-based goals for my family, and we met many of them. I even revisited the resolutions halfway through the year in this post where I tweaked them and applied new approaches to achieve what I thought would make us healthier.

So here I am one year further along in this journey toward better health. And before I jump into doing more to be healthier, I am pausing. I’m asking myself where I really need to put this renewed spirit and inspiration. I’m thinking back to 2008 when I was so confused and disconnected to own body and mind that I let other people define my health with a slew of prescription drugs. I let others lead Charlotte toward poor food choices and regression in health. What have I learned since then? Isn’t it time to really own this journey? It’s time to think about what it takes to feel healthy, not just be healthy.

My resolutions should be achievable goals that make me feel fulfilled and even happy, and I know now that I’m setting myself up to fail if I don’t really think and understand what it takes to get there.

I want to blog more often. Well, for me to blog more often I need to feel rested, positive, and inspired. I need to have positive thoughts about my life and its challenges. I need to stay above the powerful current of stress and negative thoughts that really want to bring me down. This is no easy task for me. It takes good sleep, clean eating, and appropriate exercise. To achieve this resolution, I need to feel healthy to write more often, which in turns makes me feel fulfilled and promotes positive thoughts.

I want to exercise more. I started doing modified Cross Fit workouts this last year. This basically means that Chad creates really tough whole-body work outs that we do together in our garage. I want to do them more consistently, but I know that Cross Fit type workouts are a breeding ground for adrenal fatigue–raising cortisol and adrenaline and creating sleep issues for me. Exercises like yoga and pilates reduce cortisol and promote a feeling of well-being. So finding a balance between the two types of exercise that promotes quality sleep and generally feels healthy sounds like a good resolution for me.

So when I thought about doing this post on resolutions or getting started on your Paleo journey, it made sense to tell you to make it personal. It has helped me to create unique and personal goals or resolutions that are promoted by my best thoughts, efforts, and energy.

You may know that the Paleo lifestyle is a good option for you and your family, but you need some more direction. I’ll do my best to give you my insight on what it takes for each and every one of us to achieve good health as human beings, but I’ll also give you a bit of direction toward your unique resolutions and personal best health. Nearly three years into our Paleo journey, here’s what I’ve learned and want to share with you if you are using New Year’s resolutions as an avenue to improve your health.

Build a Community. 

Ancestral wellness tells us that human beings thrive in communities and suffer in isolation. Wherever you are in your Paleo journey, you will need some level of support and community. The internet is as good as it’s going to get for many of us. Use the resources tab on this site to connect to other blogs. Many are written by parents of Paleo families, doing all they can to make this lifestyle work.

If you are fortunate enough to know others who live the Paleo lifestyle in real life, create social opportunities to share recipes, resources, or enjoy a good hike or workout. It’s our experience that families that have come to this lifestyle have done so with a unmet need for better health and an open mind to achieve it. Get brave and use sites like Meetup.com to find others who share your passion for good health.

Be selective about your media. When you log on to Facebook or turn on the TV, lessen the energy you put into filtering the misinformation about what health is or what others tell us about being healthy. Get rid or limit TV shows, sites, or posts that give you false ideas or expectations.

Sleep.

Quality sleep is essential to completing any task that requires a significant amount of energy. Adopting Paleo and changing age-old lifestyle habits and mindsets requires will power and a tough mental state. I speak from years of experience here when I tell you that poor sleep will wreck the success you may be working so hard in the day light hours to achieve. If you want to succeed at your goals in 2013, set a bed time and stick to it.

Learn.

Failure is part of the human experience. We will fall down and make mistakes. As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that changing your mindset around failure is the first step toward accepting your setbacks and even failing less often. Use each missed step around Paleo eating as a learning experience. Ask yourself why the regretful incident occurred. Did I eat that (bread, pasta, sugar, treat) because I wasn’t prepared, didn’t communicate, or caved to peer pressure? Whatever the reason for the mistake, don’t over-think it (like I tend to do). Move on and promise yourself you’ll learn from it and do better next time.

Find Your Healthy Place.

Here’s where it gets personal and unique to your health and mindset around change. We are all human beings but we all respond, change, and learn a little bit differently. Nothing teaches this lesson better than raising a special needs child.

Just as knowing and anticipating your child’s needs like the back of your hand gets you through life’s challenges and changes, it’s important to know the same for yourself. How do you best respond to change? What motivates you to get rid of bad habits? What thoughts or patterns of behavior promote change or work against you? If you’re not sure, now may be a good time to find out.

Try a program like the 21 Day Sugar Detox or the Whole 30 for a structured format with strict rules telling you what and what not to eat, or you may benefit from an 80/20 approach that allows more flexibility while still achieving your goals.

Give Yourself Permission

It’s my belief that we do not hear this message enough as parents. Taking some of our energy and inspiration and using it to better ourselves to promote our personal health while  leading our families toward creating uniquely healthy habits is our life’s work.

It’s my wish for you that 2013 brings learning through experience, growth, and resolutions achieved.

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A Happy Holiday Season

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I often use conversations with friends and family as inspiration for my posts. It inspires me to know that others around me fret about the same kinds of things I do. And after a couple of lengthy chats with friends this week, I have come to realize that the holiday craziness is officially upon us and we’re all feeling the pressure to make it just right.

A couple of mornings ago, I was stunned with guilt when Dana announced that Annie, our Elf-on-the-Shelf, had not gone to the North Pole (to tell Santa that Dana had been a good girl and return to a new spot in the house) and the Tooth Fairy had left her tooth untouched. Suddenly, what should be fun and whimsical turns into a weird twisting of the truth for the sake of keeping the “magic” alive.

Thankfully, Dana bought my story about the storm keeping Annie away and her tooth in its case, but what about next time? In the midst of decorating the Christmas tree, finding matching dress shoes for tomorrow’s holiday performance, making dinner, helping with homework, and preparing gluten-free holiday treats, something else is bound to be forgotten. These thoughts leave my friends and I asking–How can I get it all done? Should it feel this hard? What if my kids are disappointed? And most importantly, how do I deal with all of this stress?

I think I learned the answer to this question the hard way just a few weeks ago. Upon returning home from Disneyland (a trip that took loads of preparation), our dog passed away. A few days later my identity was stolen. The dryer broke. I blinked and it was Thanksgiving, and we were hosting. I handled it all fine. No mommy meltdowns. No major dysregulation. Everybody was eating and sleeping and behaving just fine. Until, I couldn’t   sleep. And my cycle was jacked up. And then I thought I was losing my hair again. The stress that I thought I had beaten found me in a dark alley and had its way with me.

I was sure there was something terribly wrong. Again. I had bloodwork done to make sure I was okay, and I was. Just more adrenal issues in response to stress. Things are back on track, and well, now it’s Christmas as well as Birthday Season around here, and I feel the same pressures as my friends to make everything special and sweet and wonderful for my children over the next few weeks. I want to do it all without stressing myself out too much. Is that possible? I can only continue on my journey and learn as I go.

I realized that over the month of November, where it felt like the universe was working completely against me, I pushed through some important messages from my body. Sit Down. Skip Your Workout Today. Breathe. Eat. Relax. Smile.

I got a lot done, but I let my Type A tendencies kick the pants off of anything restorative or helpful. So, today, with less than 3 weeks until Christmas, here’s how I’m attempting to find some balance and cheer this holiday season.

Sit. Breathe. Read.

Since Charlotte is in school more often this year, I have more time to myself in the middle of the day. I’ve learned over the last few months that I’m only going to find quiet and restorative time if I do it during the school hours. Once I pick the girls up, the second half of my day begins, and I’m pushing myself too hard if I start at 6am and don’t stop until bedtime. I’m forcing myself to stop what I’m doing and sit down in the middle of the day  to have a cup of tea, read a blog, pick up a magazine, or just close my eyes until pick up time.

Bathe.

A hot bath at any point in the day is a restorative luxury for me. I instantly feel my cortisol drop and am forced to relax, once I clear Ariel and her mermaid friends out of the tub.

Write.

After I did the Disneyland post, I felt more reflective and connected than I had in a long time. It was a very healthy exercise for me to think back over our previous experiences and  tell a positive and inspiring story. Taking a look how far we’ve come keeps me focused and  inspired to keep doing all I do for my family. (And thanks for supporting this habit by reading what I feel inspired to write about)

Observe.

Dana takes ballet class two evenings per week. Often, I drop her off and run errands, chat on the phone, or try to get something done. But lately, I’ve been watching her during her class. Really watching her. Studying how strong and graceful she’s become. Taking pride and feeling grateful for the sacrifices we’ve made to make her lessons happen. And feeling pride and gratitude as a parent is never a bad thing.

Forgive.

Last week when I was fretting about the food budget and gifts and affording everything we needed to buy, it was Chad who gave me the permission to just buy the cheaper eggs and meat at the grocery store. No, we haven’t left Paleo or high-quality, real food, but we have given ourselves permission to eat less-than-perfect foods this month without guilt or anxiety. We’ve put our time in with this lifestyle and we’ve learned what allowances our bodies can handle. I can forgive myself for subbing conventional ground beef for grass-fed when there are many other expenses this month.

Keep it Real.

At a time when we’re bombarded with society’s images of the perfect holiday, I’m going to remember all that our little family has gone through. Many less-than-perfect moments have added up to a lifetime of happy, shared, memories that are uniquely ours. I don’t look back and regret any of the lessons we’ve learned, the mistakes we’ve made, or the triumphs we’ve shared.

As I continue on this journey toward better health for my family, the more I realize there are no easy answers. Each day, each season, and each experience brings us closer to knowing what works and what doesn’t–if we pay attention. Christmas time will never be easy and our grandmothers and mothers will tell us it was equally hard for them. There’s no extra credit points for getting it just right, and no reward for the picture-perfect experience.

Happy Holidays. May your holiday season be uniquely yours.

Disneyland Revisited

Taking trips to Disneyland became a family tradition when we thought Dana might be old enough to enjoy it. We attempted our first family trip when Dana was about 2 years old and I was pregnant with Charlotte. Although I was mildly nauseous and very tired wandering through Fantasyland with a toddler in the July heat, the experience was undeniably magical.  Dana was as bright-eyed and full of wonder as the kids you see on the commercials and print ads. She embraced each and every character with a big hug and a huge smile. She never melted down over the crowds or lines, and her enthusiasm and excitement made the experience truly unforgettable.

In 2009, we returned to Disneyland, hoping for a repeat performance with two kids. Charlotte was about 18 months old, and she was walking and talking and looking very much ready for the full Disney experience. Dana was older and ready to enjoy bigger and faster rides. I have fond memories of the trip, but I also remember returning home exhausted. It was more than just your typical Disneyland hangover, I was struggling through a confused haze.

My hope had been to recreate the magic and innocence we had experienced with Dana just a few years earlier, but I knew we had fallen short. Dana was generally not as interested in princess and fairies as she had been just a few years earlier and Charlotte’s behavior certainly was not magical nor full of wonder. She had difficulty sleeping in the hotel–waking often and taking a long time to return to sleep. As a result, she was tired and dysregulated at the park. She resisted riding in the stroller and when we took her out to walk, she picked up every item within reach off of the ground and placed it in her mouth. She approached the princesses and other characters guarded with trepidation. Instead of running and embracing them with unabashed sweetness and innocence like Dana had done, she darted from side to side and then ran as fast as she could, circling their colorful gowns.

And if you have been following this blog for some time, you know that I was heavily medicated for post partum depression at this time. Other events that year are fuzzy memories, but the glassy confusion and disorientation I felt as a result of that trip are crystal clear in my mind. Something was clearly not right with Charlotte, and for several months the experiences and memories floated through my consciousness looking for a safe place to land.

We put any future Disney trips on hold as the pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place. We learned the name for Charlotte’s struggles just a few months later. And as much as we all wanted to return to the Happiest Place on Earth, we knew it wasn’t the right place for Charlotte. We carefully explained to Dana that we would go again when Charlotte was ready. Over the last few years, we’ve all watched and waited patiently as her nervous system has learned to effectively process more stimulation.

A few months ago, Charlotte started showing a consistent interest in the Disneyland app on our ipad. It’s a great app as the ipad user engages with Disneyland attractions much like a park visitor would. The music changes as the user moves through the different “lands” of the park. Seeing Charlotte’s interest in this app, as well as her improved behavior, sleep, and postural control, Chad and I knew it was time to begin planning the trip.

While it was daunting to relive past disappointments and unrealistic expectations in preparation for this trip, I kept focused on what Charlotte would need to be successful.

I narrowed my concerns down to long lines and food.

One of my favorite blogs, The Diary of a Mom, had mentioned a special pass for park visitors with invisible disabilities (like Autism). The pass supposedly shortened lines and let Disney cast members know that your child may need extra attention. The GAC (Guest Assistance Card) turned out to be a lifesaver. When we entered the park on our first day, I went straight to the Town Hall and stood in line. I told the Disney cast member that my daughter was on the Autism Spectrum and I wanted to see if there were any accomodations that could be provided. He asked me a few questions and presented me with a card stating her name, the number in our party, and the days we would be visiting the park.

Our pass was tailored to Charlotte’s needs. We showed to the Disney cast member at the entrance to each ride, and we were able to enter through the handicapped/wheelchair entrance or Fast Pass lines for the bigger rides. We could use the stroller in the line if we needed to. The beautiful part about the pass was that Charlotte used her energy for controlling her behavior and enjoying the experience. I was able to help her manage her sensory needs throughout the day. Waiting in long lines would have zapped her energy and enthusiasm, leaving little for dealing with the sensory challenges around every turn.

I knew that the food issue would just take some preparation. Some internet research told me that Disney offered many gluten-free options. My plan was to eat meals at the park or hotel restaurants and pack plenty of Paleo snacks. It worked out very well, as our hotel offered a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, and fruit. Lunches were eaten inside the park restaurants. I simply asked for gluten-free replacements for items like corn bread and hot dog buns. Since my kids are used to going without these starches, the gluten-free breads and rolls felt like a special treat.

Our favorite Paleo treats worked great for the long car ride as well as in the park between meals. We packed plenty of coconut chips, apples, raisins, sunflower seed butter muffins, and sweet potato bars. It certainly wasn’t easy, but I saved the day before the trip for baking and packing the special treats.

The trip was special and magical in its own way. Dana was tall enough to ride every ride with her roller-coaster-enthusiast daddy while Charlotte and I made our way through the same Fantasyland and princess attractions that Dana and I had enjoyed so many years ago together. Charlotte loved the tea cups, getting her face painted, visiting the princess, and especially Toon Town. By the time we had gone on a few rides together, she let us know that she preferred outside rides and roller coasters, and that any ride without dark caves was okay with her. She self-regulated beautifully and let me know when she needed a break. It was fine with me to sit in the shade, slow down, and soak in the experience–making it all our own.

I could not be more proud of her and how well she handled the many challenges she faced on the trip. On the morning of the last day of our trip, we learned that our dog, Redford, had passed away while we were gone. Chad and I shared the news with Dana, encouraging her to enjoy the day as much as she could. We all decided we would wait to tell Charlotte until the day was over.

As we headed out of the mountains of Southern California and began the long stretch of highway home, we sat with the news and I knew we needed to talk about it as a family. Charlotte had already processed and experienced so much. I felt like this might be the end of the fun, peaceful trip we had all needed. I felt certain a meltdown with repetitive and scripted language was going to fall upon us. I was unsettled between telling her and facing the uncertain fate of her reaction and waiting for her to discover for herself when we got home.

But I had no reason to worry. True to form, she met the challenge in her own way. Upon hearing that Redford was in heaven, she asked for God to welcome and watch over him.

My mind was at peace and my heart was heavy but happy. All that was left was a silent prayer of thanks for the challenges and disappointments that have become incredible blessings and magical family experiences.

Bridging the Gap

When Charlotte was about two years old, I made the mistake of driving my mini van through a car wash. The giant red scrub brushes right at her eye level, the rushing soap and water covering the car, and the powerful suck of the giant vacuum dryers were all too much for her nervous system to handle. I learned after one horrific meltdown to save that errand for a kid-free day.

The car wash experience created fear and dread for her. For weeks she asked me if we were going to the car wash every single time we began the process of getting into the car. (No. no. No mommy guilt here. None at all. Let’s proceed.) At the time we were attending an Early Start morning program and working with a behavior therapist and occupational therapist. At one of our home visits the behavior therapist recommended a picture schedule to help Charlotte visualize what her day might look like.

I was not opposed at all to this idea. I had plenty of teacher training where I had learned that kids need predictable routines to feel safe in their environment. For Charlotte, she needed to know whether the car wash (or any other out-of-the-norm event) was happening anywhere in her day in order to feel regulated and comfortable. So, for several weeks, I snapped pictures with my phone of many of the places we visited on a regular basis. Initially thinking that this project was going to be overwhelming and time-consuming, I was sadly mistaken that our “busy lives” were pretty limited to grocery stores, therapy, school, and the homes of close friends and family.

When Christmas cards began arriving in the mail, I began to keep a collection. Most of our family and friends have pictures with their smiling faces, oftentimes within their homes or with their pets. Pulling a picture out of a friend or relative and showing Charlotte prior to the interaction made a world a difference in how she responded socially.

I printed out the pictures, organized them on a large board and it eventually became routine to discuss the day’s events and outings and plan our time and even behavior expectations around it. For example, if Charlotte was currently challenged with behavior at a particular location, I could post a clip art picture of Dora or Max and Ruby on her board to let her know that she could watch those shows as a reward for appropriate behavior at the grocery store, school, therapy center, etc.

When the term “good behavior” became a bit too loose, we attached goals to each location and talked about them early in the day and again before we began the activity. For example, Charlotte struggles putting forth consistent effort at her therapy sessions. She  also interrupts the brief but important conversation between myself and the therapist after each session. Our goals for therapy center became simple but effective: Try your best. Listen to your therapist. Don’t interrupt.

Charlotte has a very sharp visual memory, so once she saw the words in print, she had them memorized. She would often tell them back to me as she hugged me good-bye to enter the therapy room. It’s even more effective as she’s beginning to learn (or teach herself) to read.

So our board (pictured above) sits in our main family room and is updated weekly. I have recently added post-it notes with planned-in-advance Paleo dinners. This seems to break down resistance in the form of whining/complaining at the dinner hour and putting a stop to the endless question of What’s for Dinner? CrossFit-style garage workouts for mom and dad are posted on the board so the kids know they’re welcome to join us for family exercise after the heavy weights and equipment are put away.

Somehow the week seems to flow into more of a rhythm when the kids know what is happening, what they’re going to eat, and what is expected of them. Our parenting style seems to be more about preparing our kids to be their best selves in their everyday lives. The board helps them prepare themselves for what lies ahead while practicing self-regulating tools at the same time. In addition, it helps us manage any negative behavior patterns that may come with a change in routine or schedule by talking together about the change and any expectations around it.

In all honesty, it does take preparation, consistency, and effort. It works well for the needs of our family, and I don’t mind planning our week’s meals and activities ahead of time. As a teacher, I planned and prepped lessons for my third graders so it seems to regulate me as well. We’ve never been big fans of surprises and spontaneity, and we’re okay with that. We’ve embraced this lifestyle and try to focus on the benefits of better health for all of us, rather than how much work it is.

Our modern-day society challenges us to meet the needs of our kids and ourselves right up to the dinner hour. This tool helps us bridge the gap between the hectic schedule we must lead to get it all done and the time we need to slow down, share healthy meals, and enjoy each other as a family.

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.

A Dose of Validation and Inspiration

Charlotte’s journey through Autism continues to teach our family powerful, life long lessons about how to manage our health. As we work to improve Charlotte’s overall health and reduce her stress, her Autism and sensory processing symptoms are minimized. She continues to emerge victorious from an internal battle of stressors and toxins that were working diligently to take her body down. 

I started this blog last year when I knew that I had this important story to tell. As I began to research our relatively common circumstances with such a relatively simple intervention, I expected to see many Autism and Paleo success stories. But to this day, ours stands as one in a lone few in the vast pages of a simple Google search.

When we began to treat Charlotte’s Autism with a Paleo diet, I searched for a community of sorts, a niche within the Paleo community that could give us a pat on the back, provide some science to back our success, and generally help us feel that we belong somewhere.

When I couldn’t find it, I created it, and when Robb Wolf updated his website, I noticed a spot for Autism success stories and knew that we belonged there. I scripted our story, provided a link it to this site, and submitted it in about 20 minutes, as not to lose my nerve. And as I follow the numbers, I am relieved to find more and more individuals come to this blog every day seeking a commuity within a community that provides support and information to connect the dots in their child’s health and do all they can to solve the mystery that is Autism.

Our personal story may be enough to inspire you to try Paleo for the sake of your child, but I am still a realist and I know how difficult it is to silence the skeptical voice of your pediatrican or relative, especially if you are new to Paleo. I continue to listen carefully in podcasts and blog articles for studies, science, or some level of proof of how Paleo helps Autism so that I could illustrate just how powerful and effective this intervention could be for you and your family. In addition, I really wanted to give you some fancy scientific words that you could bust out at the next function when your child’s bunless burger and fruit salad seem out place.

My prayers were answered. When I saw the Mark’s Daily Apple post entitled Autism: A Brain or Whole Body Disorder in my email in box, I got chills. Finally, somebody was talking to me. An instant cure for isolation in abyss of the Autism community was a load of information directly relating to our life was spelled out by Mark Sisson.

Paleo/Primal leader, Mark Sisson took an empathetic and straightforward approach in this powerful post, reaching out to those of us who are effected by the epidemic of Autism, while discussing complexity the conditions.

Mark lays out some developing science and theories, referencing a book called The Autism Revolution written by Martha Herbert, a Harvard pediatric neurologist. I ordered the book and now am on my second reading with pages and pages of notes that validate our journey. I’ve learned so much about why Charlotte’s health has improved, why her symptoms have improved, and most importantly how to continue to help her.

Dr. Herbert’s strategies center around the idea that Autism as a symptom of the entire body and all of its systems. She provides science and research through the stories of individuals, like Charlotte, who have shown improvements in their symptoms as a direct result of improvements in their overall health.

If you choose to read the book, you may find that Dr. Herbert’s style and message is similar to what you will find here on this blog. On page xii of the introduction, she refers to her work as “a book of success stories that makes sense biologically.” This instantly resonated with me as my goal for Peace Love Paleo is to eventually become a community of many more success stories, not just ours. Like no other book or article I’ve ever read, her thinking and research clearly lines up with our experiences and successes.

Dr. Herbert describes Autism “not a genetic tragedy, but rather an unfolding and unprecedented challenge related to many other health and environmental crises”. She wants to help you “understand that your child’s brain is not broken or impaired but challenged, overwhelmed, and obstructed.”

In addition, she works to instill a sense of gratitude and encourages you, as the parent, to “see your child as a teacher who will bring out how extraordinary you are and see too how much you can do when faced with an extraordinary challenge.” This is like music to my ears.

As we’ve learned in the past few months, she demonstrates how nutrients need to be an available resource to handle whatever challenges may come along in our children.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is searching for some readable science to back the connection between Autism and Paleo, needs to be inspired by stories of triumph over this disorder, or just wants to learn more about what Autism really is.

This book and Mark’s post will help define the focus of this blog. My plan is to present their information to you in usable and digestible chunks over the next few months. If you are coming off of a summer like I have, you need to be restored, inspired, and validated. I will do my best to give you tools to make that happen.

If I haven’t said it lately, thank you for being a part of this community within a community. Your comments and feedback inspire me to continue to share our story and give you what you may need to stay inspired and encouraged. Please keep the comments, questions, and stories coming. It’s not an easy road we’re traveling. Let’s continue to seek comfort in each other’s experiences and resources like Dr. Herbert’s book.