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Five Things You Can Do Now For A Child Newly Diagnosed With Autism

Five Things You Can Do Now For A Child Newly Diagnosed With Autism

Top Five Things You Can Do Right Now

If it isn’t overwhelming enough to juggle the impact of a new diagnosis, special therapies, school meetings, doctors appointments and more, now you might be wondering: Do I really have to do this special diet thing? Where do I start? Here are facts you need, plus the top five things you can do nutritionally, to support your child:

1 – Replenish missing vitamins and minerals for picky eaters with the right high potency supplement

2 – Restore fats and oils essential for brain and nerve processing. Buy a good fish oil, flax oil, chia seeds, and/or flax oil supplements; add ample servings of organic eggs, nuts, seeds, and grass fed meats

3 – Yank all processed food. Period. Ditch everything with corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings, added sugars, dyes, and genetically modified foods. Replace with whole foods, real food, and home cooked food as much as possible.

4 – Try elimination diets, starting with gluten, casein, and soy free diet. Stick with it for at least four months, preferably six.

5 – Add high potency probiotics

Facts to know before you start: 1 – Nutrition deficits can cause lifelong impairment in learning, IQ, and development. More than half of children with special needs including autism may have nutrition problems big enough hinder them. Regardless of other therapies, do everything you can to optimize your child’s brain and body for growth and learning, with good nutrition. Without this, the brain functions below potential, and your child may not get the full benefit of other therapies. The earlier children receive optimized nutrition, the better, but you can begin at any age. Note: Good nutrition happens with the right foods and supplements going in, and healthy eliminations going out! If your child can’t comfortably pass stool daily, needs reflux medicine, or relies on medications for constipation, then you have work to do to optimize nutrition.

2 – In the US, physicians get little to no meaningful training in nutrition. They are not trained to apply diets and nutrition as therapies, much less for children with developmental disabilities or autism. So to get started, be sure you also talk to families who have succeeded with nutrition and special diets for their children with autism. My practice has specialized in this since 1999. For more resources, see TACANow.org.

3 – Nutrition and diets treat the nutrition and gastrointestinal problems children with autism often have, not the autism itself. A “side effect” of these treatments is that the brain and body function better. This would be true for any child with a nutrition deficit or gut disease. Get your child assessed by a knowledgeable physician or licensed nutrition professional for these problems. For in-depth strategies on how to do that, see my book Special Needs Kids Eat Right.

Fresh and local gluten free pasta at Boulder’s Farmers’ Market

So You Want To Try “The Diet” Guess what? There is no “diet for autism”. There are several nutrition approaches, including various diet strategies, supplement procotols, and gut health tools. Which one is right for your child? Though each child may have different nutrition priorities, there are many common nutrition findings for kids with autism spectrum diagnoses. So, it’s reasonable to start with these tips below, to replenish your child toward better health and functioning. For detail on how to thoroughly launch a successful intervention, see Special Needs Kids Eat Right: Strategies To Help Kids On The Autism Spectrum Focus, Learn, and Thrive.

If you don’t see progress, don’t give up – this likely means your child’s biggest nutrition problems remain undiscovered, not untreatable. Get help from others who have succeeded, talk to knowledgeable professionals, and check for meetups and support groups in your area.

1 – I’ve reviewed hundreds of food intakes of kids on the autism spectrum, so I can vouch for their legendary picky eater status. Their diets tend to be weak for minerals – so, mineralize! Put back missing vitamins too. These are critical co-factors for learning, mood, sleep, and energy. Give your child a high potency multivitamin and mineral supplement daily. Pick the format best for your child: Chewable, liquid, capsule, or powder. Then get started. Multi’s built for this task may not be on store shelves, such as these examples, available from health care providers or on the web:  ProThera VitaTab, Klaire Labs VitaSpectrum, or Kirkman Labs TheraResponse. Each of these delivers high potency minerals with full dose or higher for B group vitamins, another notable helper for kids with autism. Caveat: Don’t give more than indicated for your child’s weight, and use these in the morning or early afternoon, not in the evening. If your child uses medications, check with your pharmacist or doctor on when to take a new supplement: Some drugs impede nutrient absorption, and vice versa. Browse these products right now from the Nutrition Care For Children virtual dispensary that I set up for my own patients. Enter with access code MyNCFC and password 80303 (my office zip code). Follow the prompts from here to set up your own account, if you want to purchase.

2 – Kids eating mostly processed starchy foods get nearly no healthy fats and oils, which are essential for the human brain to grow and function. If possible, add nuts, nut butters, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax), meats, eggs, or olive oil, and give your child an omega 3 fatty acid supplement daily. Use about 1000mg to 3000mg of mixed “DHA” (docohexaenoic acid) and “EPA” (eicosapentanoic acid). Choose a high quality brand carefully screened for mercury and potency, such as Pharmax, Spectrum Essentials, Nordic Naturals, or Barlean’s. Barlean’s makes a product even picky children like called “Omega Swirl” which is good on pancakes, muffins, cupcakes, or just off the spoon. Caveat: Children on medications for bipolar disorder should check with their prescribers first to review safe dosing of EPA omega 3 fatty acid. These products can also be browsed in the dispensary.

3 – Ditch processed food, sugar-added food, and junky drinks, punch, soda, and flavored waters with artificial ingredients. Period. It may sound impossible, but it isn’t. Roll up your sleeves and commit to your child’s better health and functioning. Artificial ingredients like colorings, dyes, fake sweeteners, corn syrup, genetically modified foods, and flavorings have been linked to ADHD, behavior challenges, and even organ damage. High fructose corn syrup has been found to contain mercury, leftover from its processing. Map a plan that you can live with to replace all those convenient snack foods and frozen items, and switch in real whole foods – organic if you can afford it. Take on as much as you can – even a few more servings of real, wholesome food over processed empty food will begin to help your child each week. Even if you can only manage removing all foods and drinks with high fructose corn syrup, it’s worth the effort.

4 – Ready for more? Trial an elimination diet, by eradicating all dairy protein (casein, whey), all gluten (wheat, rye, some oats, barely, and many flavorings, seasonings, condiments), and all soy. Start here for help on how. Starting with gluten makes sense simply because there are so many gluten free versions of food now available, from pasta and bread to pie crusts and pretzels. Then work on the milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream – any and all sources of foods made with cow’s milk or cheese have to go. Substitutes for cheese and milk are a little trickier, but still workable (Note: Do not switch in soy milk or soy yogurt!). These foods cost more, but you may be saving money in the long run because of your child’s improved health and functioning. Give this trial at least 4 months, no cheating. See my book Special Needs Kids Eat Right for more on why soy can cause your intervention to fail, the rationale for elimination diets, and how to implement them successfully.

5 – Gut it – That is, get your child’s gut functioning optimally. If your child is dependent on medications for constipation and reflux, then it’s time to clean house – this means nutrients are not absorbed to potential. Talk with your doctor about how to wean off of those nutrient-robbing medications. If no alternatives are offered, see Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free for strategies to help your child have normal bowel function without prescription medications that interfere with nutrition. A simple start: Give a chewable high potency probiotic daily like Klaire Labs Prodegin (also in the dispensary), daily for 2-3 months. If no progress and those medications are still needed, consider talking to a naturopathic doctor (ND) for more ideas.

This is only the beginning. Your child’s birthright of strong nutrition will help replenish him to his potential, autism or no. Dive in, reach out for help and support, and stick with it.

Special Diets, Special Needs, and Holiday Stress: How To Make It Easier

Special Diets, Special Needs, and Holiday Stress: How To Make It Easier

Holiday season can be stressful, but everything is harder when a child’s diagnosis or condition means s/he isn’t able to manage changes in routines. Travel, packing, preparing meals, mingling with family and guests, sitting at a big family table with cousins, grandparents… loads of fun for no-issue kids, but anguish for others. Celebratory gatherings is one reason why restricted diets get deferred entirely. When you can’t participate in holiday or family food traditions – at a time when some respite and joviality is most needed – it is more isolating! But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The good news: Not as isolating as it used to be, just a few years ago. In fact, it need not feel isolating at all, once you get the game down. It’s easier than ever to navigate this time of year, for kids with diet restrictions or  special supplements protocols. There are more allergen-free foods available than ever before. Support on the web is just about infinite now, for allergy-free cooking and baking. There are even gluten free holiday cookie exchanges popping up. Your family can relax about the food part, and focus on the joy. After many years of doing this for my own family and for my patient families, I’ve come up with “best practices” for this time of year on special diets – here you go:

–       This may be the most important thing you do for reducing stress: Forgive your in-laws, ahead of time. Or siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins – whoever is passing judgment on you for working with a special diet for your child, or blaming you for “ruining” the holiday gathering with special food needs. Let it go. Don’t need your relatives to understand; in fact, expect them not to. Don’t try to enlighten them. If you have supportive and understanding family, lucky you! If you don’t, simply release this argument, and it will lift a big burden. Most likely, their concerns are well-intended. Remember that part and let go of the part that (understandably) makes you mad.

–       Nothing eases tensions more than kindness. Bake or buy extra gluten free pies; bring a gluten free pie crust (available ready made at many supermarkets now) so it can be filled grandma’s with signature filling and enjoyed by all. Offer to bring alternate main dishes that meet the special diet needs of your family members. Or bring an extra special gift for the host family, with a note acknowledging their efforts.

–       Whatever your child can eat, bring enough for many to enjoy. No need to mention that these are allergen-free versions of holiday favorites. Just bring and share.

–       Often people simply don’t know how to help, what to say, or what to do. If you’re hosting, give instructions so guests can make it easier for you. They may be relieved – people mostly want to help and be appreciated. If foods appear that your kids can’t eat, instruct your kids as you would anyway about which items are safe for them to eat.

–       Ship key items ahead to your destination, if local stores don’t see what you need. Gluten free bread can be shipped direct by Udi’s Gluten Free, Canyon BakehouseRudi’s Bakery, Gluten Free Mall, Thrive Market, and many others. Each of these bakeries offers an assortment of gluten free baked goods too, from muffins and pizza rounds to hamburger buns. I sometimes ship ahead a box filled with gluten free pasta, cookies, baking or pancake mixes, and even the raw goat milk cheddar we use instead of cow’s milk cheeses.

–       What about supplements – should you carry them with you? Is it okay to miss them for a few days? Supplements can be as important as prescription medications to your child’s mood, well being, sleep ability, or energy. But too many can be unwieldy at the airport. I often work with families to trim supplement protocols down in general, and especially for travel. You can also easily ship items ahead. Emerson Ecologics bundles brands and products from hundreds of suppliers. If you’d like help setting up your own account for easy ordering and shipping, contact me for more info.

–       For food allergy, in addition to bringing your usual medications (Benadryl, EpiPen), consider naturopathic helps too, like activated charcoal, nettles herb, or homeopathic Apis, Urtica urens, or Rhus tox. These can help stop dangerous exposures to allergens in their tracks. Charcoal can be taken orally as well, to bind anything just eaten. Either swallow 1-2 capsules, or open capsule and mix in a 2-4 ounces of water, and swallow (though it looks messy, charcoal doesn’t taste like much, so this is easy to do). You can also pull charcoal mixed with water up into an oral syringe and squirt it in your child’s mouth. It will bind whatever was just eaten to help minimize effects – including medications, supplements, or other foods. It won’t stop anaphylaxis, so have your usual medications at the ready.

–       If your child is not anaphylactic, but avoids foods due to intolerance, don’t sweat the small slips. Have chewable enzymes, chewable probiotics, homeopathics or medications on hand to help your child safely digest and excrete foods they typically avoid.

–       Plan ahead for rare treats that give your child full inclusion. If your sister’s homemade egg nog is to die for – but full of forbidden ice cream, milk and eggs  – let your child enjoy a cup with cousins, if you know this can be safe, with planned use of appropriate enzymes and probiotics. This won’t work for anaphylactic children, but for those with intolerances, a transgression or two may be manageable. I choose from a variety of digestive enzymes and probiotics in my practice to accomplish this – choose one that breaks down casein, with an enzyme called dipeptidyl peptidase IV.

For recipes, check out Gluten Free Baking, Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, or Gluten Free Italian Cooking – a few of my go-to books for baking and cooking at holiday time. Paleo recipes are always free of allergens like gluten, dairy, or soy, so be sure to peruse this list too. My own book Special Needs Kids Eat Right includes an egg nog recipe for those avoiding dairy and soy. And be sure to peruse my own recipe blog for more ideas. Here’s to a happy and minimal stress holiday season!

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