I look back now and cringe. What was I thinking?
I had Sam booked from the time school let out until bedtime; speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, physical therapy, music therapy, interactive metronome, you name it. We lived in the car. As I sat watching yet another therapy session through the two-way glass, I filled out appeal after appeal to try and get insurance to pay for more therapy. Twenty session a year doesn’t cut it for a kid on the spectrum. And he obviously needed more because he was not progressing.
In between sessions, we’d swing through a fast food joint and load up on chicken nuggets, French fries, and apple slices (gotta get your fruit!). Then I’d wonder why he was melting down in therapy, unable to participate. I’d carry his screaming butt into therapy, sit with him in the hallway as he screamed and thrashed about, then carry him back out to the car. I know what will calm him down, I’d think. More fast food for the ride home. The floor of our car was littered with happy meal toys, cold French fries, and paper sacks.
I was in survival mode. Whatever it would take to get through the moment, that’s what I did. I used food as a motivator and a bribe. I didn’t realize that I was actually sabotaging him. I was feeding him garbage that caused inflammation in his gut, hyperactivity, and an opiate reaction in the opiate receptors in his brain. He was like a little crack addict and I was his dealer. And then I would ask him to sit nicely and participate. Why was I so surprised when he couldn’t?
My child was out of control. He was getting too big to physically control. He was screaming, throwing things, smacking himself in the head, lashing out at others, kicking holes in the wall and ultimately kicked out three windshields on our vehicles. Yet it never occurred to me that food might be to blame.
Looking back, I wonder how much time and money I threw away, not only on therapy he wasn’t able to participate in but that garbage they call food. It makes me physically ill. And I would fight for more and more therapy thinking he just wasn’t getting enough. I remember thinking I should buy stock in McDonald’s and try to get some of my money back that way.
It took a series of fortunate events to wake me up to what I was doing to my child. My daughter was probably most instrumental in the change. She’s his care provider. One day she said, “No, he’s not eating fast food. I’ll make him a snack.” I remember the panic attack I had at the thought of telling him “No Burger King.” How would we ever get through Equine Therapy without that promised reinforcer? I was weak. Thank God my daughter was strong. She put her foot down with him and me. And do you know what? He not only got through Equine Therapy, he began to do very well there. The transition problems he had in the past went away. He began to look forward to Equine Therapy, not for the Burger King that followed, but for the activity itself. Do you know what else? When we stopped going to fast food, he stopped asking for fast food. And on the rare occasions he did ask, we would tell him they were closed and substitute something better.
When we removed gluten, dairy, and soy from his diet, we did see an increase in the behaviors, temporarily, partly because it was a change in his routine and partly because the little crack addict wasn’t getting his crack. He was going through withdrawal. Once we got past that hurdle, we continued to clean up his diet. We look for nutrient-dense foods, no artificial anything, no genetically-modified foods, organic. When he was a fast-food junkie, his diet was very limited. Now, he’ll eat anything we put before him including sauerkraut, salad, and salmon. It’s an amazing transformation. It didn’t happen overnight, but with each improvement in his diet, we saw an improvement in behavior, attention, and cognition. We got his body and brain to a place where other interventions could be effective. I now get glowing reports from music therapy, speech therapy, Equine Therapy, and swim lessons. He participates in special needs bowling and baseball and LOVES it. I haven’t seen the aggression that was so much a part of our every day in a very long time.
I had to realize that I make the dietary decisions for our family. I do the grocery shopping. I am in charge. I have the power to make good choices or poor choices. And for far too long, I was making very poor choices. But it’s never too late to change what you’re doing. One small change at a time is very do-able. When I hear someone say that the “diet” is too hard, too expensive, or “Billy can’t live without his fries”, I have to wonder if their life with their child now is too hard or too expensive, spending money on therapy that’s not working. Our was. I still get teary-eyed when we’re sitting at the table together (that NEVER happened before) enjoying our salmon and salad, and he cleans his plate. The changes have paid off for us big time.