Gluten, Grains, and Children with Developmental Issues
A guest post by Cara of Health, Home, and Happiness
Developmental disabilities are becoming more and more common- Autism is on the rise, learning disabilities are showing up in every classroom, attention and behavioral disorders (ADD, ADHD, ODD) are increasing, and sensory information isn’t being processed normally in many children (SPD). Having a special needs child can feel overwhelming. Mainstream doctors may prescribe therapies and run diagnostic tests, perhaps provide some prescription medication… but mainstream medicine doesn’t really have many answers for parents of children with developmental issues.
The good news is that there are some natural food-related things we can do to help our children! Just getting the gluten out of our special need child’s diet helps in some cases. Removing dairy (casein) as well is another helpful step. Both of those helped our child, but it really took removing all grains, starches (potatoes), and sugar from her diet to see steady improvement. This grain, sugar, starch free diet is designed to heal the gut, which in turn affects the whole body by having the gut-brain connection work properly (more about this in the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride)
My daughter is not officially diagnosed with autism (she’s diagnosed with developmental delays), but I still opted to try the so-called ‘autism’ diet and she went Gluten Free/Casein Free when she was 2-1/2. I saw immediate ‘miraculous’ improvement- my child was affectionate, had the ability to learn, and became a normal child for a few days.
After this initial major improvement, we still saw that she was doing better than before the diet (she could sleep, was able to learn) but seemed to be regressing fairly steadily. A couple months later we tried the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet, which is completely grain, starch, and sugar free. Since starting the GAPS diet, we have seen slow, but steady, improvement in her ability to learn, motor coordination, sensory issues, and behavior.
I think that going gluten free is a great step towards an ultimate goal of putting your special needs child (or yourself- GAPS can also help with depression, anxiety, attention deficits, allergies, and more!) on a grain and sugar free diet. Many children are so addicted to crackers and milk products, that I think it would be beneficial to eliminate gluten (and casein, but we’re mostly talking about gluten here) before taking the leap to go completely grain free, especially since gluten-containing grains seem to cause people more problems than other grains. There are gluten-free substitutes for wheat crackers and cookies, which will make the transition much less overwhelming to you and your special needs child.
This worked well for us- I’ll be honest, I thought the idea of going completely grain and sugar free was way too overwhelming to even consider. But after I got used to having her only eat GFCF foods, I not only was encouraged by the improvement that I saw in her, but I also realized that restricting her diet wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be. She has been on the GAPS diet for nearly a year now (we started in November of 2009) and we happily continue on it, since I continue to see improvements.
I want to encourage other parents with children with special needs, even something as minor as a slight learning disability, to look into what dietary changes can do to help their child!
Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer. Also remember that I’m just a mom, not a healthcare professional 🙂 I’d also like to note that though my daughter is clearly thriving on a grain free diet, the rest of us seem to be able to tolerate grains and wheat just fine. We do ‘go grain free’ as more of a cleanse a couple times a year for a month or so, though.
Cara lives in Montana with her husband and two young children, where they enjoy the outdoors, cooking, reading, and studying nutrition. She writes at Health, Home, and Happiness about traditional foods and healthy living.
See all my Gut and Psychology Syndrome posts here.
Listen to my interview about GAPS and my special needs child here.
Print a one-page overview of nutritional changes for special needs children. (PDF)
You can also check out all of the posts from the week we focused on wheat and gluten:
The Silent Cause to Poor Health – a fabulous, everyone should listen to podcast
The Transition to Gluten Free – a guest post by Kat from SCDKat.com
Gluten Free Easily – a guest post from Shirley of GFE
Gluten Free Beauty – a guest post by Kristen of Gluten Free Beauty
Gluten, Grains, and Children with Developmental Issues – guest post by Cara or Health, Home, Happiness