After my guest blog post for Paleo Parents, I received numerous responses from families similar to mine voicing their struggles with the process of transitioning their children, including ones with a special needs, to a real food/ clean food/ Paleo lifestyle. The two biggest demographics of these responses were from parents of children diagnosed with either ADHD or on the Autism Spectrum. Both groups of parents are hitting a wall with trying to adjust their kids diet. I can relate, I just happen to have two children each of one of these diagnoses.
I wanted to take this time to share my youngest sons story and of how transitioning to a Paleo lifestyle has help him. My oldest son Seth (you can catch a bit of his history here) is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder with sensory issues and my youngest son Mark is highly ADHD with some developmental delays due to his tough start in life. After spending years in behavioral therapy addressing various things, we finally were able to see a psychiatrist to get a complete evaluation to see what exactly where Mark was in terms of an ADHD diagnosis. When the physician gave me Marks results, he mentioned that some of his results were off the charts in the areas of attention and impulsiveness. I then noticed on the report that he had to hand draw in an extend section of the bar graph to the top of the report page because Mark was so far “off the chart” in these two areas.
Mark is from Haiti. When he arrived to the orphanage, he had to be hospitalized immediately due to severe malnourishment, along with a host of other health problems such as parasites and TB. After his initial treatments and hospitalizations, he gained some weight but at the same time, he still remained chronically sick, with a perpetually runny nose, covered in eczema and staph boils.
His days consisted of moving between hyperactivity and then complete lethargy with his attention span being only about 1-2 min on any given activity, including the ones he enjoyed (yes even TV shows).
As we went through our transition period that comes with adoption, that time of learning to grow together as a family plus working through the language barriers, we started to seek out help. During this time we enrolled him in several programs and therapies to help with his physical and developmental delays. Three years later, while still treating his numerous health and sleep issues, we requested allergy testing to see allergies were aggravating the ADHD symptoms we were seeing with him before we moved forward with any medication treatments. I had been asking for awhile because the poor child could not breath at night and would sleep half on the floor/ half on the bed in a “praying” position, snoring, drooled constantly, had chronic skin problem, with bed wetting past normal age, poor coordination and lived in what could be described as a fog. Come to find out from the testing he is allergic to wheat, soy, peanuts, tree-nuts, shellfish and a host of other environmental factors. Unfortunately during his time in Haiti and for awhile at home during transition all he lived off of peanut butter sandwiches and beans/rice (cheap source of protein) which only aggravated his already malnourished brain and body which I feel contributed to his initially developmental delay diagnosis.
After the diet change 90% of the symptoms cleared up, no more sickness (not even the funking stuff kids bring home from school), eczema is completely cleared and no boils in a year. The ADHD symptoms are still present in less severity but are manageable now with behavioral therapy, consistency at home and he is currently medication free. Diet change has helped us over the hump and has given us the healthiest and the best of Mark possible. We can now use techniques taught in therapy to help with the rest because he is able to focus so much better. We also use energy busters like running laps, burpees, tree climbing, jumping on a small trampoline in the house, karate, sitting on a fitness ball and other busy/fidget activities to help him get out a burst of energy and then at this point he is able to refocus on the initial task or activity.
Yoga and stretching helps center him a bit, karate is bringing focus and we are just loving him where he is at as a child. We are trying to teach him to recognize when he starts to feel his body is “out of control” and what steps to take to help regain that focus (starting with the energy buster routine), so he has a positive experience when trying to change his behavior as compared to forcing the change through discipline (time outs, lost privileges). I have talked to many adults who live with ADD/ ADHD and one key thing I hear them say that just hurts my heart is that they were always getting in trouble for things when they did not even realize what they were doing wrong. Two of them told me that felt like they were just horrible kids. This can make a child feel as though they are just inherently “bad” and can set them up depression and feeling like a complete failure in life. Several studies show ADHD adults have a much higher rate of addiction then the general population many times due to self medicating with drug and alcohol.
Changing Marks diet was not as difficult as it had been with Seths because we can use the “this is dinner, you can eat it or you can excuse yourself” with him. Our biggest hurdle is keeping him feeling “full” due to his history. If Mark has any sort of hunger or even thoughts of wanting to eat, he gets VERY nervous that he will in his words “die”. Making sure he gets lots of protein helps keep him feeling full throughout the day without the spikes and drops in blood sugar that do effect emotions and mental status which can cause him to become nervous. Mark is growing so quickly no due to the diet change, 6 inches just this year now that his body is able to efficiently process the food, it has been amazing to watch.
This summer is the first time that he is recognizing and verbalizing the difference he is feeling in his body and brain when he goes to a birthday party/ friends house and binges on candy and dyed junk foods as compared to his normal self. I see him making better food choices without any of my influences or prompting. When I asked him about this he told me that the “junk food makes me feel slow”.
The point of sharing this story is because I just want to encourage other parents of kids with special circumstances to just keep trying. Your days, your meals and your choices will not be perfect every time, I know ours aren’t, but just keep plugging along the best you can and set the best example possible for your kids. Thank you for the chance to share our story and would love to hear if you have any stories of the positive change that a healthy diet brought your family?