Converting Kids to Paleo and Autism Spectrum, whereby we talk out of our…

For the record, in searching on this topic I found this awesome set of links.  There’s also this fantastic success story from Rachel at PaleoFreedom. I encourage you to read them for more fact-based advice.  As you may or may not know we are simply parents who blog from our bed on a laptop missing half the keys – not medical professionals.

I’d love your advice and other anecdotes on converting my kids to Paleo.  I have one child in particular that would benefit tremendously.

Evan is 8 yrs old and on the autistic spectrum.  He was diagnosed at 19 months and has come a REALLY long way.  He was once on 3 different medications at the same time: Risperdal, Prozac, and Vyvanse.  These medications did not help much at all.  I finally decided to wean him off slowly and instead started giving him supplements such as Omega 3 and Vitamin D.  I got a great response.  It was so much better in fact, he went medication free for about a year before his behaviour issues started becoming an issue again at school.  He has always had severe behaviour issues at home, but at school he had been doing well. However, he started threatening teachers and students and I had to do something. I am pretty sure that what he was saying was just coming from movie lines from that movie “G Force” since that was what he was obsessed with at the time, but still I had to do something.  So I had him put only back on Vyvanse and that was positive for a few months.  Now he is back to being angry, paranoid, and weepy at home.  He still keeps it together pretty well at home.  During Hurricane Irene a few weeks ago, he broke my window by headbutting it because he was angry about being bored while the power was off.  He picks at his skin and is covered in sores from that.  I know you’re thinking to take him to a doc, but I’ve been down that route so many times and its never done anything really positive.

So here I am, my fiance and I have been Paleo for over a yr now with great results.  Evan is also a bit chunky since he is such a carb fiend.  He eats the same things OVER AND OVER.  Here is a list of what he eats:  McDonald’s cheeseburger kids meals, pizza, mac and cheese, the crust off fried chicken, beef soft tacos (only cheese no lettuce), peanut butter sandwiches, and of course junk foods. I think its rather obvious a good bit of his problem is what he is eating.

I recently started adding K2 and Magnesium to his supplement regimen and that seems to have helped.  I am sneaking coconut oil into his peanut butter sandwiches as well.

So what advice can you give here?  I know you experienced some behavioural issues with your son as well.  Was it difficult to get him eating differently? I think it would be pretty easy to get my younger son to do it.  My 13 yr old daughter is already eating better.

Thanks so much for your input.

Vicki

 

Vicki,

My sympathies go out to you for the situation you are going through. Before I dispense any advice at all, let me first say that neither Cole’s nor Finn’s problems were on the level of what you are going through, so I feel slightly ill equipped to answer your question fully. We were essentially able to bribe/convince Cole to give us two weeks of only feeding him Paleo foods. He agreed to it (at the promise of something your son may really want, like a weekend getaway with just mom) and ate pretty cleanly for two weeks and immediately started feeling better. He started getting praised in school, rather than constantly in “trouble” and that was really the catalyst for us to be able to explain that the food was helping his body be in better control.

The first time he returned to the usual way of eating (we allow our kids to make their own choices after the promised period, but we won’t buy anything non-Paleo for him), he felt immediately sick. Not only did his tummy get sick, but he told us he didn’t feel well and we could tell he just wanted to laze around rather than the exuberance we’d seen since going Paleo. We reminded him that was from eating unhealthy foods. He then firmly established that if he doesn’t want to be sick, he ought to eat what we recommend.

Even before this time, we simply weren’t keeping many bad foods in the house and had committed to eating out of the house very infrequently.  This event in particular was spawned by visiting family. The great and surprising thing for us was that the kids are much more capable of making the food-sick connection that we expected. Finn, too, has become aware of things that make his tummy sick and tries really hard to avoid them.  So if you can come up with gluten-free alternatives of his favorites, get him feeling better and then work on taking it to the next level it might work.

That was the real trick for us, transition foods. Once the kids were on board, we helped them by letting them occasionally use  foods that weren’t necessarily Paleo, but were better than the original. We got gluten free (corn) chicken nuggets for the freezer, quinoa in place of rice and tapioca rice bread for sandwiches.  We didn’t do a 1:1 replacement of these foods, that won’t help to bring down the insulin resistance and blood sugar issues most carb addicts struggle with.  Instead we made the “special treat foods” available when we felt the kids needed or wanted something to feel a sense of “normal.”  We weaned the kids off as they began to feel more comfortable with eating our way. We realized after a few months that if we sent Cole to school with the rice bread, the guts of the sandwich got eaten, but the rice bread came back. One day we just stopped buying it and no one blinked an eye.

Now I don’t have an autistic child, but I would say that very few children will let themselves starve to death when food is available. If you take what he already likes and will eat and expand from it, you may be able to expand what he’ll eat. For example, if he already likes beef tacos, make them at home without the tortilla and see if he’ll accept it. There are recipes for coconut flour tortillas, or you can even buy the sprouted corn tortillas in the freezer section of Whole Foods as a transition food.  If he’ll eat chicken skin, try making oven roasted, non battered chicken with a crispy skin and see if it will work for him. Try meat crust pizza (or start with gluten-free crust and just skip the cheese) to see if it gets devoured. We had a lot of success doing this with Finn once we determined he’ll eat anything with guacamole on it. It may end up being a fight sometimes, but you are trying to help him.

At our house the rule is that no one gets to substitute. If you don’t like the dinner on the table, then you may eat at the next mealtime. It’ll be a hard rule to begin if it’s not how your house operates right now, but it’s one that’s a value not just for Paleo but for the family in general.  We try not to make this a punishment, but we are firm. We make it clear that “Daddy spent a lot of time making this food and it hurts his feelings when you’re rude and won’t even try it.  This is the choice today, if you won’t eat it that’s OK but there’s not another choice.”  It’s worked to get them to try many new things that quickly became favorites.  Keeping in mind of course, that you should attempt to give them food you think they’ll like or at least have 1 guarantee available – like guacamole or ketchup that they can dip stuff in if they’re not a particular fan of what you’re serving.

For reference, we addressed some of this on the second page of the Paleo Parents Pamphlet. We addressed what our kids actually eat both in a post here and in the video blog here.  Some surprises from our kids: they’ve learned to love guacamole, sausage, sauerkraut, kale, and spinach. Hope this is helpful to you and to other parents who may be asking themselves the same questions.  It’s not an easy task but we guarantee you a worthwhile one.  Sounds like you know what needs to be done; we look forward to hearing a success story on the other side!

About Matthew

Matthew McCarry has written 226 post in this blog.

Matt is the husband of Stacy and somehow manages to contribute to this blog in between taking care of three children, producing the Paleo View Podcast and cooking most of the food featured here.