Special Diet, Charlie Style

There was a time (mercifully brief) when Charlie would only eat chocolate chip cookies. This was back in the spring of 1999: We had just taken him (permanently, though we did not yet know it) out of daycare, where he was known to “carbo load” on biscuits, pancakes, and the like. We were living in St. Paul, Minnesota, and, while Charlie had yet to receive his official diagnosis of autism, Jim and I felt quite certain that this was inevitable and had already begun to read too many books and looks at too many websites. We had soon discovered the gluten-free casein-free diet and, within days, cleared the kitchen of anything with flour or wheat or dairy in it.

Jenny McCarthy‘s recent and widely reported on claims about her son’s “recovery” from autism have put the gluten-free casein-free diet back in the spotlight as an alternative treatment for autism. I have written about our experience with “the diet” before; Charlie has been more or less on the diet since June of 1999. I say “more or less” because, while we used to be dogmatically strict about letting no gluten-y crumb and no taste of pizza past Charlie’s lips, we now see such “food infractions” as not a big deal. Charlie is a good eater (has always been, since he was a baby) and in some ways just the idea of the diet has been helpful, as a way to make sure that he eats more healthy food than not. The occasional bagel or cupcake has had no ill effects, though pizza has not always been kind to Charlie’s stomach (well, maybe it’s the grease; Charlie very rarely has it).

Putting Charlie on the “special diet” almost nine years ago also had another good side-effect: It made it necessary to get Charlie to eat new foods. I’ve outlined the teaching strategy we used to do this. Walking around lower Manhattan last weekend and passing a number of restaurants (into whose windows Charlie’s eyes trailed), Jim and I started to list all the types of food he’s eaten. All told, I count at least 15 different types of ethnic cuisine that Charlie has sample and liked—-so long as rice is involved, he’s game.

But I still suspect that sushi will always hold a special place in Charlie’s stomach. After the jump, the list.

American (what else can I say; McDonald’s, burgers, fries, and of course those Jersey diners)
Philippino (sense a trend? any Asian food will do)

And here’s Charlie finishing a vegetarian burrito with chips and salsa at Qdoba tonight—yes, as his shirt says, life is good.

For more about nutrition and what’s good and what’s kind of not so good to eat, check out Eating Fabulous.

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    • Regan

      Ghanan? Columbian? Philippine?
      Wow. The diversity of New York cuisine. Charlie has quite a menu to choose from.
      Glad he enjoys his grub :-).

    • http://www.marlabaltes.blogspot.com Marla

      That would be fantastic to live somewhere with so many different foods to try. I am glad Charlie eats well. We really miss the Jersey diners.

    • http://club166.blogspot.com/ Club 166

      When we lived in Philly, we used to eat out at diners (in Philly as well as Jersey) a fair amount.

      “Life is Good”, indeed!


    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      Ghanan was home-cooked by some of the live-in nurses for my in-laws—-some of them took a fancy to him.

    • passionlessDrone

      Hello friends -

      I would be ALL ABOUT a diet consisting of nothing but chocolate chip cookies. I would also allow chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and variations that approximate a chocolate chip donut. Great thinking!

      - pD

    • Chuck
    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      The thought of all that grease is making me queasy!

    • Patrick

      I’ve got to give it to him, sounds like he likes a good variety!

    • Regan

      Don’t forget the iHOP chocolate chip pancakes :-).

    • http://www.rettdevil.org Kassiane

      He eats better than I do, that’s for sure.

    • Jill

      My oldest loves spicy curry and LOVES rice. I have never tried the GF/CF diet. I did read up on it and even went casein free for a few weeks but it is too difficult for me. I really need proof that it works before I get motivated. I find that lots of activity works best with my kids. We swim for about 2 hours every other day and take lots of walks after school. Of course, it wears me more out than them. I need to pick up some more melantonin to get them to bed at a decent hour.

    • Jill

      Correction: I meant my kids never tried the GF/CF diet.

    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      same here—-daily walk or swim or other aerobic exercise makes all the difference.

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    • http://ppdnos.blogspot.com/ Laura

      This is a topical post for me because my son was just diagnosed last month, and I’ve been hedging on GC/GF. Your post inspired me. I bought a box of gluten free pasta at Trader Joes today. Seriously. If my kids will willingly eat this stuff and it doesn’t break the bank, I think I’m going to give it a try.

      My NT son is allergic to milk, so we’re already all about the soy. And I agree – the food restrictions really force you to filter the junk out. My NT son is allergic to both milk and egg. He’s never had pizza or mac and cheese or nuggets (breading have egg) or fishsticks. It forced me to cook healthy for him.

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    • http://www.nutritionandmind.com Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN

      As a nutrition educator and clinician I’ve found that working with finding specific food intolerances has been invaluable. I’ve been working with one 7 year old on the spectrum whose parents brought her to see me because she still isn’t toilet trained and because her behavior was intolerable at home and in school. Within two weeks of being on a gluten-free/casein free/sugar/coloring and additive-free diet her behavior was markedly improved. Her ability to sit and learn in class was joyfully noted by her teacher. I know that it’s hard to implement, but today there are so many tasty rice-based product. Cereals, crackers, pasta. And don’t forget about quinoa, millet, buckwheat and other gluten-free grains. There are many great books on this. I’ve also created a free guide at my website Nutrition and Mind. According to the Autism Research Institute, nearly 2/3 of children benefit from this diet. Isn’t it work a few weeks? The first one is the hardest and then you fall into an easy rhythm and routine. And children are smart. After a while they don’t want to eat foods that make them feel awful. I’ve had children as young as 3 years old be able to make this decision to eat right for the brain.

      My sons are in college, but when they were small we lived in Chicago and they also ate every type of ethnic food. They’ll try anything. Variety is key.

    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      Thanks for all this information—have tried them all with Charlie (who also eats very little junk food and has been taking a lunchbox loaded with fruits and vegetables to school).

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