As I contemplate making old-fashioned macaroni and cheese for dinner tonight, it reminds me that I have been meaning to write a post about the whole GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) topic. Over the years, and especially lately with the hey-day surrounding Jennifer McCarthy’s book, my family and friends have forwarded various articles about the GF/CF diet to me, asked if I’ve read the book, or asked me if I might like to try the diet with Nigel. Here’s the short answer: Been there, done that.
Back in 2000, when Nigel was five and a half, I was on one of my every-three-month trips to Barnes & Noble in search of new autism books. Facing Autism by Lynn M. Hamilton had just come out, and that’s when I first heard of the GF/CF diet. I thought, This is it! This has to work! It made sense. And I was so motivated after reading about the positive results: the increase in language, the decrease of problem behavior, the ability to focus and improve cognitive skills. I so wanted this to work, believed that it would. I immediately went to our local natural foods store and purchased GF/CF bread, cereal, cheese, soy milk, yogurt – everything Nigel would eat. And he ate it. I could tell he didn’t really like it and wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. But I had him stick to it because I knew consistency was key to having the diet work. I told his teachers and therapists so that they wouldn’t give him regular milk and bread or crackers at school. I was so optimistic. Thought I had all the bases covered, that my years of research would finally pay off.
And so I watched my son, hoping to see some improvement after the first week or two. And then going into the third week I began to realize that, not only was he not improving, not talking more, he was actually regressing. I thought, Okay, maybe it will take a little longer. We’ll stick it out. And then going into the fourth week I began to notice that he was looking sickly, he had dark circles under his eyes, was lethargic and had very little appetite. By the fifth week he was even worse, and I had to admit that it was not helping at all. So I scrapped the GF/CF diet, let him start eating the foods he had eaten previously, and within a week he was back to his normal, healthy, neuro-diverse self.
I’m really glad that I tried the diet. If I hadn’t, I would have always wondered, every day. And I’m truly happy for Jenny McCarthy and all the many parents who have experienced such wonderful success with the GF/CF diet. I wish I could be in that group. I would be a huge advocate of GF/CF, shouting it to the world. And I’m glad that Jenny McCarthy wrote her book, so that more awareness could be raised about the diet and its effectiveness. But the fact is that it doesn’t work for everyone, like every other type of autism intervention therapy out there. In a way, though, I am an advocate for GF/CF, because I highly recommend to every parent of an autistic child: Try it. It might work for your child. And what would be more wonderful than that?