The Sloth Mom Manifesto


Originally published May 5, 2011
So, Tiger Mom’s daughter made it into Harvard. And it made the national news, and Tiger Mom has a best-selling book.
If, indeed, this is what Tiger Cub wants, then I say, good for her. There was a lot of hard work involved, and she deserves it.
But really, here’s the question: How the hell could she possibly know what she wants? 
One of my friends pointed out, reasonably, that it’s not exactly a BAD thing to force your kid to go to Harvard. 
When they graduate, he pointed out, they can decide they want something else and go be a firefighter or an artist or a writer.
But I don’t think they will. 
I think that by the time you’re done with Harvard, or MIT, or Yale, you’re so entrenched in “excellence” as a lifestyle that it has seeped into every pore, and I mean excellence as the literal word: To excel in every thing.
To what purpose? 
Really, truly, and without prejudice or cynicism: Why?
If excelling is the goal, when is it reached? Where’s the finish line?
Be the best you can be at everything, beat everyone at everything, and then die?
I don’t believe for one second that Tiger Mom or Harvard is about getting a good education: Education in the sense of being able to understand the world, appreciate art and literature and music, love logic and good conversation and know where you fit in, and be trained in a specific, rigorous discipline of your choice so you can follow a profession. I do believe that Harvard will give you that, and more. 
But I don’t believe that’s why people go there: It’s about, to quote Charlie Sheen, “Winning.”
About being the best. About having no slack in your world, no room for second place. No room for Bs.
And I reject that paradigm. 
Sure, there’s a part of me that wishes I’d gone to Harvard. I had the brains for it. Had the SAT scores for it. 
It represented everything I wanted: Someone to push me in the right direction. A tangible way to show that I was someone, that I was smart, that I was one of the “right” people.
But twenty years later, despite rational, reasoned input from the same friend, I’m not buying it. (I went to high school with this friend -- we were both whip smart and should have gone to good colleges and kicked ass. Neither of us made it. He, however, now has a PhD. I have a chip on my shoulder and a blog.) 
To continue the Tiger Mother concept: Who the hell wants to be a Tiger? You have to EAT SOMEONE to exist.
You have to hunt, every day, simply to stay alive. And you have to teach your children that in this world, you hit the ground running every morning, get up at dawn, and go kick some unsuspecting creature’s ass or you starve. Go get ‘em, tiger. Sharpen those claws. If someone’s intestines aren’t all over the ground, you have not succeeded.
I’m going for the Sloth Mom concept. The rules are different for sloths. No one has to get eaten, as long as you’re careful.  
The world’s a good place, and you have a home here. Watch out for the bad guys (especially those damned tigers,) and you’ll be fine. There’s a lot to learn, but you have time. That’s all we have: Time to learn, and to play, and to look around. Sometimes things are upside down. Sometimes things aren’t.
And by Sloth Mom, well, it’s sort of a joke, because all homeschoolers know that you can’t be lazy and homeschool. We’re talking Sloths here, not slugs.
Hell, if you’re lazy, and want to be Slug Mom, send your kids to school so you can take a nap.
Here’s a peek at schooling a baby Sloth, instead of a Tiger cub:
Violin: Yep, my kids take violin.
And they practice. 
And they suck. 
Quite badly. 
Sawyer’s been taking violin since he was three. He’s now turning 11. We’re talking $20 a week for 52 weeks a year for eight years. That’s 400 lessons, and we practice about ten minutes to twenty minutes a day at home. 
That’s $8,000, in case you’re counting, and he knows six songs. Maybe seven. 
Yes, folks, that’s $1,000 per song, for a bad rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
But I think violin is good for him, and I’m a Sloth Mom, not a Slug Mom, and I think that violin (and all that comes from learning to play and enjoy music) is a good skill for a sloth to have. 
And so despite his occasional tears, he’s still going to learn to play. 
Just not, as the Tiger Mom suggests, with threats and humiliation. Instead, he will learn that some things just suck until you get good at them, and it’s hard to learn a new skill, and maybe violin isn’t your thing, but you need to try anyway.
Reading: Sawyer couldn’t read until he was almost nine. He’s an odd, quirky child. 
I knew he was bright, I knew he loved words and stories, and we read together every night. For hours and hours and hours. And then one day he sat down and could read. 
And now he reads two or three books a day, and has a book he’s reading while he has another book on CD going in the background.
History: Sawyer has never been to “school,” where most kids think history is boring. He’s never taken history as a subject. And yet he can tell you the parallels between the Star Wars saga and the American Revolution, using the British Empire as the Death Star, Yorktown as the secret spot that would unravel everything, George III as Darth Vader and George Washington as a very old, ugly Luke Skywalker. 
But I have no idea if he could pass a standardized test about the Revolution. He can, however, re-enact the battle of Cowpens, which I’d never even heard of.
The really important stuff:
The critical, vital stuff to raising happy Sloths isn’t in school. It’s what happens when they’re NOT scheduled. And Tiger cubs are scheduled all day long, from the early morning rise until bed after all homework is done. 
Because SlothWorld is slow, there’s time for stuff. 
There’s time to hang out, and read, and listen to books, and read books, and color. One of the most important tools I know of is boredom. I love when my kids are bored -- that’s when the creativity starts.
We have rabbits, and we play with them (and no, we don’t eat them after pouncing.)
My kids both know how to cook scrambled eggs, and omelettes, and pancakes. Sawyer can make bean soup, gluten-free cake, awesome smoothies and chicken-fried steak. He cooks dinner at least one night a week. 
You know what else my ten-year-old son does?
He mows the lawn.
Changes the cat box. 
Does all of his own laundry. 
Keeps up with his own room and clothes. 
Cleans out the chicken coop, collects eggs and feeds chickens every day. Cleans out the rabbit cage and composts all the waste. 
Takes care of his section of the garden, and is in charge of weeding and watering and mulch.
He can change a diaper (yes, even a poopy one,) and put an outfit on a wiggling baby. 
He can make a baby laugh, and knows when to yell for help when she won’t. 
He is never sullen, or stressed, or put-upon. 
He wakes up eager to start his day, can’t wait to get to the middle of his new book, and loves to ponder politics, religion, a new video game or who’s going to win The Amazing Race.
He’s hurt by the injustice in the world, and terrified by the tsunami in Japan. He can clean out the car, vacuum the play room, put all of they toys where they belong and sweep the kitchen. Both boys love to get wet rags and scrub the kitchen floor -- it’s their favorite part of Saturday morning.
They have no idea what any of the top 40 songs are (neither do, I though, so that’s not a shock.) 
They love to go camping and fishing and to the kid’s museum and their absolute favorite thing is to go to Barton Springs, an amazing swimming hole in Austin, with their dad and spend the day there.
They can do all of these things because I don’t care one bit if Sawyer is the best at math. Better than who? What’s the yardstick? He’s in fourth grade, for Pete’s sake. 
I guess, after all this, my point is this: The philosophy of a Tiger Mom seems to be that life is Nasty, Brutish and Short, and you’d better be on the top of the food chain.
I think that Sloth Moms can raise happy, healthy, amazing kids, and no one has to sharpen their teeth.



Autism 101

  Originally published February 16, 2009

Enough people have asked me for this information that I’m going to publish it.
My story is valuable to people who are just starting out on this journey, and I’m just going to tell what happened, with these warnings:
I don’t care if you don’t believe me.
I don’t care if your doctor says I’m wrong.
I don’t care what the newspaper article said about how this doesn’t work, and it’s all bad science.
I don’t care that this diet is too hard to follow and you can’t do it. If you care about your child, and he needs this, you’ll do it. Having a kid with autism is hard. Changing your diet is inconvenient. Having a child recover from autism is miraculous and life-changing.
If you add nasty comments, I will ignore them.
Please be nice. I’m just telling our story, and trying to help. I’m not selling anything, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not crazy. I’m a mom who really didn’t expect to be here, and I’m one of the really, really lucky ones.
So, here, in a nutshell, is our story:
Sander was born in November, 2004.
He was almost nine pounds, happy, healthy, and amazingly strong. By the time he was two months old he was almost sleeping through the night -- miraculous after our first one, who never slept!
I took him on a trip to Houston when he was ten weeks old, and no one could believe what an easy, happy baby he was. Neither could I!
When we got back to Virginia, which is where we lived, I talked to the doctor about vaccinations. I was worried because Sawyer had had a bad reaction to one of the shots, and allergies run in our family and I wanted to delay some of the shots.
Fine, the pediatrician said. He has to have at least the DTaP -- Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus.
So I got the shot and left.
The child didn’t sleep again for two years. Neither did I.
Within a couple of hours, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. 
Sander started screaming, and didn’t stop. Cried that entire night, and the next day, and the next. Started doing all sorts of weird things when he nursed -- arching his head back like he was in pain, spitting out milk, not nursing at all. Had weird, hard, rabbit poop, or black tar, or no poop at all. In the next three weeks, I was at the doctor’s office five times.
I got:

“He’s teething. He has an ear infection. Yes, teething is normal in a two-month-old baby. Yes, even though he’s not getting any teeth. Don’t know what to tell you about the poop. He’s fine. I don’t know why he’s arching his back like that or why he won’t stop crying. Maybe it’s colic. He’s fine. You need to stop worrying. And no, there’s no way it could be connected to the vaccine. Besides, that was a week ago!”
I had a baby who was a sobbing, miserable, mess, and he was obviously in pain. The doctors honestly didn’t have a clue, and they didn’t listen to me. I absolutely KNEW, from that day forward, that something was WRONG.
I went to a lactation consultant. “Maybe you’re making too much milk.”
Tried another one. “Maybe he has digestion issues.”
Went to a witch doctor. “His stomach hurts. Have been giving him Motrin or Tylenol?”
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I had (in fact, one of latest studies shows that giving an infant Tylenol after a vaccine increases the risk of autism. No one yet knows why.)
So the witch doctor (homeopath? naturopath? osteopath? I can’t remember, and I’m pretty sure that she saved my son’s life. She was recommended by a good friend,) gave me all sorts of weird herbs and supplements to take, since I was still nursing Sander. I took them, and within about three hours (warning: poop talk ahead,) he had a diaper full of the nastiest, smelliest slime and black goop that you’ve ever seen. It looked like his guts just slid out of him. And within twenty minutes of that, he stopped crying for the first time in three weeks. And he went to sleep.
Well, that was that, I thought. Done. He had a bad reaction to the vaccine, the witch doctor fixed me up, and the baby was going to be all right.
Except he wasn’t. 
He stopped crying, but he wasn’t happy. Ever. He was as serious and miserable a little guy as you could ever imagine. Hit every milestone early, and I kid you not, walked at ten months. By one year old, he was climbing the tallest slide in the playground and going down headfirst.
He had a constant need for stimulation, and had to be entertained at all times.
He learned sign language, but no words. And he was never, ever, ever happy.
I didn’t work, but I needed a babysitter.
I absolutely had to have a sitter come in two days a week so I could get away from him. He didn’t sleep at night, took tiny naps during the day, and followed me around fussing the rest of the time. He didn’t like TV, except for sign language videos. Didn’t like books. Didn’t like music. Just liked to follow me around and fuss at me.
This babysitter was the most patient girl I’d ever met, and she loved babies and loved my kids, and one day after two hours with him even she met me at the driveway and said, “Take him. He’s all yours, and I’m just done with him. That noise never stops!”
It was a high-pitched, awful, whining, moaning sound, like, “Unhhhhh, unhhhh,” over and over again. But no words. No pointing. And it didn’t get better.
When Sander was eight months old, my sister came to live with us, and she took one look at me and said, “You look physically ill! What’s wrong with you?”
Within a day or two, she knew.
Sander couldn’t ride in the car without screaming. Hours and hours and hours of screaming, every time we left the house. His older brother was beginning to be traumatized!
I kept saying that something was wrong with him, but everyone said since he was walking so early that he would be fine. 
I was convinced that there was something very wrong, and I was going to love it out of him. Whatever it was, I’d fix it.
Finally, when Sander was 14 months old, we moved to Texas, and with the move and remodeling a house and Mark starting a new job and homeschooling Sawyer, six or seven months went by in a blur. And then Sander was 18 months old, and then 20, and there were still no words. 
And he wouldn’t read books with me.
Or sit with me, even for a minute. He’d climb to the top of the swingset, and he’d run all over the yard, and he’d stay up all night. He had maybe ten words at 18 months, and they were strange ones. “Oof,” for dog. “Ack,” for cat. “Eh-eh,” for shoes. Consistent, so they were words, but not real ones.
And he didn’t play with trains, or with the cat. He didn’t really play with anything. He responded to us, and hugged me, and let us carry him, so I knew he wasn’t autistic (insert diabolical “Bwah-ha-ha,” here....) but something was very wrong. 
He wasn’t, by any stretch, normal.
Our bedtime routine was to run Sander as ragged as we could. Play all day long, hard. Feed him. Then put him in the sling (yeah, he was 18 months old -- but this is what worked,) and then rock him. Back and forth, up and down, back and forth, for about a half an hour, while he screamed the entire time. Sometimes the screaming would stop for a while. If the sling didn’t work, after an hour or so, Mark would go for a walk with Sander on his shoulders. He’d leave the house, quietly, and give us all strict instructions. 
Then he’d walk for a good twenty minutes, sometimes thirty, while Sander finally fell asleep sitting up, leaning on Mark’s head. When Mark got home, he’d ring the doorbell. The entire house had to be silent and dark, and Mark would sneak in and put Sander down on our bed and sneak away.
If he slept for an hour, we were lucky. 
Sometimes Mark went for walks at 2 or 3 a.m.
You couldn’t do car rides, because he’d scream. 
You couldn’t lie down with him in bed, because he’d scream and run away and act like you were killing him.
There was something very wrong.
The last straw was a trip we took to Colorado to go visit my best friend. After two weeks in the car with Sander, and going on long walks by myself with Sander on my head, I knew something had to change.
I did lots of research. I knew he wasn’t autistic (insert diabolical “Bwah-ha-ha,” here....) but I thought maybe I’d give the gluten-free, dairy-free diet a try anyway. Maybe his guts hurt.
I read this:
which is what made me decide to try it for a couple of days.
From an email I wrote on Sept. 11, 2006:
“I'm going GFCF with Sander for three weeks, to see if it helps.
I'm probably just annoying everyone in the family for nothing, but I've read tons of anecdotal stuff about kids who didn't talk that went GFCF and were talking sentences within a week.
And frankly, he's still getting up four or five times a night, and since he'll be two in two months, I've had enough. I've got to get some sleep. And when he has dairy, he's up all night long, so I really think there's a dietary connection.
We'll see. Since I'm still nursing, I have to go GFCF as well, so if I'm unhappy, everyone's unhappy. Ha.
Sander is so sweet and so funny on his good days, and such a huge, unmitigated pain in the ass on his bad ones.
One night in Colorado, he grunted and pointed at a banana and a cracker on the counter, and so I handed him a cracker. Well, that wasn't what he wanted, so he took it and threw it at me.
I asked him politely to go pick it up, and he went over to the cracker, picked it up, and threw it at my head.
So I left it there, and later, when we were making s'mores, and Sander wanted a marshmallow, I told him he could have one as soon as he picked up the cracker. He went over to the stupid cracker, picked it up, threw it at me again, and then stomped on it and screamed at me, insisting on a marshmallow while he threw things at me.
Later, after I took him out of the room, nursed him, and we went for a walk to change scenery and calm down, he happily volunteered to clean up the cracker and have a marshmallow.
But boy, he's not even two yet.
I hope this GFCF thing works. Because otherwise I'm just going to have patience and wait for him to talk, and that just might kill me.”
And one written 48 hours later, on Sept. 13:
“Well, I'll tell you what. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, and I’m not 100 percent sure that's it's not just a coincidence, but we started Sander out GFCF on Monday night.
We were getting very worried -- the speech therapist on Monday had said that he wouldn't do any motions to "The Wheels on the Bus" (whatever. Hasn't she got better things to worry about?) and that she was very concerned that he hadn't picked up any new words while we were in Colorado and wouldn't imitate any animal sounds.
Well, he actually hasn't picked up any new words in about three months. And he was still screaming to sleep every night, and waking up three to five times a night to nurse, and was just basically unpredictable: Some days he's great, other days he's a nightmare the whole day.
So we started the diet Monday night. 
Last night he said "bat" and "bug" for the first time.
This morning he started doing the motions for "Wheels on the Bus" and humming so I would sing for him. Then he started woofing and quacking and baa-ing while pretending to be each animal.
He slept last night until 4 a.m, which is a record for him, and only got up twice (I'll take what I can get!) and went to sleep tonight for the second time in row without any screaming.
He's cheerful, funny, playful and fun. He's happy and easy-going and hasn't thrown anything at me at all today.
I'm not sure that I'm hoping that it's the diet, which might mean a lifetime of restrictions for him, but I sort of am, too, because that means that it's an easy fix. A lot easier than some of the scary stuff that's been floating around in my head.
Of course, what I"m really hoping is that he's just grown out of whatever it is spontaneously and that it keeps up. So keep your fingers crossed. I'm going to be very sad if it's just a fluke, so I'm refusing to get my hopes up too much.”
So, that was it. The beginning.
Yes, he was autistic. No, I never got an official diagnosis. My pediatrician suspected it, and said he didn’t want to put it down in writing on the chart, but once Sander turned three he wanted a full workup. There’s no “official” diagnosis of autism until they’re three. Sander was 22 months old when we started this, and there was no way I was going to wait another year just to get a diagnosis.
We went to Thoughtful House, which was just starting up at the time, and got in with an absolutely amazing doctor, Dr. Bryan Jepson.
He said that yes, Sander probably would have developed into full-blown autism, and given his blood work, he had all of the biomarkers that kids with autism have. Since he was GFCF, he’d probably be a lot better off, and if I wanted him to recover completely, he needed a bunch of supplements to complement the GFCF diet.
Whatever. Sander was happy, the diet was working, and there was no way I was getting 12 supplements a day into this kid. 
I loved Dr. Jepson, and I loved Thoughtful House, but the supplements weren’t that important.
Cut to June of the next year. 
Sander was, well, normal. His behavior had turned around 100 percent. He was a normal, healthy, happy kid.
Except that he still didn’t talk.
I’m going to tell that story again though the emails I wrote at the time:
May 16, 2006
“Thought I'd give you an update -- I've been in hiding, trying to take in a bunch of information.
There's something still "off" about Sander and his speech. He's overcome all of the other "red flags" for autism, but he's still not talking much, and when he does, his speech is strange. He consistently says "oof" for dog, "ooom" for cow, "eh-eh" for shoes, "oump" (a kind of swallowing sound) for eat, etc.
He can say mommy, daddy, bye-bye, go, hello, etc, but there are no sentences. But it's not because he's not communicating -- he "tells" long stories about where he's been and what he's done -- to tell you that he went roller skating, he makes the sign for shoes, then makes the sign for "ball," and puts the balls under the shoes and mimes skating and falling down.
He's funny and sweet and easy to please, as long as he has your full attention, of course. He can do 60-piece puzzles with very little help -- and any puzzle easier than 60 pieces he can do on his own. He follows along in the conversations we're having and understands everything.
His speech therapist is wonderful, but young. So I asked her to have her boss sit in on a session, because her boss is the reason I started speech therapy there. She's the best-known therapist in Austin, has been doing this for 30 years and has worked wonders with autistic children.
She sat in, listened to Sander for about twenty minutes, watched him do a puzzle, and then told me that's she's absolutely certain that he either has apraxia or a severe phonological disorder. OK, says I. So what does that mean? That it will take longer than we thought for him to be speaking normally? A year instead of six months?
"Oh, honey," she said. "There's a good chance he won't ever speak normally. There's a good chance he will, of course, but I don't want to get your expectations up that he's definitely going to be able to talk. A lot of apraxic kids end up not being primarily verbal communicators."
Meaning they speak in sign language or with picture cards.
Basically, when Sander says "abalab" for ice cream, he thinks he's saying "ice cream."
It's like when someone has a stroke and looks at a plate and says "wheelbarrow."
There's some kind of a verbal disconnect there, and there's no way of knowing if it's going to get fixed.
The good news, she said, is that he has everything going for him -- he's exceptionally bright, he's very strong willed, he's in speech therapy before the age of three and he's got a family that's backing him up.
I'm hoping, of course, that's she's wrong, despite her 30-year career with apraxic kids. And I'm hoping he's bright enough and stubborn enough to overcome this if she's right.
But boy, if she's right, there's a lot of hard work coming my way.”
So, I went screaming back to Dr. Jepson, who asked me if Sander was taking all of his supplements. 
No. Why? How can taking vitamins have anything to do with apraxia???
Just fix my kid!!!! Make him talk, for God’s sake. 
I’m begging! 
He can’t speak in sign language his whole life. 
He can’t. 
Fix him.
Make him talk. Fix it. 
Fix him!!!!!
Panic had set in.
And pure, unadulterated fear.
This kid was bright. He knew something was wrong.
I knew something was wrong.
And by God, I’d screwed it up in the first place, and I swore I was going to love this out of him, and I was going to fix it.
Dr. Jepson said, calmly, that if I wanted to help Sander I had to get the supplements in to him.
Twelve supplements, here we come.
Calcium. Magnesium. Vitamins. Fish oil. 
Mix ‘em up, hold Sander down, force them in, hope to God you’re doing the right thing.
Curse Dr. Jepson. Thank God for Dr. Jepson.
Hope that this works.
July 6, 2006:
“I'm hesitant to even tell you, because you're going to think I'm crazier than I already sound, but Sander started taking a bunch of new supplements about three weeks ago and, according to his speech therapist, he's gone from the level of a 12-month-old to almost where he should be in the last two weeks.
He's walking around saying, "Me hungee. Please hot cereal. Eat, mommy, please help cook. Me hungee." One month ago, he had very few two-word sentences, and no three word sentences.
His odd words, like "oof" for dog and "eh-eh" for shoes, are completely gone. He now says, "Please shoes. Help shoes on, please." Instead of "Eh-eh, uh huh, huh, peese, eh-eh," with a lot of sign language.
He's even telling stupid poop jokes, "Yummy poop. Me eat poop. Hahahaha...."
The only bad news in this is that it's 12 different supplements, and they have to be taken every day, and it's really a LOT of work to get these into him.
I feel like an idiot for waiting this long to do this -- the doctor told me to start these back in January, and I figured that he was taking a multivitamin, was already eating a healthy organic diet and taking the fish oil, and he didn't really need them.
Then I started doing the research, and Sander's test results were coming back odd, with things like low CO2 levels, and I realized that the doctor might know what he was talking about. Plus, the last time I saw the doctor, he said he couldn't really do much else for Sander unless I started getting the supplements in him.
So he's taking zinc, calcium, B12, folic acid, cod liver oil, things like that -- nothing odd or that you can't buy over the counter.
But in two weeks, his whole world has changed.
And so has mine. Last night, watching fireworks, he said, "Oooooh, pops! Pop, pop, pop! Up, sky! Look, purple pops, blue pops!"
I cried. And hugged him. And cried some more.
The speech therapist is completely convinced that it's the supplements, as "we're all just a bunch of chemicals inside," and she's starting to talk about ending speech therapy at some point soon if he keeps progressing like this.
Last month she said she thought he'd be in until he was at least five or six, if not a lot longer.
Just hope I'm not jinxing it by saying it "out loud," so to speak!”
We were done with speech therapy two weeks later. Really.
And here we are.
Sander has just turned four, and he’s “normal” in every respect, whatever that means. He talks up a storm, loves killer whales and hippos and wants to be an animal doctor when he grows up. 
If we screw up and he gets wheat in his diet, he cries, has diarrhea and is a miserable mess for three or four days. 
He’s still, um, active, to use a nice word for it. He’s four and he skateboards, for Pete’s sake! 
He goes everywhere with a purple stuffed platypus that he takes for walks on a leash, and he has an active imagination and a wicked sense of humor. He loves fart jokes way too much.
I teach gluten-free cooking classes, and I help with email support, and I believe that this diet works for some kids.
I don’t think it works for everyone.
But it’s free.
It’s harmless if it doesn’t work.
And when it does work, it’s nothing short of miraculous.
My take on this whole thing, after MUCH research, and as a former newspaper editor, medical
reporter, journalist and mom of a son who's recovered from autism:
There is a gene that runs in families that seems to encompass ADD, Asperger's, ADHD, autism, celiac disease, allergies, juvenile diabetes and asthma. Other autoimmune diseases show up as well, and respond to the same treatment:
Rheumatoid arthritis and MS are two that I know that are greatly improved by the treatment for this.
I say this as a mom to one son with celiac disease, another who had autism, and as an aunt who raised her nephew with severe ADD. My cousin has asthma, I have all sorts of allergies, and while no one I know, thankfully, has juvenile diabetes, about ten to fifteen percent of celiacs end up with it.
Now, here's the current theory -- backed up with credible, real, medical research, and being carried out by doctors all over the country. This is NOT, however, mainstream medicine. Your pediatrician will tell you you're crazy if you go to him with this.
However, my pediatrician is now a convert, after seeing my son recover completely.
Here goes:
This gene leaves children with a very low threshold to environmental triggers.
That means that too many vaccines, or household toxins, or chlorine bleach, or who knows what, will "trigger" or "turn on" this whole chain reaction.
The first thing that happens in many cases is that the intestines are affected and the child has leaky gut disease. This means that certain proteins aren't broken down and some actually penetrate through tiny holes in the gut wall, leading to all sorts of inflammation and problems. The two biggest offenders are the proteins gluten and casein, which are found in wheat (and some other grains) and in dairy. These two chemicals, so the theory goes, are so similar to opioids in structure that they actually act like opium on the brain, making these kids just plain loopy. In other kids, the gene just gets triggered for celiac disease, so they don't have behavior issues, but have severe gut issues. Others have the gene triggered and end up with autism. Others end up with asthma.
The other side of the coin is that since the intestines aren't working properly, vitamins and minerals aren't absorbed, leaving these kids with all sorts of issues because they're not getting any zinc, calcium, magnesium, etc.
So, to fix it: Start as soon as possible. Take out gluten and casein, so the intestines can heal. And add in minerals and vitamins to help the brain function.
Obviously, it's not that easy. Sticking to this diet is a pain in the butt.
Figuring out which vitamins can seem like you need a biochemistry degree. And it doesn't work for every child, as many moms can tell you.
But when it does work, it's miraculous, easy, and there are no drugs involved.
It's also free, and completely risk-free, as there are certainly no side effects from skipping the bread and having rice instead.
However, after raising a nephew who said he would much rather take ritalin and drive through Jack in the Box than ever, ever, even for a day, sticking to a gluten-free diet, I know this isn't practical for everyone, and believe me, even with medication, he was hard to live with and an impossible teenager who ended up joining the Navy at 17 (where he's doing very well, because there's so much structure.)
For anyone who's interested, I will add some links at the bottom. 
I was not a believer in diets. I did this as a last resort, because it was free, couldn't hurt anything, and then we could check it off the list and I wouldn't feel guilty that we hadn't tried it when so many people said it would work.
My sister laughed at me, and she said, "OK, so he's miserable and whiny and your answer is to take away pizza and mac and cheese and his favorite foods? Yeah, that's gonna help."
Within three days, she and my husband were both begging me to stay on this diet forever.
I am, obviously, a true believer, but I know your mileage may vary. There are
many moms who tried this diet faithfully and saw no results, so keep that in mind, too.
The page that got me started on this journey
(The best doctors on the planet, period. With prices to match, unfortunately.)
(about halfway down, read "the big picture" for an understanding of what the
steps are)
Dr. Jepson’s book about the medicine behind autism. Real research, 60 pages of published medical articles, written by a real doctor, not a quack:
I will add more links to this page as I think of them, and I will put a link to this this page up on the main part of my blog. Feel free to email me with questions.
Do not, however, feel free to say nasty things about Thoughtful House or how this is all somehow a hoax. 
This diet does work for some people, some of the time. 
I’m sorry if that shakes up your world. It’s the truth. 
Autism is treatable. 
Kids do recover. 
And mine is one of the lucky ones who got better.




Gluten-free dinners

Originally published February 9, 2009

Our weird dietary restrictions, this week:

Sawyer’s celiac. Can’t have gluten, ever. Not even a crumb. No dairy, either, and yeah, no soy. 

I cheat and let him have fries and such that are fried with soybean oil once in a while or we’d never be able to eat out. But “real” soy, like tofu or fake sour cream, is off the menu. It does disturbing, odd things to him, best saved for a later story.

Sander’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, too. He’s not celiac. Don’t know what he is. He was autistic, now he isn’t. But if you take him off of this diet, he starts getting all weird again. Not going to do a trial and error thing with him -- my kids are not something where I want the word “error” to be applied...


So, for now, no gluten, dairy, or soy.

Mark wants to stay away from nightshades and sugar, too.


I love Mark, but screw any new dietary restrictions right now. I’m sorry, but I’m going to eat tomatoes and sugar. He can deal.


This, in no particular order, is the kind of stuff we have for dinner on a regular basis.


Keep in mind that we don't eat a lot of meat.  So I've had to get very creative. 

Here goes: I'm trying to have a soup, a pizza and a pasta each week. This covers a lot and prevents me from having to constantly worry about what's for dinner. It's also NOT boring.


Soups can be lentil, bean, gumbo, tomato, chicken tortilla (one of our favorites) or 

French onion (without cheese... Sigh.) 

Vegetable soup (no noodles or barley -- we substitute rice, rice noodles or just put in lots of corn and potatoes.) And corn chowder. Yum. Add coconut milk to make it creamy.

Oh, and potato soup, if you make it without cream. You can use coconut milk here, too.


Pasta -- try Tinkyada or Mrs. Leeper's. It's really not bad -- we like Mrs. Leeper's corn pasta. We don't use a lot of meat, so we just do chopped up tomatoes, summer squash, onions and peppers, but you can do meatballs, sausage, whatever you like. Pasta can be elbows or spaghetti or spirals, with all sorts of sauces and meats.


Pizza is, well, pizza, and it's pretty good. Not as good as "real" pizza, but my kids like it and it's easy. If you’re in Austin, you can buy a good one from Gluten-Free Kneads at Whole Foods. Gluten-free, dairy-free and it tastes good! You can make it with Chebe bread or a store-bought GF crust, topped with tomato sauce and veggies. My son likes the fake cheese sauce that I make on top of it -- you can put on soy cheese if you like it. I think it's pretty disgusting, and the pizza tastes pretty good without it.


So, that's three nights down.


Then there's meat one night, fish one night, sausage one night: For meat, there's hamburgers or veggie burgers (hard to find GF veggie burgers, but they're out there, or make your own), steak, pork loin, BBQ pork chops, and every kind of chicken you can imagine. The only thing you can't do is open a can of soup and dump it over the top.


And, of course, there's sausage. My son loves it, so we have it about once a week. We get soy-free "clean" sausage from Whole Foods, with no nitrites or garbage in it. Cut it up and sauteed with veggies over rice, make jambalaya, have kebabs on the grill, cut it up and mix with peppers and onions on chebe bread rolls. That's four dinners from sausage right there!


Chili. Straight from the package, it's gluten-free. Just make it yourself and read the ingredients. At least two or three brands are gluten-free, and it's an EASY dinner.


Leftovers can include Frito Pie, chili in a baked potato, chili omelettes and chili dogs. OK, I actually try to eat a lot healthier than that, and my kids have no idea what a Frito Pie is, but it's an option if you like stuff like that.


Other than that, meat night is easy. Make the same things you've always made, just modify them a little to be GF, and forget the bread. Have rice instead of pasta, and add lots of veggies.


Fish night's the same. Salmon, any kind of white fish -- make a quick sauce from wheat-free soy sauce, if you can have soy, and from soy-free mayo if you can't, and you're set. But PLEASE buy "clean" fish. There's all sorts of garbage our kids shouldn't be eating in most fish. Buy from Whole Foods, know what you're buying, or skip the fish altogether.


Some nights we do breakfast for dinner: Scrambled eggs, waffles, pancakes.


Some nights we do leftovers.


And some nights we just have almond butter and jelly sandwiches.


This doesn't have to be as complicated as it sounds! If you need more specifics on any of the above, just email me - that's what I’m here for!


Oh, other things I just remembered that we like: Fish tacos, chicken or veggie enchiladas (most canned sauce is GF, but check), and King Ranch chicken (but it's hard to make without dairy... maybe just a chicken and tortilla casserole, if you're new to this.) Barbecue pork chops, Rudy's barbecue... The list goes on!


"If you can't hear a rooster crow, you ain't living country!"

He was beautiful, but he sure was loud!


Originally published February 10, 2009

Well, I can stand the fact that we’re no longer living country.

Gonzo the rooster, hand-hatched and raised, had to be put out to pasture.

Sawyer was terrified of Gonzo. Scared to death. Sawyer is eight, and has, shall we say, a flair for the dramatic (along with a love for musicals, dancing, and theater. Jury’s still out on him.) He has one job on his chore list every day: Take care of the animals. Not that big a task -- five hens, a rooster, two cats and a golden retriever.

It would take Sawyer 45 minutes to feed the chickens, and he’d come in, sometimes shaking, sometimes shrieking, sometimes crying, but always with a story of how the rooster was about to peck out his eyeballs, or slash his throat with his “razor-sharp talons of death,” or he could just hear Gonzo sneaking up behind him, ready to pounce.

I finally got tired of it and went out one day to feed the stupid chickens myself, and Gonzo came after me, and I have to admit, he was a little scary, and I weigh considerably more than the 50 pounds Sawyer’s got on him.

Then Mark started in on the whole thing, because the rooster has a bad habit of sleeping under our bedroom window and crowing at 4 a.m. And then at 5 a.m., and again at 6 a.m., by which time Mark was ready to have soup.

So I put an ad on Craig’s List, and some very weird guy named Rhett couldn’t wait to come and get Gonzo. 

“Well, ah’ve got guineas and ducks and geese and who knows what-all out here and he’ll do just fine, God bless his little heart. Besides, if you don’t wake up to a rooster’s crow every morning, you ain’t living country.”

So, off goes Gonzo.  Rhett picked him up yesterday morning, and the only one who will miss Gonzo is Sander, who I’m sure sensed a kindred spirit.


Really good curry!

Published February 10, 2009

My best friend Christy and I were just talking about how all of our curries turned out lousy. I decided to try again tonight, and found one that worked, finally.

I make a big batch of rice, and dinner was ready in about ten minutes.

I used the this green chili paste, though I’m sure any paste bought in a store would work. Whole Foods and HEB both have a good selection:

I didn’t have any meat or chicken, so I used a bag of frozen cubed sweet potatoes and a bag of frozen cauliflower. Sounds weird, I know, but you could use shrimp, chicken, pork or fish and this would be really good, too.

I just followed the directions on the label: Basically, you take whatever meats or veggies you have, dump them in a frying pan with a spoonful of this chili paste, simmer it with a can of coconut milk, then add a spoonful of fish sauce, a spoonful of Thai palm sugar (or regular sugar,) and basil if you like.

That’s it. And it was so good, Sawyer ate three helpings, and he doesn’t even like sweet potatoes!

And it was gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and cheap!