The Toxic Origins of Autism and the Gluten Free Diet

I found an article from Dr. Mercola a few years ago called “The Toxic Origins of Autism”.  ( I’ve read it quite a few times, but it states three main factors or origins for autism: 

Autoimmune Disease:  Parents of autistic children, particularly mothers, tend to have a greater rate of autoimmune diseases.  Things like food allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other, more subtle symptoms. 

Gene Mutations: Children with autism tend to have more gene expressions that are inefficient for detoxification.  These so-called “mutations” tend to be unpredictable and every autistic child’s set is slightly different along with their own unique expression of autism.

Chronic Infections (& Lyme Disease):  Chronic infections like Lyme disease are extremely common in autistic children, and may even be causing the gene mutations… Typically, the child gets the disease not from a tick bite but from their mother, who may be a silent carrier of the illness.  Ironically, the major symptom of Lyme disease in a child is not autism, but rather hyperactivity, learning disorders, depression, early puberty, and slight delays in motor development.. and the symptoms can actually stay silent or nearly silent for up to 20 years. 


It goes on to state that the diet should be tailored.. avoiding pasteurized milk, MSG, High Fructose Corn Syrup… basically all processed food.  

This got me thinking over and over again that we should give the Gluten Free diet another try.  We had tried it when Tony was 4 yrs old.  Joey was a newborn and I wanted to try this “new” diet – everyone was talking about on the autism chat rooms and in the research on the autism sites.  However, that was 13 years ago!  We had to shop at a Co-Op about 45 minutes away.  There were no pre-packaged products and you had to use “funny” flour and “different” ingredients.  It was just too much to take on with a 2 month old, a 4 year old w/ autism, and a 6 1/2 year old… which, at the time, I had to admit I was already overwhelmed.  However, I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind and have always thought that someday we would master this way of eating — all of us!

Fast forward to November of 2009.  Elisabeth Hasselbeck is on “The View” talking about her new book “The G Free Diet – A Gluten-Free Survival Guide”.  She has Celiac Disease and has to eat only Gluten Free (GF) foods.  She said her book was an easy way to get started – a beginner’s guide.  Soon after a very dear friend from college mailed me the book, knowing that I had wanted to learn more.  I read it in two days and after a very bad episode at school and at home (one of Tony’s meltdowns), we decided to start the very next day. 

I told my husband that I would take it meal by meal, so that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.  We’d just take it slow and  learn as we go.  Well.. that was 3 days before Thanksgiving of last year.  I’m very proud to report that Tony is completely Gluten Free — and other than sneaking a few chocolate chip cookies at his cousin Elizabeth’s graduation party last spring — he has not deviated one bit.  (He later paid dearly for that choice — major stomach pains — and I’m sure he learned his lesson).  Here’s the best part:  Tony has lost 29 lbs!  He looks fantastic and I know he feels fantastic!  He’s never fought me on this — he’s adapted.   He’ll even go so far as to tell me “nope!  Can’t eat that – not gluten free!” when I’m trying to introduce a new food.  🙂   But once we say it IS gluten free, he usually will always eat the new food.  His IBS symptoms are gone.  His behavior has improved.  His sleeping patterns are better (not great yet, but better).  And his complexion is better.  I couldn’t believe how much GF food is available at our local grocery store!  It’s become a very popular way of eating and even local restaurants are offering GF options.  He still has pizza night (we found a great local pizza place that has GF pizza, and even some Godfather’s locations offer GF pizza, or we just buy the GF pizza crusts at Lakewinds or Whole Foods).   He still can have chips and salsa.  We just stopped all the processed junk food.  And yes, there was a definite detoxification period…. thrown in with the holidays, which were crazy enough that we barely noticed.  (ok… we did notice, but we got through it)  Was it the best time to cut out all convenient foods?  (No)  Do you realize that gluten (a wheat protein) is in just about EVERYTHING we eat in today’s society?  (Yes)  When was the last time we ate only things with ingredients we could pronounce?  (when I was growing up)  Without realizing it, we had let the food manufacturers dictate what we ate.  And we’d become literally addicted to their foods… again, without realizing it. 

Now, I know there’s a definite connection here between the food we eat and disease.  Nutrition has a direct impact on a child’s development.  And a growing body of evidence suggest that eliminating gluten from the diet can have a beneficial effect on children diagnosed with autism. 

(Quote from “The G Free Diet”)  “Still, the bottom line is this:  However inconvenient it might seem, however much resistance you might meet at your child’s school, or even in the pediatrician’s office, isn’t the GF diet at least worth a trial?   Don’t tell me this diet is hard — autism is hard!” 

I couldn’t agree more. 



Hello 12th grade

Tony and I have had a ritual for the past 12 years.  Every August we start preparing for the first day of school.  When Tony was 6 – and not quite verbal – we started reading a book called “Hello 1st Grade”.  It told a story of a little boy moving on to 1st grade and all the new adventures he’d encounter.  For some reason, it stuck and every year towards the end of summer, we start saying “Hello 2nd grade!”, “Hello 3rd grade!” – you get the idea. 

This year was no exception.  Tony started to say, “Hello 12th grade!” – and then he smiled….  “Next year, Hello college?”  My heart ached.  We’ve had this ‘conversation’ before.  Three years ago, while touring a college in northern MN with his older brother, Tony announced in the car “Tony college Sept. 2011!”  Everyone in the car gasped… we had never even considered that he understood what the next step would be…  we all looked at each other with a sadness and a realization that he would never know that reality.  So ever since, we talk about Tony’s “college” being in his home town and he can live with Mom and Dad.  He seems okay with that for now. 

So far school is going good.  He has a shortened day and it seems to be a good fit.  Kelly still comes to hang with Tony weekly. They had a great summer together.  Kelly is fearless and we really love that about her.  She takes him everywhere – swimming, to pet stores, thrift stores, the library, shopping, malls, restaurants, to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, to farmer’s markets, apple farms and flower gardens.  He really seems to have grown this summer.  Hopefully we’ve turned the corner on puberty, hormones, and mood swings.  One can hope.  

Tony and Kelly

As I reflect on Tony’s years through the school system, I often wonder if we have even tapped into his knowledge potential.  He just doesn’t learn the way others do.  I believe he’s like a computer and we have to find the ‘back door’ approach to see what really lies behind that main screen.  Maybe then we can finally speak the same language… and he can introduce me to his world.