Marsha Delaney: Posted on Sunday, March 27, 2011 10:16 PM
|My decision to change our daughter to a gluten-free diet was never based on her behavior (unlike our son’s). My intention was to fix her digestive issues and improve her health. Serendipitously, the diet change altered her behavior. She no longer had insane, over-the-top tantrums. She stopped saying she was going to kill herself and everyone else in the family. She no longer bit, kicked, scratched and clawed me when I carried her to her room for a time-out. As long as she didn’t ingest any amount of gluten, she was a sweet, wonderfully-behaved little girl who was happy.
It took some practice, coercion and hijacking all of the shopping and the kitchen, but eventually, our whole family came on board with our new gluten-free lifestyle. My husband found that as my gluten-free cooking improved, he couldn’t tell the difference between meals with gluten and without. This helped him jump on board with no complaints. Our kids began to realize the effects gluten had on their systems. They could measure what happened to them after an accidental ingestion occurred. Unfortunately, accidental ingestion happened far too often.
Any special occasion at school seems to trigger an onslaught of sweets to arrive on the scene. If I don’t know in advance about an upcoming celebration where treats will be involved, my kids have to sit back and watch without participating. That can be difficult for them at times, particularly when donuts, cookies and cupcakes are placed on plates in front of them, leaving them with the challenge of resisting temptation.
Birthday parties are the worst. It doesn’t matter how many times I remind my kids’ teachers about gluten. Inevitably, my daughter continues to be given donuts, cookies and cupcakes. Luckily, she can restrain herself most of the time. My daughter, however, is too shy and does not wish to be singled out for anything, so instead of saying a polite, “No, thank you,” as I’ve taught her to do time and time again, she instead, quietly wraps up whatever was put on her plate and brings it home with her. What no one seems to realize is that the crumbs on her plate cross-contaminate anything else she might be eating, even a gluten-free treat I may have sent her to school with to counteract any planned-for birthday parties. This is undoubtedly frustrating because the effects of this will last for days or even weeks, and I’m unable to control everything that goes into my daughter’s mouth, particularly while she’s at school.
My son, on the other hand, is not shy and he’s perfectly happy to ask, “Is this gluten-free?” He now asks it of everything that is given to him. Even when it is given to him by me. Good boy.
I’m almost ready to eliminate other kids’ birthday parties from my kids’ lives entirely. The parties require a lot of extra planning and work on my end. I need to send my kids armed with gluten-free pizza if they’re having pizza. I need to bake special brownies, cupcakes or cakes so they don’t feel slighted while everyone else is enjoying the cake. My kids are actually wonderful about accepting this fate. They pull it off with ease. The problem, I find, is the hidden and unplanned-for gluten.
We were at a birthday party where I’d planned the best I could. I was determined that nothing was going to slip through. I brought food from home. I baked brownies for my kids. I had a pep talk with my kids prior to our arrival. Everything they were going to ingest was going to be subject to scrutiny. Everything was going according to plan. Then came the pinata. As one big kid whacked the pinata with all his might, candy spilled everywhere. My kids wanted to be a part of this. I needed to let them be. I didn’t stop them from collecting the candy. They were, as far as I knew, not of the gluten-free variety, but I couldn’t tell them not to touch it and to go and do something else. They were in the moment. I hoped I could briefly get their attention and remind them that they couldn’t eat any of the candy. I tried, but it was hard to tell how much they’d heard. I’d planned to steal it back from them once they’d lost interest.
Luckily, both of my kids pocketed the candy without eating a morsel. My next problem: my daughter badly wanted to get a body tattoo at the tattoo station. “Well, okay,” I told her. “Just one.” I had no idea if the tattoo ink contained gluten. I read the ingredients, but as previously stated, the ingredients aren’t always helpful. A lot of markers and adhesives contain gluten, so why not tattoo ink? I was worried…and horrified when my daughter arrived back in sight covered in tattoos. She must have had 17 tattoos covering her little body. The next four days were agonizing.
If this were the perfect world where absolutely everything went according to my wishes, my kids’ lives would be 100% gluten-free. We wouldn’t need to worry about stomach upsets, migraines and personality changes with days of screaming and time-outs (that still never work). We would be able to go on with our lives in a completely normal way. This is not a perfect world, however, so I need to do the best I can to ensure the safety and physical, emotional and mental health of my family using whatever means I can find.
I’ve decided to share these stories with the world, not only to ridicule, mock and humiliate my children and my parenting skills, but to cast a faint light on, what I think, is a growing trend among children and adults in our society. Common allergens appear to be becoming even more common, particularly gluten and wheat allergies and intolerance. I don’t know if this stems from an over-abundance and exposure to these allergens in practically all pre-processed food items or if we’re just becoming more aware of them and the effects they may be having on our health. Perhaps it’s the genetically-modified wheat. Thirty years ago, no one would have been able to say, “Is this gluten-free?” without the other person raising an eyebrow and wondering what native tongue they might be speaking. Now, “gluten-free,” is a phrase I keep hearing from everyone around me.
Remember the story of my son and the banana muffins? I’m not a doctor or a scientist (surprised?), but from research that I’ve done, there appears to be a strong connection between autism and gluten. Many people (including many parents of autistic children), believe that autistic kids can benefit tremendously from a gluten-free, casein-free diet. For some reason, their bodies react to gluten similarly to the way a person with celiac disease body reacts to it. One bite of a cracker containing gluten can alter and disrupt an autistic child’s behavior for days or even weeks on end. The same seems to be true with my kids…and they aren’t autistic. I believe there’s a correlation here. More true research needs to be done that may explain the link between the two conditions.
With my daughter’s gluten-induced behavioral and psychological issues, I can’t help but wonder how many children are misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis. If I hadn’t figured her issue out on my own, I’m certain I would be taking her to see a psychiatrist regularly who would most assuredly, be more than happy to load her up with anti-psychotic medications. As far as my son goes, how many super-hyper kids are misdiagnosed with ADHD and put on medication who may simply have a bad reaction to gluten?
Whether it be celiac disease, a gluten-intolerance, a wheat allergy, a wheat intolerance, or simply unruly, unexplained, outlandish behavior, it may be worth documenting food intake and behavioral outbursts and going off of bread and pasta for a while to see if things improve. If, however, your child seems to suffer from celiac symptoms (most notably, as in digestive issues), you should consider having them tested first to see if you can, in fact, get a confirmed diagnosis. Even if it comes back negative, however, try going gluten-free. It just might work.