I wrote this post in April of 2011 on a different outlet. The most frequent question we are asked about The Food Plan is, “Do you see a difference with Cullen?” And it always gives me a little twinge somewhere deep down when I have to admit that I don’t see any major improvements. He is a little more calm and his dark moods are shorter and fewer between, but the day-to-day challenges are still there and it’s still a lot of stress. Then I think about where we were a year ago, or two years ago, and I can see that we have come a long way. Even though there is still a lot of work to do it is a great feeling to recognize the progress we’ve made so far. I thought I would just copy the post from last year as it talks about what we deal with regularly, and how our individual weaknesses have been transformed into strengths to help our family.
[From April 2011]
Many of you know that we have 3 boys. It makes for fun times and sticky messes most days, but we love the Lego’s, video games and farts. Cullen is the youngest, he is now 6, and in February was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. For those of you who don’t know, Asperger’s is on the Autism spectrum, and is caused by frontal lobe deficits in the brain. Aspie’s (people with Asperger’s) are all unique, but some of the characteristics that they share are trouble reading non-verbal communication, an inability to recognize or follow social cues and trouble interacting with people. They can be blunt and brutally honest. They usually see the world differently and have amazing perspectives. A bit obsessive and they can have problems moderating their speech and keeping personal space. Another big thing is sensory sensitivity and their love of routines. They are literal minded; they don’t get sarcasm or figures of speech. Some of history’s most brilliant inventors, scientists and artists are believed to have had Asperger’s. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Vincent Van Gogh top the list. But genius is by no means the norm.
At first, the diagnosis threw a wrench in our lives, and then we realized that now that we had the wrench we had the tools to help him! Cullen started Kindergarten this year (after 3 years of preschool and pre-k), but his behavior in class had been increasingly odd and frustrating for his teachers (and for us). At the beginning of the school year Mike pushed me to get Cullen tested for ADHD, which came out normal for his attention level, but high on the hyperactive side. We completely changed his diet, cutting out sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and some dye’s. He also started going to a psychologist twice a month to work on his concentration and behavior skills. We saw some changes, but the quirky habits started to be more noticeable, and I started to feel like maybe there was something else going on. An email from his teacher telling us that his behavior was not improving made us start questioning what else it could be. I made a list of observations I had made, and took it with us to his bi-monthly visit. The Dr. pulled out a diagnostic test, and at the end of it said, “That was an Asperger’s test, and he is overwhelming positive.” The first thing I did was make a beeline to Pinkberry and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, the next stop was the Kindle Store where I downloaded every book I could find on Asperger’s. After devouring about 8 of them I felt better. I obsessed for weeks… reading everything I could and trying new ways of interacting with Cullen. We started seeing bigger changes at home and at his after school program.
We are still learning and will probably keep on learning for the next ten years. I was thinking the other night that the challenges Mike and I face have already given us tools for helping Cullen grow and learn the skills he needs. Mike probably has ADHD and is able to help Cullen focus. Mike is also great at making Cullen “fit in” they have their own gibberish language, and they love to walk funny, and just be goofy together. I (according to Mike) am a little bit of a control freak. Which makes me a great organizer and routine setter for Cullen. My artsy side helps when I draw out instructions and social stories for him to carry with him. We’ve both had to learn to let some things slide, like that he can’t help his goofy faces, and the inability to sit still, or the way he talks when he gets excited or stuck on something. We’ve had to change how to talk to him, and we’ve started repeating instructions.. specific instructions.
The most frustrating thing is the challenges we are still having at school. The teachers and administrators have little more than a textbook definition of what Asperger’s is, and no idea how to deal with Cullen. Since his academics are way above the standard level required he isn’t eligible for any assistance from the school, and because he doesn’t have a learning disability or trouble speaking he isn’t eligible for state assistance. We wanted to take some pictures of the Cullen we see every day.. the goofy faces, and the solid stare haha, and we had to get some in with our name tags too. The best part is getting to share his Cullenism’s (as his fans call them). He has such a unique way of looking at things, that are downright funny most of the time. I need to compile a list of my favorites. One of the latest was him looking for cats and dogs on the roofs and in the trees when I told him it was, “raining cats and dogs.”
I’m not a big fan of red wine (even though I know it’s the better option), it tastes bitter and sour to me. But I love the idea of sangria and wine soaked fruit! So I’ve altered a sangria recipe to fit my tastes and without the the lemon lime soda the original recipe called for.
2 organic lemons, thinly sliced
1 organic apple, cored and sliced
1 cup organic strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise
1 750 ml organic white wine (I used a pinot grigio, but chardonnay would work if you like it)
1/2 cup white rum (bacardi style, not captain)
3 cups sparkling mineral water
Add fruit to a large pitcher. Add wine and rum. Cover and refrigerate for 4-5 hours. When ready to serve add sparkling water, pour into glasses and serve. Remember to add some fruit to each glass.
These were by far the most delicious thing I have put in my mouth since we started The Food Plan! I know, I know… alcohol is not technically permitted on The Food Plan, but it is one of the things that Mike and I were unwilling to give up completely [see my post on Happily Ever After to see why]. We have cut back quite a bit though. I need to share the deliciousness, so you can enjoy these too!
3 cups fresh seedless watermelon pulp
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (8-10 limes)
1 1/2 cups simple syrup made with honey (see below)
1 1/2 cups 100% agave tequila
1/2 cup cointreau
Put watermelon in a bowl and use a potato masher to smash into pulp. You want to get as much juice out as possible, and you don’t want any large chunks. It makes it a little bit harder to drink. I like the smaller nuggets for snacking on when my beverage is gone. (I also eat the fruit from the bottom of my sangria). Transfer your pulp and juice to a pitcher. Don’t worry about picking out any seeds you do find in your melon, unless you are really anti-seed. Add lime juice, simple syrup, tequila and cointreau. Stir. Refrigerate for 30 minutes minimum. Serve over ice.
Honey is so much better for us than processed sugars. We use it as our primary sweetener now, actually our only sweetener. Some people are getting on the agave train, and while that is better than some of the other sweeteners, it is still around 90% fructose. So while that debate rages on, we use honey. The following simple syrup recipe is from my Everyday Grain-Free Gourmet cookbook by Jodi Bager and Jenny Lass. As a side note this is my favorite cookbook at the moment, because of the ease of recipes and the variety. It makes delicious foods we can substitute for the favorites we are missing.. like muffins, and bread, and pizza!
1/2 cup water
1 cup raw organic honey
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Heat water over medium heat. Add honey just before boiling. Stir well until combined. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and let cool.
This syrup can also be served on pancakes, waffles, or crepes. Keep refrigerated, but serve warm.
A diagnosis of anything typically leads to statistics.
- 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder according to a commercial on tv.
- 1 in 88 are diagnosed with Autism according to Autism Speaks
- 1 in 54 are boys.
- More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined.
- Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
But the scariest one to me is the exaggerated statistic that 80% of marriages in families affected by autism end in divorce. Luckily, the true number is closer to 36% only 1% more than a typical family. Any marriage can be stressful, you have to worry about household budgets, who cleans the dishes, who leaves wet towels on the floor or hair in the sink. Add in the kids and suddenly you are a chauffeur, a short order cook, a housekeeper and a laundromat; probably all while working a 40 hour week. The romance fizzles, and we all know what can happen next. For a family with Autism Spectrum Disorder the stress is enhanced and money gets tighter. Special diets make it hard to eat out in some cases. Meltdowns or behavioral issues can make it difficult to go anywhere. Doctors visits, psychiatrists, behavioral counseling and occupational therapy eat up time and resources. Parents are frustrated, worn out and just plain exhausted.
I no longer qualify as a newlywed, but I am nowhere near an expert on marriage either, at least not any except my own. A marriage takes work, a lot of work some days, but for us our relationship mantra is Work Hard, Play Harder. We make time for each other every day. The kid has a strict bedtime for the specific purpose of giving my husband and I some alone time every night. As often as we can we have date night. Then there is the romance.. Neither of us is particularly romantic, but as our friends say, “You two make me barf with your cuteness.” My husband sends me a love note on google chat every single day when he leaves the house, without fail. I put little notes in his lunches, or on his Facebook wall. I like to use things like, “We go together like peas and carrots.” or “I love you more than old men love soup.” We also always go to bed together. That’s not particularly romantic, but I like to think it keeps us connected. Bottom line: We try to act the same way we did when we first started dating. We spend most of every day together, we remember to say I love you a lot! And we are thankful for what we have. We cherish and nurture it. Love isn’t something that once attained will continue on it’s own like some mechanical device. It’s like a garden– you’re gonna find weeds, and gross bugs, and maybe an evil bougainvillea every now and then, but at the end of the day it was worth the effort of caretaking.
One of the most endearing traits of my husband is his commitment to family. It was one of the many reasons I fell head over heels for him. The most poignant example of this has been when we decided to try The Food Plan (it’s capitalized because it has become its own entity). It might have been easier and certainly cheaper if Cullen was the only one on a special diet, but Mike felt like it would be more fair if we all did it together. Now, Cullen isn’t alone when he passes on the sugary treats, bread or fruit. We are right there with him. He has a support team and he is learning that family sticks together. My husband is great at telling me to stop and relax. I have a slight control freak tendency (and by slight I mean I would take over the world if not held in check), and Mike is always right there to help me with my latest hare-brained scheme or to force me to just take a break and put my feet up. He’s my ultimate de-stresser and with a cocktail (slightly healthier when homemade) in hand we both get to chill out together.
I also think that all the PDA and lovey-doveyness is great for the kids to see. Lead by example people!! So remember, whether you have 3 kids, 1 kid with Asperger’s, or a pet turtle, your spouse needs your undivided attention for a portion of each day. Take care of them and they will take care of you.
I modified Rachael Ray’s Everything Jambalaya recipe to fit our food plan. I’m not sure if this still counts as jambalaya if it doesn’t have rice or pasta. If you need something to soak it up I imagine that spaghetti squash might be a good option. All of my ingredients are organic, nitrate-free and free range, uncured or wild caught. I have added langostino lobster in sometimes as well.The time is all in the prep for this dish.
2 tbsp butter/ghee/coconut oil
1 lb boneless chicken, cubed (can be white or dark meat, with skin or without)
1 lb Applegate chicken andouille sausage (uncured, nitrate free, organic) sliced
1 lb raw, medium shrimp, deveined and peeled
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 pinches cayenne pepper (if you use my chili powder recipe then reserve the extra cayenne for your tastes, the chili powder alone is a lot of kick).
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp poultry seasoning
2-3 tbsp nut flour (almond or coconut)
1 140z can diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups homemade chicken stock or broth
Celtic sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Chopped scallions and fresh thyme for garnish, optional
- In a skillet over medium heat add butter to pan. Add chicken until brown, about 3 minutes. Add sausage and cook for 2 minutes. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, bay leaf and cayenne and/or chili powder. Cook for another 5 minutes
- Sprinkle flour and cook 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, cumin and poultry seasoning. Bring to boil.
- Add shrimp. Simmer 5 minutes until shrimp is pink and firm.
- Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with salt, pepper, scallions and thyme as desired.
Total time: 30 minutes