Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dinner Idea

I always struggle with dinner ideas. It actually gives me anxiety most days. I have no imagination and I actually despise cooking. I always feel like it is another thank-less task we moms (and some dads too) have to do. Sometimes I find a really cool thing to make and I spend two hours chopping and sauteing and everyone moans and groans when I set it on the table. "I wanted sloppy Joe's" is what my middle son always says. They always want what I didn't make. My husband always eats what ever it is I make, but I always feel like I am torturing him. He likes lots of spices and herbs and...stuff. I like simple flavors. I like yummy food, don't get me wrong. I just don't want to be the one doing all the work making it. I have looked into a couple of gluten free, casein free meal plans. I have even tried a few places. I love them but the problem is always money. I found one recently that looks really good, but it is hard to justify the cost.

I don't know if anyone else struggles the way I do with dinner. I am going to assume there are a few people out there that can relate to the difficulties I experience and share some of the meals I have found that don't get as big of a "Why are we having this for dinner?" moan. I use as many organic ingredients as possible. I also stick to things that don't take long to make. Here is my first suggestion:

Rice with chicken and chorizo and broccoli

When doing this "recipe" I use the Lundberg - Organic Risotto Tuscan rice. I think this takes out the creativity of adding flavors and spices. I really like the taste of the sun dried tomatoes.

I then cook the organic chicken with just some salt and pepper in a pan with a little oil.

I steam broccoli.

When everything is cooked I add it all together and top it with a little chorizo. I like the dry cured chorizo like what I fell in love with in Spain. I actually haven't found a good tasting chorizo in Colorado, so I have my friend Aran ship a few packages to me from Florida. I think it adds a little texture and saltiness to the meal.

Enjoy. My kids actually all like this meal. No further endorsement needed.

Lundberg - Organic Risotto Tuscan

Description: Dine in beautiful Tuscany tonight with this unique vegan risotto. Zesty organic sun-dried tomatoes, piquant onions and spicy garlic combine with Lundberg's organic Arborio rice for a delicious, fast and easy side dish or entrée.

Product Weight: 5.6 oz. (160 g)

Ingredients: Organic arborio rice, organic dehydrated vegetables (tomato, garlic, onion), sea salt, organic evaporated cane juice, organic brown rice flour, organic spices (turmeric, basil, oregano, parsley), yeast extract, citric acid, organic sunflower oil.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cool New Ice Cream

While in Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago, while on the search for a new gluten, casein, soy free cheese, I found a new ice cream. It has a coconut milk base and no soy. It has agave nectar as the sweetener and is made with primarily organic ingredients. It is typically hard for Connor to try new things because only a couple of products are safe. Once we find something, we stick with it. I feel bad because I like to treat Connor to new cool things on occasion. This is probably my hang-up since Connor doesn't complain and is generally pretty happy with the food he gets.

Connor has only tried two out of the five flavors so far, the vanilla and the chocolate. Be careful, one flavor made by this company does contain gluten. The mint chocolate chip flavor has barley. His favorite is the chocolate delight. I tasted the chocolate delight myself and it was surprisingly good. I am very critical of things like ice cream and don't normally like non-dairy ice creams. In this case, it was very chocolaty and it has a very distinct coconut taste in the background. Well worth trying, especially those who love ice cream and are sick of the few non-dairy chooses out there. Good eating!

Gotta Do Chocolate
A chocolate delight, as rich and satisfying as they come.

Ingredients: coconut milk, organic agave nectar, organic brown rice,
organic cocoa, organic chicory root, carrageenan, organic guar gum, sea salt. CONTAINS TREE NUTS (COCONUT). MANUFACTURED IN A FACILITY THAT ALSO PROCESSES DAIRY.

Although NadaMoo! is not certified gluten-free, we’re choosy about our ingredients. All NadaMoo! flavors are made with gluten-free ingredients except for Lotta Mint Chip, which contains grain-sweetened chocolate chips.

We are working on our Gluten-Free Certification, so check back with us for updates.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Finding Strength

Today was the first big meeting of the year with Connor's school. I have been preparing for a couple of weeks. I have read several inclusion books and even a few blogs. I went in to the meeting more organized and with more concrete plans than ever in my life. I wanted to not only give great ideas for what to do this year to strengthen Connor's social skills, but give concrete plans and strategies on how to implement them.

We are doing data this year for the first time ever. This is going to be new for the school and very new for me. When I home schooled Connor in the beginning while doing ABA, I hired a BCBA (board certified behavior analysis) to come in a couple of times to train me on ABA and to design his programs (what to teach). She would always tell me that data was key to any good program. Since I was doing the program myself, I couldn't teach and take data. Plus, I could see with my own eyes if things were improving. Data didn't work then, but now it is crucial. Connor has several different teachers (regular teacher, special ed, lunch buddy teacher, etc..) and we need to see empirical data to know if he is improving in the skills we are teaching. The school is on board with data, it is just so new to them, they need to figure out the logistics of it. I also feel that keeping data will keep them consistent. They dropped several great programs last year simply because no one was watching.

I am pessimistically optimistic about the year. I know more this year than any other year, and I feel more organized. Connor seems happy this year with the teachers and kids. I just hope with the new structures in place, he will only blossom socially.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Reinventing The Wheel...Again

Connor started school this week. For most parents this means getting school supplies, buying a backpack, etc. For me this meant researching Wrights Law, and finding new programs to try. Connor had not had the best summer school experience. The school district and I have two very different ideas of what "training" and "support" mean. I wasn't about to have this year be another disappointing year for Connor.

I have often wondered if inclusion is right for Connor. Is he a round peg we are trying to put in a square hole? I bought a book that I highly recommend for anyone trying inclusion with an autistic child. It talks about the benefits of inclusion along with detailed programs to help teachers implement social skills in the classroom and throughout school.

I have voiced my concern for Connor during lunch and recess. He has a hard time with social skills and those are the main times during the day that he interacts with his peers in a non-structured way. I had been hearing about different programs like "Lunch Bunch" and other buddy programs. Connor has a desire to socialize but doesn't quite know the rules. He might do something inappropriate or say something about a topic that isn't interesting to other kids and they won't be interested in him anymore. He doesn't have the ability right now to catch on to their disinterest. "Lunch Bunch" is a way to work on social skills in a structured way with a couple of interested peers and a facilitator.

Another program we are going to try is a class wide peer training. Last year I was a bit skeptical when I was first introduced to this concept. I didn't want to draw extra attention to the fact that Connor is different. This of course, I have come to realize, is silly. The kids already know that Connor is different. We need them to know how he is the same. We need to teach the kids why it is that Connor doesn't always say the appropriate thing. We need to teach why Connor doesn't every whisper or play with them on the playground. They need to know why he has behavior issues sometimes. I don't want the kids thinking he is just weird. I want them to see past the parts of him that are different so they can see the cool fun parts of him. Connor is very funny. He is witty actually. Many of his teachers have commented on this fact. They say that when he opens up and is comfortable, he is actually quite humorous. I want the kids to see all that he has to offer by explaining that even though he is different, it's OK to be his friend.

We are setting up a reward chart for him also. We are still working through the specifics, but it is a chart that he gets stickers for every time he completes a specific task appropriately. At the end of the chart, when all the spaces have stickers, he gets a reward. This is basic ABA. It is simple, but it works. Remember to always keep the reward something that is truly, a reward. Also, in the beginning you will want the child to be successful everyday so set up the chart to make it possible to get the reward at the end of everyday. After a couple of weeks the reward could be obtained after two full days or so.

The school seems to be willing to try all of the things I have "suggested". They want Connor to be successful, but they also know I won't take no for an answer. Much of my job is trying not to step on too many toes, but still getting my point across clearly. Sometimes you have to shake up the "establishment" to get results. Change doesn't generally happen on its own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Gluten, Dairy and Soy Free Chocolate Chip Cookies and Blueberry Crumb Bars

Jill has been asking me for a long time to start baking more simple gluten, casein and soy free desserts that kids can enjoy, so this will be my little section dedicated to it. I am a pastry chef by trade, but I have never really baked allergen free so this is a learning experience for me. I have found that even the most common ingredients contain gluten, such as vanilla extract, which is made with alcohol and alcohol is made from wheat. Ingredients that I never suspected had gluten, do in fact have it, so I will have to be very diligent and check every single item in my pantry.

As many theories state, the human digestive system is our second brain, in the sense that it controls and builds our immune system and protects our brain from toxicity. Therefore, the treatment for autism is very linked to the protection and strengthening of the digestive system.

We believe that Connor most likely had a genetic predisposition to the autism disorder. However, when his young immune system was overloaded with toxic metals, his body could not react fast enough and became sick. The symptoms started shortly after.

This is why the rebuilding of his immune system through diet has been crucial and so effective. Behavioral therapies are necessary but most likely insufficient without the support of an allergen free diet, but this diet doesn't have to be boring and it is important to make it fun and kid friendly. So here are a couple of cookie recipes that everyone will be able to enjoy.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

4 oz non-hydrogenated shortening (palm oil)
4 oz organic brown sugar
2 oz organic milled sugar
1 organic egg
1 tsp gluten free vanilla extract
8 oz gluten free baking mix
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
5 oz gluten, dairy and soy free chocolate chips
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine sea salt

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the shortening and the sugars until well combined. Add the vanilla extract and the egg. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure that all ingredients are well incorporated. Add the baking mix, the xanthan gum, the baking soda and the salt. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a log that is about 3 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in parchment paper and refrigerate it overnight. Cut the log into half an inch disks and bake them in a 350ºF oven for about 12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown but the center is slightly soft.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

Makes a 13 x 9 inch pan

3 cups gluten free oats
2 1/4 cups gluten free baking mix
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
8 oz non-hydrogenated shortnening (palm oil)

1 lb frozen or fresh organic blueberries
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs water

In a medium saucepan, mix the blueberries with the sugar and cook until the blueberries start to bubble. In the meantime, dissolve the cornstarch with the water and lemon juice. Add the cornstarch mixture to the bubbling blueberries and cook stirring constantly until it thickens. Pour the filling in a bowl and let it cool completely.

For the crust, combine the oats, brown sugar, baking mix, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add half of the shortening and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingers or with a pastry cutter. Add the rest of the shortening and do the same. The shortening is soft and sticky that's why we want to work quickly. Don't work too much. We want a crumbly dough.

Take half of the crumble and press it onto the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Spread the cooled blueberry filling on top of this dough. Take the remaining half of the crumble and sprinkle it on top of the filling. Don't press it in because we want to keep it as a crumbly topping.

Bake in a 375F for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Let it cool completely before cutting it. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and in the freezer for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Changing My Look

Sorry to confuse anyone out there who might be wondering if this is still "Connor's Journey with Autism". It is indeed. I thought it needed a change. It was time to change purses and time to change the look of my blog. Sorry for any confusion.

Friday, August 8, 2008

My Favorite Things

I am always on the look-out for cool and yummy food that my kids will like. It isn't a hardship anymore to be on the gluten and casein free diet. When we first started the diet in 2001, the internet wasn't as easy as it is today, and most people didn't even knew what gluten was. My neighbor said to me, after telling her about the diet Connor was going to have to go on, that it shouldn't be that hard to not give him wheat, just give him white bread. Somehow that made sense to a fairly intelligent person. Now, you can find gluten free things everywhere. We even have a few gluten free bakeries here in Colorado.

I don't think it is hard to find gluten free things anymore, but finding things your children will actually eat is still a challenge. Parents tell me all the time that they spend so much money on the diet and their children don't even eat most of it. I have bought my share of flops and cooked my share of them too. Once I find something they like, we stick with them. I get so excited when my kids actually LOVE something I bought or made. It is so hard to find things to put in their lunch box that is healthy, safe, and child friendly. I don't want my kids to be the ones at the birthday party with the baggy of carrots and a rice milk box.

To help parents save time and money, I am going to submit all of our favorite things here in this house. Of course, this isn't going to mean that your family will like the same things, but these are time tested and very child proof.

Let's start with breakfast...

Since we are low protein here (due to build-up of ammonia in Connor with too much protein based on DNA mutations) we stick with cereals and breads.

Envirokidz Cereal: Gorilla Munch, Koala Krisp
(Some of the cereals have soy, which I don't advise eating)

Perky O's
(A lot like cheerios)

Glutino Cereal
(Another cheerio-like cereal) I like the tase of these better than the perky's, but they have corn as a main ingredient.

Outside the Breadbox
I highly recommend the bread from this gluten free bakery!!
This is the only gluten free, dairy free, soy free bread that tastes good and is light and fluffy. It isn't dense and heavy like most choices on the market.

Pancakes and Waffles:
Namaste Mixes
Absolutely the best pancake and waffle mix.

More soon!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is my child autistic?

I was in labor with Connor for over 40 hours and 38 hours of it was natural. I didn't want any intervention and I definitely didn't want to use any medication. I was determined to give Connor as healthy a beginning as possible.

Connor was a bright and wonderful baby. He was social and playful and happy. Looking back, there were signs that Connor was already struggling with a toxic load, but they were so subtle there was no way to know. He had a love for fans. He would stare at his ceiling fan for long periods of time. We use to joke that the aliens were talking to him through the fan. He also never crawled. I blamed the "back to sleep" campaign for not exposing him to his tummy often enough. Despite these things, Connor seemed to be developing typically. He sat up on time. He rolled over on time. He even started talking at a year. He had six or more words by thirteen months. He was so social and happy. We always were complimented by waitresses on how happy he was. He always wanted their attention. I didn't even notice right away when all of those things started to disappear.

Connor is my first born. He is also the first grandchild. None of our friends had even started to have kids yet, and because of it we didn't have another child to compare to Connor. We thought that he lined up cars and stared at the wheels turning because he was an engineer's son and he was studying them. It wasn't until a neighbor came over with her little girl that was a couple of months younger than Connor that I began to notice differences. She pointed at a balloon we had in the house and turned to her mom and said, "balloon". Then she went over to touch Connor and he started screaming. It was then that I began to piece together the clues. I knew something was going on. I then realized Connor had stopped talking. He wasn't looking at me anymore either. I would call his name over and over and he wouldn't even look at me, then a car would drive by and he would turn and look at it. It was all so gradual that it was hard to see it happening.

I didn't know what was wrong. I took him to the doctor and he tried to reassure me that he was a boy and that nothing was wrong. I insisted that Connor had stopped talking and that that alone was not normal. I insisted he recommend we go to a speech therapist and have Connor tested for a speech issue. The speech therapist asked a couple of seemingly weird questions that didn't seem related to speech issues at all. She asked if Connor played with his toys appropriately. She explained that appropriate meant flying the plane around and making plane noises, or driving the car around and making car noises. I described how he spins wheels instead. She then asked Connor to point to mom. Connor didn't seem to hear her. He just continued to "play". She repeated, "Connor, were is mom?". He didn't even look up. She said she had seen enough. She told me that she would call his doctor and discuss her opinion of a possible diagnosis. I didn't understand why she couldn't discuss it with us . When we got home, I called the speech therapist's office and asked her to tell me what was wrong with Connor. I assured her that I wouldn't sue or hold her accountable for anything. She then told me that Connor clearly was autistic. She told me that he was a classic case.

I didn't know what autism was. I had never heard of it, but I knew it wasn't good. I started doing research on-line and quickly discovered other mom's out there that had a similar story. I would read for a while and then cry hysterically for a while. I knew that I was at a precipice. I would either lay down and die (which sounded easy) or get up and fight. Little did I know how much fighting I would have to do and for how long.

My mom had immediately gone to Barnes and Noble and found a couple of books by moms who had found ways to help their children out of autism using food and vitamins. I was so happy that although they had to suffer with the same issues my son was now going through, that they wrote a book to help those of us coming after them to learn what they had learned. I was so grateful to them for sharing their story and helping so many. They had done a lot of research and in the end their children were not considered autistic anymore. I knew this would be Connor. I had no doubt that with a diet change and supplements he would be recovered. I thought it would take a year or two and voila, Connor would be healed. It had only taken a couple of days to drive his body into autism, and I thought it would only take a year or so to heal it.

Seven years later, Connor is doing well. He is still autistic, but high functioning. I tell this to you so you don't feel like you have to see your child "cured" right away to feel like you are doing the right thing. I know now that some kids do recover right away from just diet, and others will never recover. I know that Connor was already autistic when he was given a double dose of vaccines at his 18 month check-up. I use to play the whata, coulda, shoulda game and think about what I would have done different, but everything happens for a reason. I feel like Connor is autistic to help other people. He is a strong person and he is living this life for a reason. Just today a mom called me to ask me about my journey and what I have learned along the way. Her son was just diagnosed and he is just three years old. That little boy will now be helped thanks to Connor. Maybe they won't have to make the same mistakes I made. Maybe their journey will be a short one.

Tortilla de Patatas

This is my favorite dinner/lunch/whatever to make. I have made the basic tortilla with many different veggies added depending on my mood. My kids LOVE this meal also.

I ate this almost daily while living in the north part of Spain, the Basque country. This is a very common tapa (or pintxo as they call it in the Basque country). Whenever my best friend is around I have her make it because she makes it so perfectly. It is amazing how food can bring you back to a different time and place.

Tortilla is gluten free, dairy free and soy free. You can add any veggie to it that you like and your kids probably won't even know. It is fast and easy and a staple in my house.

Basic Recipe:

Peel and dice as many potatoes as you like.

Cook diced potatoes in oil until soft.

In a bowl, add eggs (1 egg for every three or so potatoes) and cooked potatoes. Mix.

Pour egg and potato mixture back into pan with a little bit of oil in the pan and salt to taste.

Depending on the pan you will need to keep the mixture from sticking.

When it is done on one side, take a plate and lay it over the pan, flip.

Cook on other side by sliding the mixture back into the pan with raw side down. Salt more if needed.

Let cool and slice into pizza-like slices. Serve warm or cold. Use as a side dish or alone. Can also be used with some gluten free bread as a sandwich. ENJOY!