Healing from Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism – Charlotte’s Paleo Journey
Written by: Joy Dvorak
Our second daughter, Charlotte, was born a week early with no complications. Her first few days and weeks were non-eventful as she nursed well and slept fine. At about 3 weeks old, confusion and disillusionment set into our world. I was certain we were the only family in the universe dealing with a newborn who wouldn’t sleep. I became a master of the 5 Ss–me shushing and swinging while Charlotte lay on her side, swaddled and sucking. Still, after hours of rocking in a dark and quiet room, she stared intently at me with wide-open dolphin-gray eyes.
At around 3 weeks, in a confused sleep-deprived daze, I changed Charlotte’s diaper and noticed a droplet of blood in her stool. The sleeplessness and bleeding continued over the next few weeks and both were of little concern to her doctor.
At nine weeks, I had to stop nursing and begin Charlotte on formula and the bleeding began to occur more frequently. She also developed red, itchy rashes all over her face. It was then she was diagnosed with a true milk allergy, and we were sent to a gastroenterologist.
While finding the right formula that did not cause bleeding or rashes, Charlotte felt the benefits of a full tummy and fell into a regular sleep pattern. All of the newborn sleeplessness was due to a lack of fat in my milk supply. Fatty formula seemed to be the answer as she hit her milestones early and slept through the night, but she still struggled with constipation and reflux. At 9 months old, her GI doctor ordered a colonoscopy and endoscopy which showed an inflamed gut.
Under the doctor’s guidance, we continued to introduce baby foods and her first toddler foods were processed puffs of starch, lots of pasta, and soy milk. While her gut symptoms were held at bay, she began to exhibit extreme hyperactivity and a lack of social interaction. Instead of playing with another child, she would run in circles around them. She put everything she could get her hands on in her mouth and taught herself how to climb to the top of everything.
At the age of 1, this was cute and pretentious. We did our best to keep up with her and laughed off her spirited nature. We thought the worst of her health issues were behind us, and we continued to disconnect the dots between her horrible allergic rhinitis and her intense stomach pain to her toddler-sized Standard American Diet.
The week of her second birthday, a pair of loving and brave friends pointed out to us that something was not quite right about Charlotte. While it would have been easier and safer to ignore these words, we took action and had her evaluated. It turns out that all of her hyperactivity was the work of a damaged nervous system. She did not respond to the world the way other kids did, and she was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. Specifically, she was a sensory-seeker. Climbing, running, and putting everything in her mouth was her way of learning her environment. She was so uncomfortable in new places, it was impossible for her to control her behavior.
We were advised by a friend, who happened to be a physician, to remove the gluten from Charlotte’s diet. Within a matter of days, she began making fleeting eye contact with us. We knew we were on to something and stuck with it. When we discussed the SPD diagnosis and our diet change with our family physician, who hadn’t noticed anything abnormal about Charlotte, we were directed to the Autism Spectrum Disorders clinic. After an initial screening we were told that Charlotte exhibited behaviors that were likely on the spectrum. We were told to come back for the 5-hour full screening in a few months.
In hindsight, it should have been a frustrating and terrifying experience to go through this testing with a 2-year-old, but I can only attribute the sense of peace we were feeling to the control over our health we had recently gained. We had been living Paleo for nearly 6 months by the time we went through the ASD testing. And while we knew that Charlotte had issues that were outside of normal for a 2-year-old, we also knew that the upward trend in her health was the motivation we needed to continue to heal her from the inside out. We learned to trust the improvements in her symptoms as progress, and we gained confidence in her development as we moved further and further away from the mainstream advice we had used without success. Trusting our own instinct, we saw fewer and fewer of the behaviors that the assessors were looking for, and on assessment day, she showed them exactly where she landed: on the high functioning end of the Autism Spectrum.
I can safely say the only discouragement we felt was that we hadn’t learned about the Paleo diet and how it would benefit Charlotte earlier. Her body sent us signals loud and clear that it couldn’t handle Neolithic foods, and when she couldn’t tell us with her words how it felt to be in her body, she showed us with her sensory seeking and anti-social behavior.
Today, as a 4-year-old, Charlotte attends a mainstream pre-school and enjoys playdates and birthday parties with her many friends. She’s social and funny and a joy to be around. She has normal digestion and rarely gets sick. Oftentimes, we don’t even need to let others know of her issues, as we have learned to work with her body’s needs so she can feel her best. We have promised ourselves, as her parents, never to let her spoken or unspoken need for help go unheard.
Follow the journey of our family’s health at www.peacelovepaleo.net