From the moment I read Dr Natasha’s personal testimony of how she recovered her son from autism, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would implement the GAPS diet in our house for my son, aged four, diagnosed with autism.
I read Dr Natasha’s book, made soup, sauerkraut, ghee, yoghurt and lard. All the while my heart trembled with fear – not because of the massive job I knew I was about to undertake, nor because of how difficult I imagined it would undoubtedly be, nor even because of the scary thought that perhaps it wouldn’t work – but because of the seemingly impossible task of how on earth I was going to get my son to eat this soup and broth, let alone sauerkraut and all the other unusual stuff!
James had limited his diet severely to a minute variety of sweet and starchy foods and processed carbohydrates. And even these did not interest him too much. I certainly couldn’t get him interested in any food enough to actually want to feed himself. Instead, I would follow him around the house to try to get in a mouthful of rice here, a bit of pasta there, a GF cookie or glass of rice milk. Often I would feed him in the bathtub as this was the only place I could contain him. So my major fear and concern was how on earth I was going to get him to eat GAPS food.
I had consulted with Linda and she had given me strategies and advice, which were very helpful in preparing me mentally and giving me hope that this really could be done. Hearing her own personal testimony about her son was also very helpful, because I thought, hey, this is real, it actually does happen, so maybe, just maybe, it could happen for us.
The one thing Linda said which stood out to me was that we had to get large quantities of this food into James and the more he ate the more he would heal and the quicker the healing would happen. So we began, with this thought foremost in my mind.
I had my mum all prepared. She very kindly offered to come and help me every day and has actually kept coming even now as we begin week six, and I suspect she will keep coming until I just don’t need her to come any more. My mum and dad adore James and would do absolutely anything to help him heal and see a better life ahead for him than we had thus far been given hope for.
So I worded her up. I explained ABA strategies to a seventy year old woman brought up in a village in Greece. Little did I know that my mum was to give me a few lessons of her own, by bringing a whole new dimension to our GAPS introduction – she was to be our secret weapon!
We have another son, Thomas, a typically developing child who is aged two and was also going on the diet, just because it was easier to have them both doing it. Because James adores Yaya (my mum) as much as she adores him, he insisted she was to be the one to feed him, so I would concentrate on Thomas and mum on James.
What a nightmare! They both refused to eat the first day. Second day Tom ate but not James. Third day James began to have a little teaspoon of broth at a time, with the promise of a tiny bit of coconut oil with Manuka honey for a reward.
By this time they were both starving. They were like druggies on withdrawal, whining and crying all day, pining for all the foods they could no longer have, searching the now empty pantry and fridge for anything and being utterly miserable that first week. It was excruciating. But as the days passed, Yaya wooed James into eating. I watched her in amazement out of the corner of my eye while feeding Tom, who was nowhere near as difficult to handle. She used the art of distraction skilfully. She would hold the spoon before his mouth while simultaneously talking calmly yet enthusiastically. She told him stories and tales of long ago and of the present, of what James did when he was younger and of incidents from her own childhood, she told fairytales and made up stuff when she ran out of things to say. She just kept talking.
All the while she kept her voice gentle but enthusiastic, with highs and lows in just the right places to emphasise this and that. It wasn’t just a big tree in the story, it was a biiiiiig tree and her voice rose just in the right place and her arm would fly upwards to show how big the tree really was. And James’ eyes would open wide and his eyebrows would rise right up almost as big as the tree itself, as he became immersed in her tale, so that it was the most natural thing in the world for him to open his mouth and eat the broth and then eventually, the soup.
As the food went into his starving and mal-nourished body, the healing began, until by the beginning of the second week, he and his brother were eating full bowls of soup every two hours and still being hungry in between. Fussy eater? Where? Not in our house anymore!
What a transformation! It was simply amazing. My mum fed and fed and fed – and then no more. By the fourth week of introduction, for the first time ever in his whole life, James was so enthusiastic about his food that he wanted to feed himself.
Now, as we enter week six, he eats on his own and just about anything I put before him. There are definitely things he prefers above others and he doesn’t necessarily like everything, but we do manage now to convince him to eat just about anything, with not too much fuss. He devours this beautiful, nutritious, life-giving and life-altering food. I tell everyone now that my boys eat like kings. Organic everything and heaps of it.
It beyond amazed me when they wanted to eat the sauerkraut! By week five, they didn’t need the juice anymore – they began to just have the kraut with every main meal. They drink that fermented Cod Liver Oil as if it was a spoon of syrup, just on its own, no problem. Same with the Eye Q. They devour the Biokult straight off the spoon. They eat veggies, avocado, liver… Before, James gagged when I put an egg anywhere near him. Now I have a hard time stopping him at four a day. Huge bowls of soup, pancakes, veggies, meat, chicken – fermented fish!
And what an adventure when I introduce a new food – oh the excitement, the desire to help prepare it, the dragging of the kitchen chairs over to the sink, the squabbles over who will peel this vegetable or chop up the other, the agony of waiting for it to cook in the oven and oh my gosh, please don’t tell them they have to wait for it to cool down when it comes out!
I was just reading this quarter’s edition of my Autism magazine and there was an article outlining the research they were doing on fussy eating and how it affected kids on the spectrum and what could be done. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to write to them and tell them to just put an ad for GAPS in their magazine and forget the research and the surveys.
And what effect has all this wonderful nutrition had on James? It has been quite miraculous, and I believe the success has been due to the advice Linda gave us, that we should try to get as much of this food as possible into James – the more he ate the quicker he would heal.
Before we started GAPS, my James had many issues. I wrote them all down before we began the diet and there were twenty five that I could think of. They were all typical symptoms that an autistic child would have. We are now entering week six of GAPS and are in stage three of the introduction and I have crossed seven symptoms off my list.
These are: obsession with the washing machine, obsession with electrical cords and power-boards, obsessed with playing at the sinks and with the pump soap, very picky eater, no interest in toys, walks with his chest sticking out and his hands extended up at shoulder level, and uninterested in fine motor work.
We first began to notice a difference at about week three when James started asking to play with play dough – something he was never interested in before. When we gave it to him, he actually played with it and attempted to make things with it, naming them and telling us about them, where before he just held the play dough in his hands and stared ahead, not knowing what to do with it.
Then he started asking to do drawing and painting and cutting with the scissors, whereas before, he would just hold a pen or a pair of scissors and not know what to do.
All the while, as he was doing these new activities, we noticed he had not been near the washing machine, a power cord or the sink in a long while. One day, the washing machine was on and he walked right past it and into the toy room and started playing with the toy drum, like it is supposed to be played with. Usually you couldn’t drag him away from the washing machine. It was like a veil had been lifted from his eyes and he all of a sudden discovered, hey, there are toys in this house! It was like he just woke up.
I now often find little towers of blocks around the house that he has built. I might walk into a room and he will be flicking through a book. The other day, he actually rode on his scooter. And oh, the icing on the cake, he has been playing with his brother, Tom. He didn’t do any of these things before.
I cried for James before – tears of such sadness for my boy, because a darkness was overshadowing his future. Now, barely a day goes by when I still don’t cry, but these tears are of such intense gratitude. I am so grateful, firstly and foremost to God, because the knowledge of this diet came to us shortly after heartfelt prayer for help. I am so grateful to Him for placing everything we need to heal, within the bodies of the creatures of this earth and the plants that grow upon it. And I am sorry on behalf of humanity that we have turned away from Him and chosen artificial means with which to nourish ourselves.
I am secondly, so grateful to Dr Natasha, for rediscovering this most valuable diet and being so generous as to share it with the world. I am grateful to Linda, who has held my hand professionally and been there to answer my myriad of questions. I do believe that our progress would have been slower without her.
I am eternally grateful to my mum – the super Greek grandmother, a natural born and gifted feeder and lover of children, from whom I have learned much, and my dad, Papou, who spent endless hours playing with my boys so I could wash ever growing mounds of dishes and attempt to tidy an increasingly messy house.
Finally, I am ever grateful to my husband John, who passed away seven months before we began GAPS. He resides in my heart now, and I often remind him of the tears of grief he cried for James before he died. I ask him never to forget us before the throne of God and I can feel his prayers for us from heaven mightily.
We sure do have a long way to go and James still has many issues to overcome, which shows that there is still much healing needed. But this is such a ray of hope for us, this wonderful progress in this short time. I now have hope that he may have an opportunity to live as close as possible to a ‘normal’ life as can be, with friends and meaningful relationships and work.
I would like to encourage all grandparents and friends of parents with autistic children who have embarked upon the GAPS journey. Please help these parents – they will surely need it, for this will probably be one of the most difficult things they will ever do in their lives. Please be there for them in any way you can. And then you will have the most wonderful reward for your generosity – you will have the privilege of personally witnessing the miraculous events which will surely unfold, right before your very eyes. For even though the journey is difficult, it is undoubtedly, most worthwhile.