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By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer
Six years ago, my son was diagnosed with autism, and for my family, the initial experience of his diagnosis through us all off balance. As parents, my husband and I were consumed with grief and shock that our young son who seemed to be developing so typically was given what we believed was a devastating sentence for his future. The next year of our lives was a blur of appointments and assessments as we tried hard to just keep our head above water carrying on the functions of day to day life.
Fortunately, my intuition led me to research about the benefits of the gluten-free and casein-free diets for children with autism. We decided to try the diet and saw a number of benefits for my son, including regulated digestion for the first time in his life and his new ability to sleep through the night. These changes were dramatic in their impact on our wellbeing as a family and we soon began to approach our child’s autism diagnosis not as a miserable sentence for his life, but an opportunity to follow a healing path.
But it has been essential to not only focus on his healing, but on our healing, together as a family. We’re working on finding balance in a number of areas of our lives that I share in hopes that they will also guide your family to wellness:
Shifts in Eating: Although no one else in the family has a gluten intolerance, eating gluten and dairy free at home has been great for my husband, daughter and me, too. Where before I used to feed my kids the typical goldfish cracker type of snack, now we focus on fruits, vegetables and nuts with the occasional treats. We eat more whole foods and less processed food. (My simple recipes that kids can prepare with you are in my cookbook “The Kitchen Classroom.” We’re all eating so much better as a result of my son’s diagnosis.
Sleeping: When my son finally slept through the night at age 4, he left two exhausted parents in the wake. Over the last few years, my husband and me have rediscovered the importance of a good night’s sleep. Like so many busy parents, we spend time after our kids go down in the evening catching up on work. We try to shutdown our laptops at 10pm most nights and strive to go to bed between 10:30—11pm, allowing for 8 hours of sleep each night. Some nights we don’t make it, but setting that goal has helped us get there 5-6 nights/week.
Exercise: It takes energy to raise a family and some extra energy to raise a child with different needs. In the last couple of years, my husband and I have discovered that we each meet our daily challenges easier if we make time for each other to exercise. Juggling who gets up with the kids and who works out first takes some strategizing, but prioritizing our need to exercise means that we have not only an opportunity to stay fit, but also have time to let go of stress and build our energy. I also look for times in our weekends when we can do active family activities, like taking a walk or hike or biking together.
Laughter: My kids are really funny and each possess beautiful sense of humor. I can’t say enough how many times that humor in our home has diffused tension and anger. They remind me not to take myself so seriously and the more we are able to laugh together, we create a joyful home. Every day, take time to notice whether your thoughts are so heavy that you haven’t made time for laughter.
Friendship: Our first year after my son’s diagnosis was very isolating, as we felt like we couldn’t share what we were going through with our friends with typically developing children. Over the years, we have discovered that many of our friends may not understand exactly, but have an open heart and can lend a listening ear. We have met some new people in our healing path who have become close friends and we look forward to spending time together. Sharing our struggles and our joys with close friends has deepened our life and also lead to a healthier, happier family.
What are your challenges to wellbeing for yourself and your family? I would love to hear your stories. Visit me at www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com
Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is a writer, cooking instructor and parenting coach. Visit her at www.kitchenclassroom4kids.com