I am a mom of two boys with developmental delays. In 2009, at age three and a half, Patrick was diagnosed by a developmental pediatrician with Autism Spectrum Disorder. At that time, he had below-average language skills, struggled to play with children, had difficulty attending to academic tasks, had daily meltdowns, and had high anxiety. This continued each year and though he made progress in academics and language through speech-language therapy and a small class size and the support of a paraprofessional, he made very little progress in the area of attention, anxiety, and rigidity.
Low Free-Glutamate Diet
In 2013, from a mother I had met in a therapy waiting room, I learned of Dr. Katherine Reid’s low free-glutamate diet. Dr. Reid is a biochemist whose life’s work has focused on stabilizing proteins and who has changed the diet of her daughter with autism to be lower in free glutamates. The most attractive part of her story was that she saw results in her daughter’s behavior, rigidity, and emotional regulation quite quickly.
I set out to remove dairy, gluten, and other foods with high amounts of free glutamates from Patrick’s diet. That was difficult at first. I learned to read food labels to find any hidden free glutamates and find recipes that focused on whole foods. At the time he ate the standard American fare of chicken nuggets and pizza, but I was determined to try the diet and because Dr. Reid’s experience had been to see results within a week, I knew I could do it, even if it was just for a week.
Quick Change in Behavior and Symptoms
After about 48 hours, we saw the difference in Patrick’s behavior! Dr. Reid’s program is called Unblind My Mind – and that’s just what we noticed in Patrick. Our first glimpse was when Patrick was building a Lego set in our dining room adjacent to our kitchen where I was cooking dinner. I was talking to him about his day, and to my surprise he could listen to me and answer my questions while continuing to build his Lego set. He had never displayed this kind of split attention like that before. And then the Lego broke, and typically this would cause him to have a meltdown, but he didn’t. He turned to me when it broke and said, “It’s okay, Mom. I’ll just go back to the right page in the instructions.” I was shocked as not only did he remain calm and no meltdown ensued, he solved the problem himself.
And from there, his teachers reported they were shocked by this new calmness and ability to stay with the lessons and work with others. They also noted he was able to transition between activities without a problem. Therapists exclaimed that he was making more rapid language advances, and we were able to go to family events confident that he would not experience a meltdown in public. He was able to really go with the flow! His mind was open to learning!
Patrick has been following Dr. Reid’s diet for seven years now. He’s 14 now, and it’s no longer difficult for me to cook for him. After about three months of trial and error in the beginning, we figured out recipes to cook and what foods he could order out at restaurants. Patrick sticks to the diet himself, telling us that eating foods like pizza and chicken nuggets are just not worth it to him. He feels the difference and adheres to the diet himself.
And what I’ve noticed is that if he does accidentally or by choice eat something off his diet, he becomes more anxious, has more difficulty attending to homework and school assignments, and isolates himself. But that only lasts for a day or two as long as he gets right back on his low free-glutamate diet.
My other son, Charlie, started to receive therapy to improve joint attention when he was three months old as he had stopped making eye contact and showed low facial affect. At eight months old, when I discovered Dr. Reid’s diet, we switched Charlie to it, and he immediately demonstrated better eye contact, better personal connections. Charlie is now eight years old, and we notice if he eats off the diet, he starts stuttering, has difficulty following directions, and behaves poorly with whining and perseverating. But just like Patrick, if Charlie gets right back on the diet, these symptoms clear up.
Patrick and Charlie no longer qualify on the autism spectrum, are both in mainstream classrooms, and require no assistance within the classroom. And because I also follow the diet, I’ve benefited: I have more energy and stamina while eating a low free-glutamate diet. When I eat off the diet, I find that I make word substitutions while speaking and have word finding difficulties. My 13-year-old daughter who had experienced migraines since she was eight has also benefited as she no longer has migraines. For my family, removing free glutamates from our kitchen has been an important game changer in improving the mental and physical health of our children.
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Sources & References
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Unblind My Mind: Dr. Reid’s website gives extensive explanation about the science, a TED talk by Dr. Reid and video tutorials to help parent’s discern appropriate foods in a local supermarket