The GAPS diet is recommended for helping children with all manner of conditions, like autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia. As I have said in a previous post, Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride sees that they all have a common component - poor gut health. In her opinion (and in an increasing number of others in the medical profession) there is a link between the gut and the brain. We are most certainly seeing that in our family as we were work through the GAPs diet. We are still seeing healing taking place, nigh on 18 months after starting.
I think it is fair to say that most parents, when a child's birth is imminent, have at least a little anxiety as to whether the child will be healthy. If they are not born with an obvious health problem, then they inwardly, if not outwardly, sigh a breath of relief. Therefore it can come as a shock to them, when after a few months it becomes obvious that something is not right. Maybe the infant doesn't reach the 'average' age for the various milestones - walking, talking etc... Alarm bells start to ring. Sometimes it's a more subtle thing that mum is just aware of very early on - maybe the infant cries very loudly - screaming often. This is very worrying. She takes it to the doctor who prescribes colic medicine, as s/he finds nothing else wrong. Maybe its a lack of interaction - or lack of eye contact. Others might manifest weak muscles; unable to sit up, hold their own bottle when all the other babies even younger are doing so. It doesn't matter what is noticed, but it niggles and the mother starts to be anxious. Is something wrong? Eventually developmental assessments are carried out, with hearing/sight tests. Mother watches on very anxiously. And then the diagnosis (if you get one) can be earth shattering. Very often the young mother has no knowledge of autism/dyspraxia etc.. and so starts a long journey of learning. Children don't come with instruction sheets!
Doctors know very little, comparatively about these conditions. They have developed some drugs to help control behaviour by calming the child down (Ritalin for example), and there are therapies available, but the role of the gut is still by comparison largely ignored.
Let's look at some of the symptoms of dyslexia. Many people think of it as being primarily a reading and writing problem but it goes much beyond this. What many do not realise, is that dyslexia is on a 'spectrum' like autism, and although not known to be directly linked, they share many things in common. It comes in various 'strengths'; some have it very badly, others only very mildly. Those with mild dyslexia might only notice a tendency to get things in a muddle, but it doesn't interfere with every day life in a debilitating way. Others on the other hand are severely hampered by it as it interferes with their ability to read, write and compute as well as their day to day functioning. It can be difficult to identify as children can mask their symptoms: It rarely becomes very obvious until they are older by which time they have learnt some strategies, either helpful or unhelpful, to cope.
See this interesting article here.
Basically, it is a problem with organising information - so the dyslexic pupil will have trouble learning 'orders' of things: days of the week, months of the year, time, times-tables, the alphabet etc.... This may reflect itself in poor personal organisation. In school, they will find it hard to follow the order of the lesson and the effort involved will tire them out quickly. Therefore they will be more inclined to drift and daydream and will be easily distracted. Others may use work avoidance tactics - fussing about equipment rather than getting down to work. Others may become the class 'clown' or draw attention to themselves through bad behaviour.
At home and in class they may have difficulty processing oral/written language including having trouble following instructions.
They may have trouble saying long words, or forget words.
So already we have a long list of things that cause a problem, before we start to think about their written work and reading.
The British Dyslexia Association tell the following areas of weakness that might manifest themselves in a dyslexic child:
Of course, problems come in maths too. We have already looked at problems with ordering (especially day of week, timetables etc..) and time-telling, but confusing numbers and signs is common too. as well as ordering numbers and learning place value (i.e. units/tens/hundreds etc..)
Some people do see changes with their child by following the GAPS diet, but I would recommend starting as early as you can. Don't think it will automatically make them into a good reader! It doesn't work that way. The diet helps to clear the brain, so that more normal pathways can be established and so that learning becomes easier. Note I said easier, not easy, as no learning is easy. It always requires effort on the part of the learner. As with all children with special needs, an intensive programme of education is beneficial if they are to make good headway in all areas. It requires attention in all areas of life, not just food.
Alongside the change in diet must come exercise - especially exercise that helps to develop co-ordination as it is these exercises that help to establish correct brain pathways which help reading and spelling etc.. as young babies start to move, their movements appear random, but they are building up, step by step. For one reason or another, some children miss out some of these steps - very often those that are later diagnosed as being autistic/dyspraxic/dyslexic. They may not crawl, but bottom shuffle. Crawling is very important for developing eye-hand co-ordination, so by missing it out they do not develop the necessary brain connections needed later on. Do lots of crawling - join a soft play area and go as often as you can. All the crawling though tunnels is fantastic. Get them crawling like a tiger round the house while listening to some music. Riding a bike and swimming, for older children. Spinning, jumping on a trampoline. All of these things help to stimulate the parts of the brain that might not have had proper stimulation either in the womb or during the early years.
As it is summer you can provide extra fun in your own back garden: build an assault course in the garden - be imaginative: hoops to crawl through, tables to crawl under, a cane balanced on two bricks to make a hurdle to jump over. Time them and make it into a fun race.
Routines must be established. Find ways of helping your child to keep track of time - daily schedule charts using pictures for the very young; Talk to them about the routine. Use ordering words: before, after, while, soon, shortly, next, What do we do after breakfast? That's right - we clean our teeth. What do we do after dinner? We clear the table. What must we do before we eat? Wash our hands. Establish a bedtime routine.
It might seem very restrictive, but it will help your child enormously. Many children without problems have trouble coping without a routine, let alone those who do struggle.
A good reading/spelling programme is essential. The good news is that with such a programme, problems with reading/writing/spelling may largely be overcome. It needs to be a phonic based programme that is intensive and systematic. It needs to be started as soon as possible - ideally in nursery school years. I will look at a such a system in a future post.
Disclaimer: I am a teacher, not a doctor. A member of the medical profession should be consulted about all matters relating to your health. This information is for advice only.
I have elsewhere mentioned the prevalence of mental problems in youngsters these days. It concerns me very much. I have personal experience of both girls and lads, aged 16 plus, suddenly becoming very withdrawn and then developing severe symptoms such as OCD, depression and even becoming addicted to drugs. It is heart-breaking to watch these friends, for that is what they are, close down. Literally, previously seemingly happy children changed almost overnight into an unhealthy mental state. Youngsters at the peak of life too depressed to get out of bed. It is hard to know how to speak to the parents. What do you say, other than to sympathise? The mental health agencies I understand cannot cope with the vast numbers of such youngsters. If they do receive counselling, I hear that it is either too short, infrequent and often ineffective. They are put on drugs, and then stronger doses when the first dose doesn't seem to work, while anxious parents watch on helplessly. Maybe you know someone too. It doesn't just afflict the poor, or the disadvantaged. It attacks all, seemingly indiscriminately. None of us are immune. It might happen to your children, it could happen to mine.
I think the biggest question in many minds is - what has caused it?
Parents will feel responsible. What have we done wrong? they will think.
Many will give an answer: a deprived childhood. No, these youngsters I know are dearly loved and cared for. Then what about poor parenting? Well which of us is perfect. As somebody once said, children don't come with instruction sheets, and we don't always get it right. The list could go on and I have no doubt the poor parents have thought of every possibility and blamed themselves to distraction. Wouldn't you!
So no real answers. Quit beating yourself up if you are in this position, it just won't help!
The next question is, what can we do about it? For many parents there is no help. They face it alone. They may seek help but find the system fails them. Imagine having a violent, self-destructive drug abusing teenager in the house with no support - not even the police are overly interested - just another youngster in trouble. For many there seems no hope. Imagine have your young man in bed all day paralysed with fear? Parent's are desperate for an answer. Their own lives are taken up with caring for their child and coping with the strain. Of course they do it willingly, but that's not the point.
Do the psychotic drugs work? Well, no they only deal with the symptoms. They might help to lift the mood slightly, but they don't address the cause. Does counselling work? Maybe for some it gives an outlet for their frustrations - mainly with feeling the way they do. My own experience of counselling training has taught me that much counselling focuses the patient's mind on past things, trying to 'peel off the layers' until the trigger for the mental problem is found. Unfortunately, as we all know, focusing on a problem doesn't help, it makes it worse. Distraction is often far better than digging deeper into oneself.
What about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy? Well, I find that having spoken to those who have had it, it did very little. In fact, the more severe the problem the least effective it was. A quick google brings up the following:
Again, it is focusing on the problem which as I know from personal experience actually does tangle you up more! I'm not saying there might be some useful strategies amongst it all, but it doesn't take the problem away. In addition, some of us don't actually like the thought of divulging our personal life in front of someone else. It's not always appropriate, let alone having to cope with what often boils down to having to answer intrusive questions as the counsellor digs in to the problem, or resorting to telling 'tales' on other people.
What if you learnt that actually the problem was not just the brain itself, but the gut had a powerful influence on the brain. What if you learnt that it could be that your gut is sick, not your head? What if you leant that what you eat could influence how you feel. We know that to be true anyway as many of us seek comfort in sugary foods. Now that is not helpful, don't get me wrong, I'm just illustrating that we already know that food affects feelings.
Wouldn't that give hope?
This is precisely what Dr. Natasha Campbell Mc.Bride is doing with the GAPS diet.
She is giving hope and release to hundreds of families. As she explains, some children show symptoms much earlier on, in the form of autism, or ADHD or ADD or dyslexia etc.. Others were maybe sickly youngsters who for example, for one reason or another have had to have several course of antibiotics for ear infections etc.. Others have been fussy eaters and hard to feed, or have allergies, or bad eczema/asthma. As Dr. Natasha says, many of these overlap and she rarely sees a child with just one symptom. Her experience has shown her that it is these children who may then as teenagers fall prey to substance abuse, or 'to become diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and other psychological and psychiatric problems'. (Gut and Psychology Syndrome pp5-6 by Dr. N. Campbell McBride).
As to why her diet protocol is the answer:
To answer all these questions we have to look at one factor, which unites all these patients in a clinical setting. This factor is the state of their digestive system. I have yet to meet a child with autism, ADHD/ADD, asthma, eczema, allergies, dyspraxia or dyslexia, who has not got digestive abnormalities.....But what have digestive abnormalities got to do with autism, hyperactivity, inability to learn, mood and behaviour problems? According to recent research and clinical experience, a lot! In fact it appears that the child's digestive system holds the key to the child's mental development. The underlying disorder, which can manifest itself in different children with different combinations of symptoms, resides in the gut!
And in case you think this is a modern idea:
The Father of modern psychiatry French psychiatrist Phillipe Pinel (1745-1828), after working with mental patients for many years, concluded in 1807: 'The primary seat of insanity is in the region of the stomach and intestines'.
How may modern psychiatrists ask about your stomach? I've never met a conventional one, yet I know from my own body that if I'm worried, my stomach reflects it, so there is an obvious link. In addition, the Bible talks about the stomach as the seat of the emotions. God knows a thing or too, if I can say it reverently!
Incidentally, a quick Google ( I don't say it's a good site, I don't know, but this article is interesting as it pertains to our discussion here)
So, if you are one of these folk, struggling yourself, or caring for someone who is struggling, then please give this area your full concentration. Let's not miss something! Doing a gut healing diet is very hard work, but is it not worth the sacrifice, if by so doing we can breathe mental life back into our children?
This is not a quick fix answer. The youngster will need help from outside still, but it may be more effective if coupled with an eating programme that gets to the root of the problem.
Explore these links:
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. A member of the medical profession should be consulted about all matters relating to your health. This information is for advice only.
Being a teacher, I have a natural interest in children. Being a parent I have a great interest in my own children. Neither prepared me for the day my first child said 'No' when asked to do/not to do something.
I had no thought through strategy and my reaction was a knee-jerk reaction. In other words, I did as came naturally without thought. It was probably the method I had learned from my own parents dealings with my own behaviour when I was young. To be honest, although I knew the day would come, it was still a bit of a shock, that my darling bundle of joy had dissolved into a tempestuous fury over a simple request!
I believe we live in a fallen world and that all of us are born sinners. Now I know that is not a popular line of thought. You may not agree with the Bible. Over the years I have studied many behaviour/child psychology theories in pursuit of my training and practice as a teacher. Many start from the basis that the child is born good and that it is their upbringing/external factors that cause a child to misbehave. Some theories try to down play misbehaviour as a parent's problem - that is, the parent hasn't yet learnt to relate to the child in a right manner, whatever the theorist perceives to be right. All of these theories, although having an element of truth in them, fail. You can try and put them into practice, but they don't work. My reason is that they go against what our Creator God has said in the Bible. They refuse to admit that we are born sinners. The Bible tells us that the desire to rebel is in each of us. The innocent young baby is not incapable of doing wrong and soon they will need training to do that which is right. Many say you don't need to teach a child how to do wrong, only how to do right. We know that to be true. We also know that many social problems do impact children's behaviour as well, but that should not detract us from the basic premise. Children are not born good, only harmed from outside. They are born sinful. At some point, that capability will become manifest and the parent's will have to make decisions as to how they lovingly respond to their child in order to train them in the way in which they should go.
This is the bit we struggle with. First we don't have clear goals as to what to train them towards. Secondly we don't have any pre-planned strategies. Many resort to anger and irritation with the child. Many act out of embarrassment. I see many parents who want to train their child aright, but when the child doesn't comply with their instruction, weakly back off not knowing how to respond and the child merrily continues doing what it now knows (from the parent's initial reaction) to be disproved of. Others hope that by ignoring their child's behaviour it will somehow come out alright in the end. Others seek to accommodate their child's awkwardness's (especially autistic parents) as they are genuinely unsure how much the child can help and how much is out of their control. Unfortunately, all of these approaches reinforce the behaviour we don't wish to see. Many so called popular 'consequence's' actually lead to more 'consequences' having to be set as trying to get the child to comply with the consequences soon masks the initial offence. I think of the day I sat my youngster on the 'naughty step' to think about how he could reform his behaviour. Of course, he immediately got up. So I was then coping with the initial offence added to the secondary offence. I promptly gave up that strategy! No wonder parents are so confused. As the children grow older, it is no wonder they feel insecure as they are left prey to their own sinful inclinations with no one to set limits, as sinful behaviour left unchecked ultimately destroys the person.
Add to this cocktail the breakdown in family life and the poor diet of many living on processed junk food, is it any wonder that there is an alarming rise in self-harming and mental problems. Oh how badly we are letting our youngsters down by not training them. We need to take this matter seriously.
The times in which we live make parenting very difficult. Pressure from 'outside' the family (media etc.) and 'good' advice from so called 'child experts' makes us feel inadequate. Parents are led to believe that handing their children over to others to care for them is the answer, so undermining their own sense of responsibility to train their children. So when the children do come back into the family home, parents are often at a loss to know how to handle their child's behaviour or how to train them aright. I hear many parents dreading school holidays and being so relieved when they are over and they can hand the child back to the 'carers' for the most part of the day. Consequently, wrap around child care is more and more the norm. Take them in at 8am, go to work all day and pick them up at 6pm and drop them into bed. Problem solved, minimal contact with the children. Unfortunately this is no solution, it is only causing our precious youngsters more and more problems. Behaviour problems in school soar, and the number of young folk with mental illnesses is sky high, so high that the mental health system is overloaded and can't help all those that need it. Add to this the number of children with learning problems affecting their behaviour - ADD, ADHD, Autism, dyspraxia etc.
So what is the solution? First we need to recognise that it is the parent's (God given) responsibility to train their children. No one else's. Parents alone can give training in the context of a loving home environment, where the child is free to find out what is right and wrong and still belong and be loved. The 'carer's' are impersonal and actually don't have much impact long term on the children's behaviour. The child is passed on to another teacher, another school, each with their own set of ideologies and the child has no consistent framework in which to grow into a beautiful, well rounded character - despite all the ads for the private schools promising such things.
Secondly, each family needs to work out their goals for their children. I don't mean that 'x' is to become a nurse and 'y' a doctor. No, we need to be sure of what could be termed 'morals', the code of behaviour, manners etc... How do we want our children to behave in public? How should they respond to visitors to our homes? How should they eat? How do we want them to talk to each other/us as parents? How should they respond if they don't agree with what we have asked? Is pouting and back talk permitted? How should they get along with others? Questions such as these and many others. For us personally, that means teaching and modelling to our children God's standards for their behaviour; old fashioned principles like, no lying, respecting parents and others in authority, treating others as they would like to be treated themselves etc... we cannot make our children believe the message of the Bible, but none-the-less they are in our eyes the best rules for living given to us by the One who made us and therefore knows us best. It also means that when they are old enough to ask 'Why?' it's not us against them. We have a higher authority. Something we badly lack these days.
Having worked these things out, we need a plan of action as in most of these areas, for most children, it will take years of daily little by little training, with many set-backs along the way, needing much love and patience. Parents will have to constantly look to their goals to avoid becoming despondent. They will frequently feel they are failing! This is part of the job! Parents will frequently get 'it' wrong and have to review their strategies. No one ever said parenting was easy.
Having clear expectations and clear strategies means you don't train in a knee jerk way. You step in to train before you become angry/irritated. You are always watchful of the behaviour you are modelling and your responsibility to help mould this young life into a mentally/socially healthy adult.
When I first started out, I was helped tremendously by one little rule I learnt: Always expect the child to obey first time, quickly and joyfully to any given task. Any less was seen as an actionable situation.
To that point I had only trained for obedience, but the addition of attitude changed things. They were to be happy to do as I'd asked and therefore they were to have a good attitude - no sulking, pouting, whining, back-chat (as they got older), tutting or any other body language that suggested they didn't want to comply; no delaying tactics.
By doing these things you are not left feeling helpless when you see behaviour you don't desire in your child, or if you are, then you review your strategies. You are pro-active in the training, not being led along by the child.
Some children are more compliant than others. Some parents may gloat as they have had an easy child and they think their parenting skills are wonderful, but be careful of judging as all children are different and some parents may well be struggling with difficulties that would challenge you too if you had them.
One other tip I learnt was to talk to my children about their behaviour in differing situations. For example, if we were going to somebody else's house, I would talk to them about how I expected them to behave, to be polite, shake hands, give eye-contact. Say 'Thank you' as they left, to share toys without arguing. I could talk them through any potential problems. Or, if children were coming to our house, I would make sure they knew which areas of the house were permissible to play in and which not, which toys, etc... and go over the family ground rules. If we went round a supermarket, then I set the standards: no asking for foods, they were to help put food in bags at the checkout. It certainly helped as I was then no longer watching embarrassed and irritated while they ran round the aisles uncontrollably. I was watching to see if they did as I had instructed and once home we debriefed as to how well they had done and what needed improving.
It made them feel grow-up as they were learning to be adults. It gave them a sense of responsibility, which has not left them. Sometimes we would role-play visitors arriving, or meeting people and how to greet them, or how to cope when visiting children did something not allowed.
We dare not neglect to think these things. We are all training our children in one way or another all the time, but lets not leave it to chance that they will naturally 'get it right' or somehow magically pick up the cues from us. Some might, but most will need dedicated training - time and patience, but above all LOVE.
It's never too late to start, though you will have a harder job the older the child. Let them know the change in approach and then clearly enforce it. Younger ones respond quicker and often they help the older ones to see that there is a new regime. Ultimately, they will be happier and the home more peaceful. As Dr. Natasha McBride says, children with autism are not exempt from needing training, but rather need more training to help them catch up.
'Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.'
Dr. Campbell Mc-Bride, Natasha, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Medinform Publishing, Cambridge, UK