Tag Archives: diet

The Missing Survival Instinct

This morning Emma asked for “toast with cheese” for breakfast.

“How about toast with almond butter?”

“No toast with almond butter.  Cheese.  Here.”   She thrust a wedge of sheep’s milk cheese at me.

When she was first beginning to speak she would say a phrase, usually not a single word, such as “All done” or something that sounded like, “bye-bye, see you later” and then the next week we would hear a different phrase, but the new words weren’t added to the previous, instead the previous phrase was never heard again.  Like her pickiness with food, she seems only able to tolerate a set number of things.  Out with the almond butter and in with the melted cheese.  I’ll keep pushing her to have the almond butter, but she’s nothing if not determined.

People often remark, when hearing about Emma’s limited food, “Well, she’ll eat if she’s hungry enough.”

While this is true, it isn’t true in the way one would suppose.  Emma will say no to something and if that’s all that’s offered, she’ll wander off, seemingly not concerned.  The idea that she’s really hungry doesn’t seem to cause her much anxiety.  It’s as though Emma doesn’t have the basic survival instincts the rest of us come innately equipped with.  I have since read on a number of websites about other children with autism who simply do not eat if the food they are comfortable with isn’t offered.  Emma will eat whatever it is once, but then not again.

When Emma was a baby she appeared utterly unconcerned when one of us would leave the room.   If we were at the playground she would wander off, never looking back to see where we were.  It was as though the thought that she actually depended on us for survival was not programmed in.  Even before she could walk, she seemed unable to comprehend that she needed us to take care of her.  She behaved as though she were a fully grown, perfectly capable and independent adult.  It was like that with all kinds of things.  She would dash into the raging surf at the beach, as though she were a seasoned swimmer, before she knew how to swim.  There were numerous occasions when Richard or I would glance up and see her disappearing into the ocean, her blonde curls floating on the water’s surface, waves crashing around her and Emma oblivious to any danger, barely able to keep her head up, laughing.  It was with this same insouciance that she left our hotel room one night at around 2AM when she was three, only to be found 30 minutes later wandering the halls of an enormous hotel we were staying in for a weekend get-away.  All of us were terrified and I still remember that feeling of dread, as though I might throw up, when we still hadn’t found her after the first ten minutes.  The hotel was like something out of a Stephen King novel, old and creepy, with cliffs on one side dropping into an ice covered lake.  The panic was all encompassing; it was as though my mind and body had separated from one another, a sensation almost every parent of a child with autism has experienced.

Last night I gave Emma a small bowl of my “Thanksgiving Soup”.  She whimpered when she saw it, then dutifully tasted it, before putting the spoon down and saying, “It’s all done now.”

When I offered her another spoonful she took it, but as she held the broth in her mouth, she began to gag.

Joe who was standing nearby said, “She can take a huge spoonful of cod liver oil with no problem, but not your soup.”

Yup.  That’s our girl.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com


Yesterday morning I asked Emma if she’d like to have some Cheerios for breakfast.

“Yes!  Cheerios!” she shouted.

I poured some into a bowl and then gave them to her with vanilla unsweetened rice milk.  She hesitated before digging in.  “I like Cheerios,” she announced.  “Cheerios for dinner?”

“No Em.  We’re not going to start having Cheerios for every meal again.”

“Just for breakfast,” Emma said, nodding her head up and down.

When I came into the kitchen this morning, Emma had placed the box of cheerios with a half gallon container of regular organic cow’s milk on the kitchen counter next to a bowl and spoon.  “Oh no, Em.  You can’t have this milk.  You can have your Cheerios with this one.”  I handed her the rice milk.

“I don’t like that one.”  She turned away and said, “No more Cheerios.  Have toast with cheese in the bakery instead.”

“In the bakery” is what Emma says when she wants something heated up in the oven.  When she first said it last summer while we were in Aspen, we were all confused.  I even took her to a restaurant in town called – Main Street Bakery.  Eventually we figured it out – she wanted to have two slices of bread, lathered with butter, put on a cookie sheet and then baked in the oven.  She likes to sit on the floor next to the oven door, periodically peering through the window into the oven until it’s done.

But this time she added that she wanted cheese, which was a first.

“Here Em, which cheese do you want?”  Barely able to contain my excitement that she was asking for something different, I showed her the three different kinds of sheep’s milk cheese and one goat’s milk cheese so she could choose.

“This one!”

“You wore her down,” Richard said.  “What happened to the Cheerios?”

“She doesn’t like the rice milk, so she won’t eat them.  Anyway, I noticed they have corn starch and she shouldn’t have anything with corn.”

Richard nodded his head and kept walking.  Richard has never been a huge proponent of this second round on the GFCF diet.  His feeling is – we tried it when she was two with no change, why would it do anything now?  But being the kind, supportive and generally awesome guy that he is, he has gone along with it.

I know none of this makes any real sense.  Emma has shown no significant uptick from taking all these various foods away and it’s been almost seven weeks.  But still I hold out hope, against all reason, against all evidence, against anything rational.  If I’m being honest, I have always wondered whether I didn’t do the GFCF diet right the first time around.  Maybe I wasn’t strict enough, maybe there was a food that she shouldn’t have had that I didn’t know about.  One can drive oneself crazy with this kind of thinking.  I know.  My husband knows.  Definition of crazy:  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  So yes, I get it.  But, for what it’s worth, here’s my (crazy) thinking – she didn’t test intolerant for gluten, so we’re putting it back in, but staying away from all the things she did test an intolerance for just in case some of those might be causing her problems.   I cannot imagine there will be any change, though.  Hope doesn’t rest on rational thinking however.  At this point I’ve downgraded my expectations to the idea that she’ll expand her diet.  It would be so nice to go out occasionally to a restaurant as a family.

It would also be so nice to have a personal chef – and that wish hasn’t transpired either.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Day 5

Today begins day 5 of Emma’s modified gluten free/casein free diet.  It also marks the second full day of Emma starting on her various supplements and tinctures from the natureopath/physician we saw last Friday.  I was referred to Dr. D through a friend of mine whose daughter also has autism.  When we met, Emma had just been diagnosed.  We got together, S with her daughter AF and me with Emma.  At that time AF was non-verbal, had learned some sign language and had massive sensory issues causing her to scream and cover her ears if there was a loud noise outside.  (We live across the street from a fire station, so it is often quite noisy here.)  She also screamed and cried for reasons not apparent to any of us.

We had been told Emma was on the mild end of the spectrum and at the time, both Richard and I fully expected her to be mainstreamed by Kindergarten, just as so many specialists and therapists assured us she would be.  AF, on the other hand, seemed miles behind Emma and I remember thinking we were so fortunate that Emma was as mild as she was.

Cut ahead to the present – AF is now at or near grade level, was accepted into a school Emma couldn’t get past the first interview of, she talks circles around Emma and though she still displays her autism in a variety of ways and behaviors, she has progressed in ways that are way, way beyond what I would have expected upon first meeting her.   Today AF would be considered “high functioning” or at the very least on the “mild” end of the spectrum while Emma is considered to be “moderately” autistic.

A few weeks ago I called S to speak to her about an upcoming lecture I was thinking of going to.  We began talking about different therapies and she mentioned her doctor/natureopath, Dr. D.  I told her about Emma’s limited diet and my concerns with it.  S urged me to give Dr. D a call and described how he’d helped AF.  It was in this way that I found Dr. D.  We will see what transpires.

Emma last night requested that I pull her around our loft while she lay inside my old sleeping bag that I bought several decades ago for a three week trek I took in Nepal – just me and a sherpa I hired.  But that’s another story.

After her sleeping bag ride, she and Joe made cupcakes.

Emma’s Gluten Free Cupcakes (Emma doesn’t like icing- go figure- this is the way she likes it. Bald. She ate two of these, after putting a candle in and singing Happy Birthday to herself.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees   –   Line muffin tin with cupcake liners

Mix together:   1 C. organic sugar, ½ C. rice flour, ¼ C. coconut flour, ⅓ C. garbanzo and fava bean flour, ¾ C. arrowroot, 1½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon xanthan gum, ½ t. sea salt, ₁⁄₈ teaspoon baking soda.

Add, mixing well:   ⅓ C. melted Ghee, ⅓ C. Organic Applesauce, 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract, ½ C. hot almond milk

Pour well combined mix into each tin until they are ¾ full.  Bake for 8 minutes, rotate and bake for another 9 to 10 minutes.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.emmashopebook.com


Emma loves pancakes.  Until recently she was a purist, adamant that the pancakes not contain any other items.  Ours were not the pecan-raisin pancakes or the macadamia-banana pancakes, just pancakes, plain, drenched in pure maple syrup.  One weekend in a moment of elated inspiration I dumped a container of blueberries into the batter only to watch Emma’s face crumple into sobbing tears of despair by my act of betrayal.  I tried, on a few more occasions, to add something to the batter, hoping to expand her limited repertoire of foods.  Each time Emma refused to touch the pancakes and I learned my lesson.  Don’t mess with Emma’s pancakes.

And then we had my cousin and her two girls over for a slumber party one weekend.  We had discussed the “weekend pancakes in the morning routine” prior to their arrival.  When Liesl and Lily arrived they produced a plastic bag filled with chocolate chips.

“We brought chocolate chips for our pancakes,” Lily solemnly informed me.

“Great!” I said.  I looked over at Emma.  “Look Em, Liesl and Lily brought chocolate chips for our pancakes tomorrow morning!”

Emma peered suspiciously at the bag.

“We can make some with chocolate chips and some plain,” I said cheerfully.

Emma said nothing, but there was no mistaking the look of despair on her face.

The next morning we heated up the griddle and the girls and I got out the pancake mix, milk, a whisk, bowl and the chocolate chips.  The girls crowded around, taking turns pouring the milk into the pancake batter and stirring everything together.  I poured some of the batter onto the grill, making sure Emma would have two pancakes before Liesl and Lily dumped most of the contents of the baggie into the remaining batter.  Emma watched in resigned silence.

“It’s okay Em.  I’ve made you some without the chocolate chips,” I said.  “Look, they’re right here.”  I prodded the plain pancakes with the spatula.

When the pancakes were all cooked I said, “Hey Em, how about trying just one pancake with chocolate chips?”

“No!” Emma said loudly in her sing songy voice, edged with panic.

“Okay.  How about one bite?” I offered her the corner of one pancake sullied with a chocolate chip.

“One bite, Emma?”  Emma said, looking as though I’d just offered her someone’s intestine.

“Yes.  Just one bite,” I said.

Emma reached out and took the offered piece, very reluctantly she smelled it, then placed a tiny piece in her mouth.

“Is it good?  Do you like it?”

“Yeah!”  Emma said.  “Okay, okay, one more bite?”  She looked at me expectantly.

“Okay.  Sure,” I said offering her another piece.

Again she ate it.

“Hey Em, how about you take the rest of this pancake and eat it with the Liesl and Lily?”  I said, going over to the dining room table and placing her plate down next to her two cousins.

Emma then proceeded to eat the entire pancake along with the other two plain pancakes.

The next weekend Emma said, “Pancakes with Mommy?”

Yes!  Come on.  Let’s make pancakes,” I said.

“Pancakes with chips?” Emma asked, rooting around the cupboard for a bag of chocolate chips.

“Let’s see if we have any,” I said.  “Otherwise we will go to the store and buy some.”

“Have to get some chocolate chips,” Emma muttered, still searching.  “Here they are!” She exclaimed holding up a bag.

Emma looks forward to Saturday and Sunday mornings with unadulterated excitement and anticipates our pancake mornings by saying on a Wednesday morning, “Sleep wake up, sleep wake up, sleep wake up, pancakes with Mommy!”

“Yes!  We will have pancakes Saturday morning,” I answered.

“Sleep wake up, pancakes with Mommy!” Emma said the other day, hoping to trick me into making pancakes with her on a non-weekend morning.

I was tired and not paying attention,  “That’s right,” I said.

Emma jumped up and down.  “Pancakes!”

Then the realization I’d made a terrible blunder hit me.  I explained why we couldn’t make pancakes; it was a school day, we wouldn’t have time, the bus was coming, etc.

Now it is a given the pancakes we make will include chocolate chips.  Last Saturday morning I asked, “Hey Em!  What about adding sliced bananas with the chocolate chips?”

“No bananas,” Emma said.

On another Saturday I asked, “Should we add some blueberries?”

“No blueberries,” Emma said.  Then offering an alternative she added, “Do you want pancakes with chocolate chips?”

“Sure, Em,” I said.

“Yes, pancakes with chocolate chips!” Emma said.