What Autism Does to a Mother
Nicole was sold. That night, she went to Whole Foods, searching for packaged foods labeled "gluten-free, dairy-free" that she could gradually introduce into Ryan's diet. "I was in the supermarket for such a long time, reading all the labels," says Nicole. "Besides worrying about the ingredients, I was also trying to find gluten-free versions of foods that Ryan was already eating, like crackers and pasta, to make the transition easier." Surprisingly, Ryan ate many of the foods that Nicole brought home, like rice pasta and dried blueberries. But she also had her share of flops. "It's always trial and error, which can be frustrating because the foods are expensive."
Inspired by McCarthy, Nicole also met with a Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) doctor, a health-care practitioner who uncovers the physiological conditions that may be causing autistic behaviors and then treats them through nutritional changes, including a GFCF diet (a DAN! practitioner's credentials can range from a traditional M.D. to homeopathy training ). At Nicole's meeting, Geoffrey P. Radoff, an M.D. and doctor of homeopathy (M.D.H.), took an extensive family history, provided a list of lab tests (blood, urine, and stool) for Ryan to undergo, prescribed a variety of nutritional supplements, and instructed the Kalkowskis to stick with the GFCF diet. Radoff made no promises to Nicole about Ryan's improvement, except that the diet would likely relieve her son's gastro-intestinal problems — a common issue in children with autism. Ryan's belly was always very gassy and bloated, and he'd often push on his lower abdomen in discomfort. Nicole was thrilled just to have another treatment begin.
But that optimism didn't compare to the joy that Nicole and Tim felt about three weeks after Ryan started his therapies and new diet. Standing in their kitchen, Tim was consoling Nicole, who was crying after having a particularly stressful day. When they looked over to Ryan in the next room, their son, who during the last couple of months had stopped making eye contact and rarely interacted with his parents, was staring straight at them. Ryan then picked up a toy school bus and ran it over to his mother and father with a smile. "We were both amazed, and Tim and I looked at each other like, Did that just happen?" recalls Nicole. "You're scared to see progress because you don't want to lose it again. After a few minutes, I even took a picture of Ryan, so that I could remember that moment."