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KitchenClassroom4Kids on "Cooking With my Son and The Autism Diet"

Gluten free tag By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

I have no memory of what we ate the year that my son George was diagnosed with autism. That was almost four years ago now and in my memory, that year is still a blur of disappointing appointments, upsetting conversations, and exhaustion mixed with despair. I know that we did eat—me, my husband, three-year-old George and my baby daughter, June. Maybe it was sandwiches or pizza and I am sure that there must have been nights when I did manage to cook but I don’t recall the four of us gathering to eat at the table together. Of course, back then, George did not sit still at a table long enough to eat more than two bites of anything.

Fast forward: like most parents who finally receive a diagnosis, a name for the various symptoms and behaviors that our precious child was exhibiting, my husband and me rallied. We pulled it together. We found a great pre-school for George and signed on to all of the therapeutic services that our county would pay for. We started RDI therapy privately and learned a lot. I spent many hours in the evenings, when the kids were asleep and Fred was kindly straightening up the chaos of the house, on the computer, discovering what Google had to tell me about autism. I avoided the sites that left me in worse despair and gravitated to places that offered some hope.

One of my most curious discoveries was the gluten-free/casein-free diet and all of the reports from parents about how it helped lessen their children’s symptoms of autism. As I researched more, I felt more open to trying the diet for George; his eating seemed to be getting more and more narrow by the day and I was concerned about how his lack of nutrition would impact his brain development. Although he had loved eating fruits and vegetables as a child, he refused them by age three. He would barely eat any protein and would gravitate towards fish crackers, pretzels or bagels. Reading about how children with gluten intolerance often want to eat only that which they are intolerant of made me think of George. I decided to try the diet.

What began with that decision was a step that has taken our family back on the path to balance and dare I say, simple happiness. The diet never “cured” George, but it helped his digestive track get back on track and it took a whole lot of edge off his behavior—fewer tantrums, better sleeping. Like many parents venturing into the diet, I had to rethink how I shopped and cooked. As someone who loves to cook, I took on a gluten-free kitchen with a sense of adventure and found myself happily spending more time in the kitchen. We started sitting down and enjoying meals—at least a few times a week—together as a family.

But the best thing about needing to cook so much of our food, rather than rely on take-out or prepared foods, was that I started cooking with my kids. I discovered that George, who struggles with language and a short attention span, loves to get involved in pouring, stirring, grinding and straining. Cooking became a way for us to connect and for George to learn important skills like counting and sequence.

Four years after my son’s diagnosis with autism, my heart is filled with hope for him. Seeing George in the kitchen makes me full of ambition for what he can learn and who he can become, given the right ways for him to take in and process information. Cooking has been one important way for him to develop many skills, including better attention and communication.

This month, Woodbine House is publishing my new cookbook, The Kitchen Classroom: 32 Visual GF/CF Recipes to Boost Development. I hope that you will find The Kitchen Classroom to be a useful tool to connect and communicate with your children, while making great food. Whether you cook a lot together already or if this is a new activity for you, Kitchen Classroom contains many helpful ideas for both parents and kids. Visit me at and let me know what it’s like to share time in the kitchen with your fabulous kids.

--Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer




GFCF best intervention we ever did. After 7 years, my first born still goes mute on casein within 20 minutes. And my younger son goes ballistic on gluten within the day. No denial here. GFCF works!

The Kitchen Classroom soon to be ordered...


Tara Marshall

I've been artificial, casein, gluten, and soy free for 8 years now. I highly suggest giving the diet a shot for yourself. I ended up doing the Specific Carbohydrate strictly for about a year, and still use a lot of the recipes that I developed myself - the cookbooks for it didn't help much, since I'm allergic to nuts!
There are several good books to read. If you're looking specifically for a good cookbook, I would suggest looking at "The Gluten Free Gourmet". The book is for people with celiac disease, not autism, so several of the recipes will need to be modified to use non-milk products (don't bother with soy, the protein is nearly identical to casein, and most of us are just as sensitive to it - get rice cheese, coconut milk yogurt, and milk made from hemp, coconut, almond, or something else). Another caution - the yeast will also increase and hurt you if you end up heavy on the starches, especially sugary ones like white rice and rice milk. That's why I had to do the SCD for a year. I'm still holding mostly to it except for a couple of "cheats" per week to try to prevent that problem from coming back again.
Fortunately, I was fairly high-functioning before the diet, I just couldn't put together a conversation or interact with people - but I could read a book and plan a meal just fine, despite my seizures, stims, and general spaciness.
Unfortunately, a lot of the children I work with aren't high-enough functioning to do that, so if the parents think the "diet is too hard" or don't think it's
"really scientific, like the medications are" (HAH - they should read some of those studies on psychiatric medications), the kids can't do anything about it themselves.
Oh, and I haven't had a seizure in 8 years OFF the anti-convulsant medications (which never fully controlled my seizures), my ticque disorder is so reduced that most people don't notice it any more and I haven't had a day when the ticques kept me from talking in 7 years (I needed more Omega 3 Fatty Acids), and I can control my stims much better than ever. I can even hold a conversation one-on-one and not have people realize that I'm different, although I'm still a disaster when I try to speak in a group.


Can't wait to get a copy! Sounds like something great for our house!

Great job!
Mom to Ethan, Alex, and Megan


I like to cook with my daughters quality time


I can't wait to read your book! Congratulations!

Your journey in the kitchen with your son sounds a lot like mine with my son. We are having a blast in the kitchen and he says he wants to be a gluten free baker when he grows up. I chronicle our adventures in the kitchen on my blog.

Theodora Trudorn

I've never really fully adopted the diet. I'm thinking on it though. Particularly since I have observed my stomach problems being agigtated by anything that seems to involve yeast. And dairy having a drug like effect that sends me into the whole non blinking wall staring state.

What books would you all reccomend for me for me to start reading up on it? I love to cook, is there any really cool cook books that you would recommend? Mise well give it a whirl, see what happens. :)

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