Latitudes is the on-line newsletter of the excellent Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy, a non-profit American organisation which explores non-drug based, often nutritional, approaches to treating anxiety, autism, attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, tics and Tourette syndrome, and learning disabilities.
Eli was in kindergarten when we first noticed eye-rolling. It was right after the school winter holiday break, and a month before his sixth birthday. Not knowing any better, we would tell him: "Stop doing that with your eyes!"
When this continued, we took him to an eye doctor (April 2010). To our surprise, everything checked out great. I asked if maybe he had eye strain, since he was starting to read more, but the doctor didn't detect anything wrong.
The tics subsided over the summer. Once school started back, he had mild eye-rolls again, and he made occasional noises with his throat/tongue. After a few months, his eye-rolls became very bad and his head would jerk at the same time. He also had vocal tics and hyperactive behaviors, and we were very concerned. He went through a period of night terrors. Again, the timing of the spike in tics was after the school holiday break.
I had watched the movie "Front of the Class" with Brad Cohen over the holidays and started researching information about Tourette's. One night while Eli was reading his first grade story, I counted 72 eye/facial tics. I scheduled an appointment with his pediatrician and I'll never forget overhearing him tell his nurse after leaving the room: "The little boy in Room 4 has the classic symptoms of Tourette's." He referred us to a neurologist.
As soon as we knew the diagnosis, we started Eli on the Feingold diet. We were thrilled that the tics were virtually gone by the time we had our first appointment with the neurologist one month later. When I mentioned the diet to him, he shrugged it off. We haven't needed to go back.
For the next several months, Eli was tic-free. Then the holiday break came again. When school started up in January, here we were — three years in a row — dealing with an increase in tics!
I began thinking about this school break. What did each year have in common? Finally I found the culprit: carpet cleaning. The school he attends has the carpet cleaned every holiday break at the same time. The vacation starts, the doors are shut, the carpet is cleaned, and the heat is turned on high for two days with the windows shut to dry it out. When Eli enters the classroom after the break each year, he is exposed to cleaning toxins and whatever else the carpet harbored, and his tics are triggered. They last for about one and a half months.
After Tammy's initial note to ACN, we asked her some questions for more details.
Are you confident there's not something else going on that could be responsible for the tics flaring up when he went back to school after the winter holiday break?
I'm totally sure it was the carpet cleaner. He has had this reaction for the past three years during the same time. It wasn't due to food. Over the holidays, we only prepared foods on Eli's safe list. I furnished all of the food for his classroom holiday party so he wouldn't feel different. He did not have a reaction at all until the first day he was back at school after the break. The reaction lasted approximately 1½ months. I stayed in contact with his teacher, the principal and the special education coordinator for the county to determine what we could change/request in his 504 Plan to keep his environment free of toxins.
Of course diet can also play a role, in general. There is no doubt in my mind that in addition to toxins, preservatives, artificial additives, and salicylates in food are causing his reactions. I have watched for other possibilities, but the pattern is very consistent. Aside from a reacton to a strep infection, it seems whenever Eli has an increase in tics, we have been able to trace it to an exposure to food or drink, or some type of toxin — even ant killer on the baseball field.
We also traced tic increases to spray paint, Pledge™, and household cleaners. So we are now toxin-free in our home, and use only natural cleaners. We use natural personal products including some made by a dermatologist, Dr. Robin. In addition to environmental toxins, we have also noticed reactions to artificial flavors and colors in foods, as well as to salicylates.
I'm happy to say that the night terrors went away, and when the triggers are avoided, the tics and hyperactivity are also gone.
Has the growing national trend to provide healthier foods at school reached your district?
Unfortunately, our school serves slushies with artificial colors/flavors and aspartame, popcorn with yellow dye in the butter, and ice cream loaded with preservatives and dyes. No wonder children can't settle down to their school work and are struggling! I am an elementary school teacher with an advanced degree in education, I can tell you that children's behaviors are getting worse.
The other day, I watched a child quietly eating his lunch. Then he started drinking a red Gatorade G2™ beverage, and when he finished he became very active, could hardly remain in his seat, and got in trouble numerous times.
I get frustrated when I hear about other countries banning preservatives and color dyes, yet the United States will not. I try to teach my students about healthy eating. I tell them that if it comes from God's earth, there's a better chance it is healthy than if it is made by scientists in a laboratory. I also say that if foods or drinks turn your tongue different colors, think what is happening to your body organs when you consume them.
Can you tell us more about the diet Eli follows?
Eli eats what is approved on the Stage I Feingold Program and has followed this diet for the past year and 2 months. The diet eliminates all synthetic colors/flavors in foods, salicylates (apples, berries, grapes, oranges, tomatoes), preservatives (BHA, BHT, TBHQ) and artificial sugars (aspartame, etc). I have also eliminated benzoates, nitrates and any additives that are neurotoxins.
I send his lunch daily to school, usually a hot meal that I heat in the oven, place in containers and then wrap in a dish towel to keep it warm. It consists of vegetables, baked/grilled/smoked chicken and Feingold approved fruit (no salycilates).
His snack consists of Original Lays™ or tortilla chips, approved fruits, nuts, Crispix™ cereal mix (nuts, Crispix™, and Feingold approved chocolate morsals) and homemade snacks from Feingold cookbooks.
He is never off of the diet! When we go on vacations, day trips or outings, we take foods he can eat with us. When we went to Disney in November 2011, I talked to chefs about foods he could have and how it needed to be prepared. I also had a doctor's letter requesting the parks allow us to bring special foods into each park. When we went on a Carnival Cruise Line in March 2012, the staff was amazing. I met with the hostess each day and we planned Eli's meals for the following day and received approval with port authorities to take his foods off of the ship for excursions. Once again, I made sure I had his Dr.'s letter and I made a list of approved foods for the chefs. When we go to restaurants we explain his situation and they prepare foods he can have. He eats a lot of vegetables, fish, salmon, salads and allowed fruits.
How has your son reacted to all of this?
He has been an amazing sport! When he goes to parties, we send his food items and treats he can have that do not have the synthetics, etc. In fact, since he can't have what other children eat, I allow him to pick out whatever he wants me to bake or prepare. During the holidays (Halloween/Easter), Eli doesn't get the candies like most children. Instead we take him to his favorite sports store and allow him to pick out whatever he wants, within reason. Food is now viewed in our family as something that provides nourishment, not as a pleasure or a treat.
Eli is actively involved in youth baseball and football. His coaches are aware of his condition, yet continue to place him in important positions because he is dependable and does what they ask. He tends to have reactions, at times, on the baseball and football field. I would love to research the products used on fields, from the chalk lines to the fertilizer.
[Editor: Other parents have complained about tic reactions to athletic fields, and they insist the response is not due to stress.]
He does very well academically and tends to be at the top of his class, especially in math. When he has a reaction to something like the carpet cleaning, the eye tics increase and this makes it challenging with reading, but he still does very well.
He loves other children and makes friends easily. In fact, his teachers have said that other kids tend to want to be with Eli and enjoy him as a group member or a partner. When he is having a reaction I have heard children ask him why he does his eyes, head or shoulders a certain way and Eli simply says, "I feel like I have to and it just happens." Then they go back to playing!
First published July 2012
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