Talking to Family, Friends, and Schools About the GFCF Diet
Every child comes into contact with so many other people every day. Other parents, teachers, caregivers, and other children might all offer your child food throughout the day. Communicating with the people who spend time with your child is extremely important.
Including Diet in the School Plan
Once your child is in school, he will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to ensure that the school is providing the best possible education in light of your child's special needs. Part of the IEP process is an annual review meeting. This meeting can be a great time to discuss the role that diet will play in managing your child's autism.
Doing some homework before the meeting can make it much easier for school personnel to understand the changes in your child's diet and what they can do to help facilitate it. There are questions that you can complete and bring with you to the IEP meeting. Printing information about the diet from the Internet can also be helpful. Ask your doctor if she has any tools available to bring with you, too. It is then important to make the gluten- and casein-free diet part of the written record of the IEP plan.
What if my child's IEP meeting happened before we made the change in diet?
Contact your child's case manager at the school and his classroom teacher. Let them know in writing that you have introduced the diet and what ramifications that will have in the classroom. If you feel you need to amend the IEP, you can request another meeting, but oftentimes communicating with the school in a spirit of collaboration will achieve good results.
Showing school staff that you want to work with them as opposed to against them can make a huge difference in whether they will try to accommodate your child's dietary needs with enthusiasm or reluctance. Providing the school with written ideas for items to take the place of foods containing gluten and casein in the classroom is a good first step to bringing everyone on board.
For example, if little candies or cheesy crackers are traditionally used to help with math and counting activities, suggest using buttons, stickers, or beads. If the teacher rewards good behavior with candy or treats, a reward chart or certificate can be a great, and safe, substitute. Many teachers have been using the same methods for years, and they will need assistance in changing their mindsets. A friendly letter that includes a list of alternatives can take a lot of the pressure off already overworked teachers.
Keep track of what is happening in the classroom. Monitor homework that is coming home and teacher updates about what is happening in the classroom. It can take a little time for a teacher new to the diet to completely understand all of the ramifications that it can play in the classroom. For example, if your child comes home with a necklace made from dried noodles, it is important to remind the teacher about alternatives. A teacher might think that it is acceptable to use foods containing gluten or casein for activities that don't involve eating. However, the risk is great that children might put items not intended for eating into their mouths.
Most people in your child's life will be happy to help make things easier for you. The key to enlisting that help is information. Explain to family and friends why you are making the change. Teach them the basics of the diet. If your child's grandma knows what is okay to eat and what is not, she will be much more comfortable when the family comes to visit.
The IEP plan should include what steps to take if there are problems with the diet in school. Once those steps are laid out, it is much easier to know how to best address any situations that arise. Since the IEP process is a collaborative process, the teacher will be able to have input on how he would like to be best alerted to any issues.
Making It Easy on Everyone
When your child is on a special diet, control becomes a very real concern. You will work conscientiously to ensure that your child is not being exposed to gluten and casein, and you don't want him to be exposed accidentally when that can be prevented. Using that desire for control to your advantage can help make it easier for everyone to feed your child.
Entertaining in your home where you are accustomed to following the gluten- and casein-free diet can take a lot of the stress out of larger gatherings of family or friends. You certainly are able to exert the greatest amount of control over what is served if you're doing the cooking. Although this can help in some situations, it's not realistic that you will start hosting every birthday party and holiday in your social circle.
Unlike an allergy, an accidental exposure is not an emergency. For the diet to be optimally effective (or to assess whether it's helpful for your child), it is best to strictly avoid gluten and casein, but if an accidental exposure happens, just make a note of any changes in your child's behaviors or symptoms and go back to following the gluten- and casein-free diet.
When the festivities are at someone else's house, offer to bring a dish or two. If you bring a favorite dish of your child's, it will be much easier to avoid foods that are off-limits. Explaining your situation to your host can also make a big difference. Many people are happy to add a fruit salad or other gluten- and casein-free treat to the menu if they know that it will make it easier for your family. Talking to your host can mean the difference between stressing out over pretzels or enjoying a couple of potato chips.
If there's no way to bring a dish, pack a little snack bag with foods that are acceptable for the gluten- and casein-free diet. It can also be helpful to feed your child before attending a party where you're not sure what will be served. A child with a full belly and a yummy snack will be a much a happier child than a child who looks hungrily at food that she is not allowed to eat.