Casein Free - Gluten Free Diet, Autism, and William

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Ashley and her husband David are friends of mine. Over dinner a few weeks ago we were discussing the very positive results that they had seen from a Casein Free - Gluten Free eating program with their son William. I asked Ashley to write an article for our website and newsletter, as what she has learned just may help other of our readers. Read it carefully, and consider if some of these tips may help your child as well. -- Dr. Cowan, Editor

Results with a Casein Free, Gluten Free Diet

If you are a parent of a child who has autism or autistic-like tendencies then you know the challenges of everyday life. Irregular sleep patterns, tantrums, food aversions or obsessions, hand flapping, and perhaps the most heart wrenching is the withdrawn state of your loved one.

When William was born he was miserable; actually miserable is an understatement. He cried for the first six months of life. It didn’t matter what we did he just cried. We could hold him or set him down or leave him out back with strangers; nothing seemed to matter to him. Getting him onto a set schedule that might as well have been etched into stone helped a little with the sleeping, but for the most part he was still unreachable. William had no receptive language at all, meaning he didn’t understand what we were saying to him and had no expressive language either. He was trapped inside himself with no way out.

At 14 months I broke the news to my husband David that William was most likely autistic. For some parents this is a death blow because there is no cure in western medicine and the treatments are sometimes worse than the symptoms. It doesn’t have to be a negative experience; turn your feelings of guilt into hope by trying to do everything possible to better their situation: therapies, support, and diet.

In case your wondering if your child is autistic there are common red flag signs that most autistic children exhibit: withdrawn, little eye contact, not really affectionate, obsessive behavior with certain toys, spinning themselves or objects over and over, terrible balance, and tantrums at transitions or if something is moved from an area where they had left it. William had all of these but the dead give away for me was the sensory issues with his hands. Heaven forbid that he got anything on his hands. This need to save his hands from touching any unfamiliar surface would come at a cost; when he would fall he would catch himself with his head. He was the only one year old that would throw a fit if his napkin was not beside his plate before he began to eat.

When he was two he could only say three words “momma, dada, ou oh.” It was heartbreaking, I was putting in at least five hours a day working with him on language and speaking and therapies but nothing helped. I had heard of the gluten casein soy free diet but that was down in Orange County where everyone had money and time.

Then David came home with a magazine featuring Jenny McCarthy on the cover without realizing it was a mommy magazine, but since she’s good looking he read it anyways. The article was on how she started her son on the casein free diet and how he started talking within a few days. I remember thinking “what could it hurt?” According to the gluten casein free website, the two proteins act like opiates to people with autism and bind to the opiate receptor sites in the brain. Kids actually go through withdrawal when taken off the food; it’s amazing!

So armed with a grocery list from whole foods and Trader Joe’s, I went dairy free for a few weeks. The results were unbelievable! Within days William could say fifteen words and completely understood what I was saying to him. He had been in speech for over six months and nothing, but three days without dairy and he could understand me and speak. He was coming out of the isolation he had been kept in for the past two years.

If taking the kid off casein worked that well, then avoiding gluten would be next to try. Those results can take up to four months to see; plus getting the diet down and making mistakes is bound to happen. Again I hit up whole foods, which makes shopping for gluten and casein free items idiot proof!

Taking William off casein and gluten and soy was hard but the results far out way the effort. At three years old he can speak with an impressive vocabulary and has the receptive language of a seven year old.

Providing a diet like this sounds like a daunting task; gluten is literally in almost everything from normal breads to Chap Stick and even the backs of stamps and stickers. Here are some of the staples we have in our house for William:

  • Rice dream organic milk (only do organic, some rice milks have low levels of arsenic) instead of milk;
  • We also like the So Delicious Coconut milk and their yogurts and ice cream;
  • Earth’s Balance gluten free, casein free, and soy free butter and cooking butter;
  • Trader Joe’s dairy free pancakes or pancake mix, rice breads, corn breads;
  • Don’t do oatmeal unless it’s the Bob’s brand, others are made on equipment shared with milk and cross contaminated,
  • Enjoy Life chocolate bars;
  • Dayio cheeses;
  • Ian’s chicken nuggets.

The diet can be as inexpensive or expensive as you choose to have it. For eating out tips see the TACA website.

Please be mindful of these easy pitfalls:

  • stickers have gluten,
  • use only Crayola crayons,
  • be careful of yourcosmetics, soaps, chap sticks (Burt’s bees wax is clean),
  • anything with soy will have a similar effect as the casein.


William is doing amazing thanks to this diet and it’s easy to spot when we mess up because within thirty minutes he’s jibber jabbering some unintelligible words and spinning in circles for hours.

The other thing we do for him is provide B12 injections twice a week and a multivitamin along with cod liver oil in strawberry flavor. See a DAN Doctor if possible (defeat autism now) for the injections, use only methycobalamin.

So what do you do? It’s an easy answer if you want your child to progress, try the diet! What could it hurt? And in no way would you be alone! There are so many support groups out there and the TACA (talking about curing autism) website is phenomenal.

keywords: gluten, autism, "gluten free diet"

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., M.S. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Tehachapi, CA who has been a skillful counselor to children, teens, and adults helping them to overcome ADHD, find relief for depression or anxiety, and solve other problems in life since 1989. He served on the medical advisory board to the company that makes Attend and Extress from 1997 through 2011, and he is the Editor of the ADHD Information Library online resource. His weekly ADHD Newsletter goes out to 9,500 families. Visit his website at for more information on achieving greater health, personal growth, Christ-centered spirituality, stress management, parenting skills, ADHD, working out the stresses of being a care-giver to elderly parents and also being a parent to teenagers, or finding greater meaning in retirement years, Dr. Cowan can be a valuable resource to you.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., MFT
27400 Oakflat Dr.
Tehachapi, CA 93561
(661) 972-5953

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