In a burst of excitement, I realized how much sense this made. It explained why Miles developed normally for his first year, when he drank only soy formula. It would also explain why he had later craved milk: Opiates are highly addictive. What's more, the odd behavior of autistic children has often been compared to that of someone hallucinating on LSD.
My husband also told me that the other type of protein being broken down into a toxic form was gluten -- found in wheat, oats, rye, and barley, and commonly added to thousands of packaged foods. The theory would have sounded farfetched to my scientific husband if he hadn't seen the dramatic changes in Miles himself and remembered how Miles had self-limited his diet to foods containing wheat and dairy. As far as I was concerned, there was no question that the gluten in his diet would have to go. Busy as I was, I would learn to cook gluten-free meals. People with celiac disease are also gluten-intolerant, and I spent hours on-line gathering information
Within 48 hours of being gluten-free, 22-month-old Miles had his first solid stool, and his balance and coordination noticeably improved. A month or two later, he started speaking -- "zawaff" for giraffe, for example, and "ayashoo" for elephant. He still didn't call me Mommy, but he had a special smile for me when I picked him up from nursery school. However, Miles' local doctors -- his pediatrician, neurologist, geneticist, and gastroenterologist -- still scoffed at the connection between autism and diet. Even though dietary intervention was a safe, noninvasive approach to treating autism, until large controlled studies could prove that it worked, most of the medical community would have nothing to do with it.
So my husband and I decided to become experts ourselves. We began attending autism conferences and phoning and e-mailing the European researchers. I also organized a support group for other parents of autistic children in my community. Although some parents weren't interested in exploring dietary intervention at first, they often changed their mind after they met Miles. Not every child with autism responded to the diet, but eventually there were about 50 local families whose children were gluten- and casein-free with exciting results. And judging by the number of people on Internet support lists, there were thousands of children around the world responding well to this diet.
Fortunately, we found a new local pediatrician who was very supportive, and Miles was doing so well that I nearly sprang out of bed each morning to see the changes in him. One day, when Miles was 2 1/2, he held up a toy dinosaur for me to see. "Wook, Mommy, issa Tywannosauwus Wex!" Astonished, I held out my trembling hands. "You called me Mommy!" I said. He smiled and gave me a long hug.
By the time Miles turned 3, all his doctors agreed that his autism had been completely cured. He tested at eight months above his age level in social, language, self-help, and motor skills, and he entered a regular preschool with no special-ed supports. His teacher told me that he was one of the most delightful, verbal, participatory children in the class. Today, at almost 6, Miles is among the most popular children in his first-grade class. He's reading at a fourth-grade level, has good friends, and recently acted out his part in the class play with flair. He is deeply attached to his older sister, and they spend hours engaged in the type of imaginative play that is never seen in kids with autism.
My worst fears were never realized. We are terribly lucky.
But I imagined all the other parents who might not be fortunate enough to learn about the diet. So in 1997, I started a newsletter and international support organization called Autism Network for Dietary Intervention (ANDI), along with another parent, Lisa Lewis, author of Special Diets for Special Kids (Future Horizons, 1998). We've gotten hundreds of letters and e-mails from parents worldwide whose kids use the diet successfully. Although it's best to have professional guidance when implementing the diet, sadly, most doctors are still skeptical.