Front Page News: Parents of autistic children envision a SouthCoast care center

Earlier this week, The Herald News, a newspaper covering the Massachusetts South Coast, made the Gottschall Seminar its front page news story.

Read the story online:

Parents of autistic children envision a SouthCoast care center

(The text below is from the Herald Story. More photos/information are available through the link above.)

by Deborah Allard
Herald News Staff Reporter
Last update Oct 05, 2009 @ 02:33 AM
DARTMOUTH, MA

Cheryl Gaudino wants what every mother wants for her child, but for her, it’s more difficult. Her 13-year-old son Ryan was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

“I want my son to be productive and to enjoy his life,” said Gaudino, treasurer of the board of directors of the Gottschall Autism Center.

Autism is a developmental disorder that can affect communication and social interaction. Symptoms may include repetitive behaviors, little or no eye contact with others, a lack of interest in playing or making friends, fixation on certain objects, and a delay in or lack of speaking, according to the Autism Society.

But the causes of autism are poorly understood, leaving many unanswered questions for families dealing with the disorder.

“You become a detective,” Gaudino said.

She and a group of parents have been working for the past two years to establish a brick-and-mortar Gottschall Autism Center somewhere in southeastern Massachusetts. The group currently meets with parents of autistic children, offering help and support, but is trying to do much more.

The group envisions a center where parents could learn about autism and how to treat it, where conferences could be held, and where autistic children could get job training and learn about daily living. It would also offer campus housing on an organic farm where autistic children could learn about healthy eating.

“We’re hoping to become a national model,” Gaudino said.

Gaudino and a growing number of parents and caregivers in the autism community are learning more about the role food plays in autism. More than 50 percent of children with autism have gastrointestinal symptoms and allergies. They’re using the specific carbohydrate diet, which they say has helped their children tremendously.

The diet isn't low in carbs but restricts the proteins gluten and casein. Gluten is found in all wheat, rye, barley and some oat products, while casein is found in dairy products. The two proteins have been found to “drug” autistic children like a “morphine drip,” acting as opiates would in the system.

Gaudino can attest to these findings with her own son, though the diet is not yet a recognized medical treatment for autistic children.

“He’s been on the diet since diagnosis,” she said.

Before Ryan was diagnosed, he went from being a healthy toddler who was walking and talking to a child that could do neither. He was sick, had constant diarrhea and basically stopped developing.

Gaudino said his problems started after he received his vaccinations and had to undergo several courses of antibiotics. He had a fever of 107 degrees.

“It was horrific,” Gaudino said. “We almost lost him.”

Ryan began the specific carbohydrate diet, which substitutes ingredients like white flour and sugar for almond flour and honey, and regained much of what he lost. The diarrhea stopped and he was potty trained within a month.

On Friday, Gaudino and other members of Gottschall presented “When the Belly is the Beast: How Intestinal Health Impacts Brain and Behavior,” at Rachel’s Lakeside on Route 6. It featured lectures and a luncheon of specific carbohydrate foods.

Pamela Ferro, president of Gottschall and co-founder of Hopewell Autism Associates in Mattapoisett, offered hope to the crowded room of attendees in her lecture about the specific carbohydrate diet.

“There have been more treatments in the past three years than in the past three decades,” Ferro said.

She said there is a brain-stomach connection at work that is making autistic children sick and exacerbating their symptoms. She celebrated the emergence of “strong, scientific support” to back those beliefs.

Children with autism cannot break down certain foods, which leads to malnutrition and the inability to absorb nutrients. Processed foods like snack cakes, cereals, potato chips, and other ready-made foods are not digested and cause gastrointestinal toxins that affect the body and the brain.

Ferro, the mother of an 18-year-old autistic child, said the diet has made a huge difference in her son’s life.

“We know that what we eat can affect our health,” Ferro said.

Attendees were given recipes and a cooking video about the specific carbohydrate diet.

The rate of autism diagnosis has grown from one in 100,000 children about a decade ago to one in about 100 today. More boys are afflicted than girls.

Some parents and physicians of autistic children attribute this to the growing number of toxins ingested today. Some also suspect certain vaccinations can contribute to autism.

The Gottschall Autism Center is named for the late Elaine Gottschall, who worked with people suffering from digestive diseases. For more details, visit www.gottschallcenter.com, call Ferro at 508-941-4791 or phone Gaudino at 774-282-0293.

The group is currently accepting donations at P.O. Box 979, Mattapoisett, MA, 02739. They are also looking for a land donation to build the center.

E-mail Deborah Allard at dallard@heraldnews.com.