15 Ways Families with Special Needs Can Have a GREAT 2014

15 Ways Families with Special Needs Can Have a Great 2014


At the end of each year, I find myself reflecting on how I can improve the quality of life for all the members of my family in the upcoming year. I look back and see where we were one year ago, what has improved and what are the challenges that we still face.

Then I start to make a list of what it will it take, Lord willing, to make our lives better in the new year. Was 2013 a particularly rough year for you and your family? Perhaps you had a good 2013 but feel like things have stalled. Either way, who wouldn’t want the hope of a better year?

So, to simplify things for you, I’ve compiled a list of relatively simple things you can do that will not only improve the life of your special needs child but that of your whole family as well. This list is comprised of 15 things that we have implemented in our household that have had such an impact in our everyday lives. They basically boil down to getting healthier, being more organized and getting the support you need do this thing we call “raising a special needs child”.

As always, if you can contribute to this list, please leave a comment below so all the readers can benefit from your input. Have a great 2014!


15 Ways Families with Special Needs Can Have a Great 2014


Get Healthy


1)  Determine once and for all if anyone has any food allergies or sensitivities that are affecting behavior.

You can typically rule out common food allergies through the “elimination diet” protocol. This involves eliminating certain foods for a period of time, usually three or four weeks, then slowly reintroducing individual foods and monitoring your child for reactions or return of behavioral challenges or physical symptoms. Once you discover which foods your child is sensitive to, eliminate them from their diet for an extended period of time (6 months or more).

But if you haven’t really noticed a change after several weeks, consider that you may be dealing with hidden allergies. For example, after allergy testing, we discovered that my son had a garlic sensitivity. Being Italian – we put garlic in everything! And I was happy to do so knowing that  garlic is known to strengthen the immune system. But what I’ve come to realize is that one person’s food can be another person’s poison and in his situation, we were inadvertently making him worse by continuing to use garlic in everything.

So, consider having your child tested for food sensitivities. This is different than common allergy testing which may not pick up on milder sensitivities. Allergic reactions that are immediate and produce rashes or anaphylactic shock are typically picked up by IgE testing done in an allergist’s office. However some allergic reactions are delayed by hours or days and therefore the culprits are much harder to detect. These types of reactions (i.e. headaches or stomach problems, to name a few) are best determined by an IgG test. Testing for food sensitivity via IgG testing is usually done by holistic physicians who practice alternative or integrative medicine.

2)  Finally commit to going gluten-free.

It seems daunting – maybe you tried it once for a short while and didn’t note any improvement, or maybe it was just too hard to do it over the holidays? Set a goal to ease into it and commit to doing it for 1 month. Then as you get the hang of it and have managed for that month, continue for a second month, on so on. Not sure where to start? Subscribe to the blog to receive a free copy of my upcoming book: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Gluten-free.

3)  Go casein-free (or completely dairy-free).

Maybe you’ve tried being gluten-free with minimal or no results. Or you want to take biomedical interventions to the next level. Consider going casein-free (or completely dairy-free).

Remember that “…a large percentage of the world’s population does not consume animal milk once childhood has passed. In fact, humans are the only species that drink milk as adults, and the only “animal” to drink the milk of another animal. Cow milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, but it was not meant to sustain humans.” – excerpt from E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders

4)  Stop buying any food with artificial colors or flavorings.

Highly processed foods can lose natural color (as well as flavor and vitamins) with exposure to high temperatures, light, air and moisture. To make food more appealing, chemicals are added to those foods to make them look and taste better. These include coloring agents and artificial flavors.

It’s important to note that artificial food colors are mostly derived from petroleum or coal tar – not exactly food items. More studies are pointing to the ill effects of artificial colors and flavorings on behaviors. Finally science is catching up to what parents have known all along. Ingesting fake stuff leads to a decline in behavior and general wellness.

5)  Drink more water.

It seems obvious that we should drink plenty of water but sadly, this is commonly overlooked. Apple juice is not water. Neither is lemonade.  We all need to drink just plain ol’ water each day.

Water is the body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of body weight. Every system in the body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients to cells.  Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain energy and make normal everyday tasks seem exhausting.

6)  Start juicing.

Juicing supercharges nutrient intake. You can’t possibly eat that volume of fruits and veggies that are required to make a 16 ounce glass of raw juice. Juicing is especially useful when you have kids who are picky eaters. There are many recipes for juice blends that tastes great, are nutritious and don’t look green (or whatever color your child would avoid). Juicing is all the rage right now so finding recipes online is easy. I often post recipes I find on sharingmom’s facebook page and have a pinterest board dedicated to juices and smoothies.

7)  Make nutritious smoothies.

Not sure your kid will take to juicing? Trust me, they will once you find the blends you like. But in the meantime, what kid doesn’t like a smoothie? If you’re child doesn’t have issues with the texure of smoothies, make a nutrient packed smoothie for them to snack on. If texture is a problem, revisit juicing which removes all pulp and has no texture. For recipes, check sharingmom’s facebook page or pinterest board on juicing and smoothies.

8)  Make your meals more nutritionally impactful.

Rethink what you are feeding your family. Make a variety of real foods each week (something not from a box). Learn to add more nutrient dense ingredients to your family favorites. I’ve been having a great time adding all kinds of new veggies to the various chili recipes I have. I have also learned how to make soups and stews heartier. I happily share my recipes for free on this blog but there are many sources that can easily help you rethink your meal rotation.

9)  Incorporate exercise into the daily routine.

If your child is sensory seeking, provide sensory stimulation in a way that incorporates exercise. Not only will this release pent up energy but it will help strengthen muscles and improve motor skills. Try a variety of activities to see which one your child enjoys. My son absolutely loves swimming in a pool. While we don’t have a pool in our home, I make it a point to enroll him in swimming lessons (for structured learning and exercise) as well as seek out opportunities for unstructured water play.

As for sports, team sports stress him out, as does any sport where balls are flying at him. So we discovered golf. He loves that he can hit the ball away from him and that he can play against himself. Plus, an inexpensive trip to the local driving range is a great way to spend time outdoors, get some exercise and practice focusing on the task at hand – all at the same time.

Discover what activities your child may enjoy and make physical activity a part of your daily routine.  The same goes for you. Go outside and walk for 20-30 minutes. The getting your heart pumping and the fresh air will be a great stress reliever!

10)  Try a new therapy or treatment.

Yes, this means trying that new therapy you’ve been hearing about – whatever it may be. Just go for it! I’ll even recommend one to you that we used early on in our diagnosis with great results.

Developed by Vital Links, Therapeutic Listening is research based tool for treating people of all ages who have difficulty processing sensory information, listening, attention, and communication. Results include increased focus and attention, better moods, balanced energy levels, greater tolerance to noise, improved sleep and less anxiety. Ask your occupational therapist about it.


Get Organized


11)  Clean out your cupboards and re-stock them with better food.

If you only keep healthy foods in your house, then you are bound to only eat healthy foods! Couple this process with a good deed. Go through your cupboard, pantry and fridge and donate anything with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, gluten, preservatives (or whatever else you are eliminating this year) to a food pantry.

While this may seem like you are “poisoning” the community, remember, that one person’s poison is another’s food. Food pantries will accept any food item. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then dump your “bad food”, stock up on “better” real food (and for your good deed – buy a bag of “good food” for the food pantry too!)

12)  Utilize a weekly meal planner.

Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Remember, we are trying to improve your quality of life. Keep meal planning simple by utilizing a weekly schedule to help you stay one step ahead of the game. There are plenty of free printable meal planners available online. Click here for the simple one I use.


Get Support


13)  Develop a support system.

There are hundreds of pages on facebook, as well as other blogs, that I personally find very helpful. Spend some time perusing the various options available to you and join the ones you think will give you great support. Stay connected to get the latest available information about autism, recipe ideas, moral support and to ask questions about treatment options or parenting. Make it easy on yourself and subscribe to the blogs you like to get their posts delivered to your mail box. It’s free!

If you haven’t already, stay connected with us on facebook, twitter or pinterest to see the many interesting articles and recipes that cross my virtual desk each day.

14)  Read a new book on how to support your child.

I have read several books over the years that have really helped us on our journey. I honestly don’t know where we’d be without the information they provided. To see a list of the ones I recommend, click here.

15) Support others.

Recognize you’ve come a long way – share what you’ve learned or what blogs or pages you find helpful. We are all in this together. The more we access we have to information or ideas, the better. You’ll start to notice that helping others along on their journey will boost your spirits and energize you.


Know someone who could benefit from what you’ve read here? Share it! Have a great 2014!

Plant Based Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D and Autism

This post is “part 3” of a series called Vitamin D and Autism. Readers asked for a post listing food sources of vitamin D to help maintain levels of vitamin D .

Food Sources of Vitamin D
Because the body cannot always get enough vitamin D from the sun, it can also be ingested. Fatty ocean fish like salmon, halibut and tuna are a good source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Both are important for brain health.  Some foods, like non-dairy milk and cereal, are often enriched with vitamin D. Other Vitamin D-rich foods include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, and organ meats like liver.

But for those who aren’t big fish eaters or are vegans, there is a reason why it’s hard to find plant sources of vitamin D. The reality is very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Most of the vitamin D from plant based foods is artificially added or fortified as is most commonly seen in whole grain breakfast cereals.

Shiitake mushrooms naturally contain vitamin D-2. Ultraviolet-B enhancement of mushrooms boost the vitamin D content and have been used commercially to produce white, brown and portabella mushrooms that can meet 100 percent of your daily need in a 3 oz. serving, according to the USDA.

But as many in the autism spectrum are concerned with candida infection of the gut (a yeast), mushrooms (another type of yeast) are best avoided.

Therefore, until there is a discovery otherwise, your best bet for getting vitamin D is sunlight, or supplements especially when sun exposure is limited.
Vitamin D Supplements

I love these because they are free of: Yeast, Wheat, Milk, Egg, Soy, Salt, Tree Nuts, Peanuts, Shellfish, Gluten, Artificial Colors and Flavors, Salicylates and Preservatives and they are GMO Free!


Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of the links, your cost will be the same but SharingMom may receive a small commission. This helps to cover the maintenance of this site and keeps your subscription free. Thank you for your support!



This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.

How to go Casein-free


If you are considering implementing a casein-free diet for your child, be prepared. Some parents are made to feel that removing cow milk from a child’s food choices is a form of child abuse. Naysayers are unaware that a large percentage of the world’s population does not consume animal milk once childhood has passed. In fact, humans are the only species that drink milk as adults, and the only “animal” to drink the milk of another animal. Cow milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, but it was not meant to sustain humans.

If you are wondering whether a casein-free diet will benefit your child, consider this: children who crave dairy, and who eat a lot of it, are most likely to benefit from going casein-free.

Casein is the most abundant protein in milk. It is also found in dairy products and other foods containing dairy or lactose (including milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream). Because this milk protein is commonly used in processed foods, even foods proclaiming to be “dairy-free” or “lactose-free” will contain casein.

So why is casein a problem? The most studied theory proposes that children with autism, or other neurobehavioral disorders, process certain proteins (in this case the milk protein casein) differently than typical people do. Incomplete digestion and this difference in processing leads to high levels of protein by-products, called casomorphines, which exacerbate undesirable symptoms commonly associated with these disorders.

Similar to how the brain reacts to gluten in these individuals, it is believed that the brain reads these proteins as if they were opioid-like chemicals, like heroin or morphine. These by-products may then affect behavior like a drug would. They can affect speech, reduce the desire for social interaction, increase confusion, delay cognitive and auditory processing, and decrease the ability to feel pain.

This opioid reaction can also become addictive.  For some, the craving for dairy foods can be so intense that eating a yogurt or ice cream produces a feeling analogous to “getting high”. Removing casein usually produces benefits within a month, and sometimes within a week. In some children there is a worsening of symptoms for a few days (similar to a drug withdrawal) followed by improvement. In fact, one mom said that her child adapted to going gluten-free without skipping a beat but upon removing dairy, he started “raiding the fridge for yogurt and cheese” and became aggressive during his withdrawal period. This subsided as the days passed so don’t be surprised if you have a similar experience.

The idea behind removing casein from the diet is to heal inflammation in the gut caused by casein, reduce the level of casomorphines in the system and remove the opioid messaging to the brain which will lead to a reduction in symptoms and improve social and cognitive behaviors and speech.

Before embarking on a casein-free diet, consult your child’s doctor. Because dairy products are one of the main sources of calcium in children, you’ll need to make sure the child’s diet has other good sources of calcium and vitamin D.  Talk with your child’s doctor about fortified foods (ie. calcium-enriched rice milk or coconut yogurt) and/or supplementation to avoid any nutritional deficiencies. Because it is best to get vitamins and nutrients from natural whole foods, I recommend you consult a licensed dietitian or nutritionist who can educate you about the casein-free diet and help tailor a menu to your child’s health needs and taste preferences.

If you choose a casein-free diet you must become aware of the ingredients of everything in your grocery cart. Read labels carefully, because milk or milk products can be present in surprising places, like non-dairy creamers, soy cheeses and soy yogurt and even sausages. Caseinates, such as calcium caseinate, potassium caseinate and sodium caseinate are derived from casein. If you really want to see if a casein-free diet is going to help your child, avoid purchasing any food whose label lists either casein or caseinates, even if it is not a “dairy” food.

In to avoid casein in your cooking, use olive or grapeseed oils instead of butter, or simply omit the cheese in certain dishes (ie. garnish tacos with avocado instead of cheese).

Source of Casein include (but are not limited to):

Animal Milk (all forms: cow, sheep, goat, etc)


Butter flavor




Cheese powder

Non-dairy cheese (check the label for caseinate)




Half & Half

Ice Creams

Milk fat

Milk hydrolysate

Sour cream


Whipped cream



How I Jump Started the Casein-free Process:

When we removed animal milk from our diet, I bought 1 carton each of Rice milk (Costco has the best one, it tastes very much like skim milk and not very much like rice), Almond milk (get the Original, Unsweetened version) and Coconut milk (Unsweetened, Unflavored). I made a taste testing game of it. I blind folded my boys and had them taste each kind and tell me which one they liked the best. Then I used that one for cereal and for drinking. Not one to waste, I used the milks they didn’t like in protein shakes or to make hot cereal (cream of buckwheat or oatmeal). Please remember to purchase unsweetened and unflavored products. There is no point in loading your child up with sugar and artificial flavors as those are implicated in behavioral disorders as well.


When it’s time to transition out of dairy yogurt, I would recommend doing the same thing. Keep in mind that if you choose a soy product, make sure it is made with NON-GMO soy beans. It will say on the label. A lot of children are sensitive to soy, so we try to avoid it in our house.

For ice cream – there are non-dairy ice creams available in pints. You could taste test those as well and use the ones you don’t like in smoothies, etc. However, the non-dairy ice creams are pricey. I make my own popsicles (see Popeye Pushups) or I buy sorbet which is usually non-dairy. We live near a Trader Joes and their sorbets are delicious!


It’s important to note that while I stick with their preferences for drinking and for use with cereal, I do purchase a variety of different milks and keep them on hand for different culinary purposes. This gives their bodies the best of all worlds in that we aren’t too heavy on one kind of product over another (almond milk vs. rice milk, etc).


If you have gone casein-free, please share any tips or ideas on how you implemented the dietary changes in your home. We have many parents who could use your input and support as they attempt to remove casein from their children’s diet. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section in order to benefit our readers.




This post is an excerpt from the ebook: E.A.T. An Italian Mother’s Guide to Going Casein-free in Autism Spectrum Disorders now available on Amazon.  




β-Casomorphin Induces Fos-Like Immunoreactivity in Discrete Brain Regions Relevant to Schizophrenia and Autism http://aut.sagepub.com/content/3/1/67.short


Stanislaw Kaminski, Anna Cielinska, Elzbieta Kostyra (2007). “Polymorphism of bovine beta-casein and its potential effect on health”. Journal of Applied Genetics 48 (3): 189–198. doi:10.1007/BF03195213. PMID 17666771.


Kurek M, Przybilla B, Hermann K, Ring J (1992). “A naturally occurring opioid peptide from cow’s milk, beta-casomorphine-7, is a direct histamine releaser in man”. Int Arch Allergy Immunol 97 (2): 115–120. doi:10.1159/000063326 . PMID 1374738.


Review of the potential health impact of β-casomorphins and related peptides  European Food Safety Agency , Scientific Report (2009) 231, 1-107


beta-Casomorphin-immunoreactivity in the brain stem of the human infant. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8351411


Effect of casein and beta-casomorphins on gastrointestinal motility in rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2319342