A Child's Food Allergies
by Jane Brooks
AEHA Quarterly   Winter/Spring 1994 - 1995

I came back from yet another trip to the doctor feeling angry and confused.  Yet again, I’d failed to make him understand the extent of the problems I felt my child had.  I decided to write it all down - maybe then someone would take notice.  I made a list of the symptoms I had to deal with in my one-year-old daughter.

v 8 months of continuous ear, chest and viral infections;
v constantly runny noses;
v eczema;
v red rashes on her face;
v frequent vomiting after milk;
v frequent crying, screaming and unhappiness (the midwife nick-named her Mrs. Angry on day 3!);
v extreme sleeplessness, day and night;
v aggressiveness towards other children
v terrifyingly reckless behaviour;
v clumsiness leading to numerous accidents, bumps and bruises;
v refusal to eat except for a very limited range of foods;
v constant restlessness - never still or calm.

Yet, in spite of all this, I dearly loved her, especially when there were glimpses of a lovely little character beneath all the frantic and miserable behaviour.  I looked at the list again.  I could see what the doctor meant; there was nothing very out of the ordinary.  At some point most mothers have to cope with one or more of these problems during their child’s development - what was I making all the fuss about?  Then I remembered I was making a fuss because I was having to cope with all the problems at the same time - all the time - it couldn’t be normal, could it???

I talked to health professionals and other mums in an effort to get things in perspective and quite naturally I was inundated with a mass of well meaning and indeed greatly appreciated advice.  The problem was that all the advice had a recurring theme running through it:  it all seemed to boil down to something I was or wasn’t doing.

v I was over-anxious;
v I wasn’t disciplining her enough;
v I was over-compensating for having gone out to work;
v I was suffering from stress and depression;
v I was failing to develop good sleeping habits in my child, and letting bad ones set in;
v I was using the wrong washing powder;
v I was expecting too much of her;
v I was failing to understand that child rearing is difficult for everyone, especially first time mums;
v I was using up too much of the doctor’s time;
v I wasn’t cooking an imaginative, fresh enough or well balanced enough diet to tempt my child to eat;
v I wasn’t keeping the house dust free;
v I was doing too much for her;
v I was basically alone and I wasn’t coping.

The funny thing is that the last time I looked I thought I had been a happy, confident and competent adult able to spend the day with 33 five-and six-year-olds and not turn a hair - where had I gone wrong?  Why couldn’t I cope with one small, helpless, screaming bundle?

I could see either a nervous breakdown or a battered baby looming on the horizon depending on which part of me snapped first.  But I kept hearing a little voice telling me that this wasn’t right, this really wasn’t the way it was meant to be.

Then something happened that changed everything.  That little voice inside me was joined by the stronger, wiser voice of my neighbour.  Many years before, her own child had shown intolerance to certain foods in the most surprising ways.  Indeed, fourteen years on “Refreshers”, those apparently innocuous fruity sweets, are still banned from the house.

My neighbour inspired me to return to the doctor yet again.  But this time I had something specific to say.  I didn’t just ask for help with problem behaviour, I wanted to be referred to a specialist in diet-related illnesses.  The result was amazing.  I had finally found the magic key.  At last I had access to people who believed me, took my problem seriously, sympathized and took simple but positive steps to help.

As soon as I made some simple changes to my child’s diet things began to improve.  They continue to get better as I learn more.  In fact, I’m now so optimistic that I believe Freya will soon put all her difficult early months behind her.  Even my own sense of isolation is beginning to fade, especially because in the last few weeks close family have finally understood what Freya and I have been going through.

I still feel angry that most of the primary health care professionals I turned to for advice had neither the relevant knowledge nor the ability to support me in my desperation.  It seems to me now that the people most likely to understand a specific problem are those who have experienced it themselves, so I have joined the hyperactive children’s support group as the link between hyperactivity and food allergy is a strong one.  This organization has sent me a wealth of advice, including scientific research.  I only wish I’d known about it all before, rather than having to discover it all in spite of some of the first-base professionals.  The more I read the more I am amazed by the implications of diet for children’s health, behaviour and development.

There are thousands of studies now on aspects of diet and their effect on children.  Internationally, the medical profession is beginning to recognize and understand the problem, but it is still hard work to get beyond the primary health professionals - the doctors and health visitors for example - to the wealth of marvellous allergy specialists and dieticians out there, more than ready to help.

The problem for diagnosis is that every child reacts differently to a wide variety of substances.  My daughter reacted most severely to dairy products - (in fact it was the severity of reaction that helped us recognize the problem early) - but oranges, wheat products and artificial colours and preservatives are other common offenders out of a huge list of natural and artificial substances that can cause a wide variety of responses.  For my family it has meant a complete overhaul of our diet.  For a friend, she knows she just has to keep her children from having squashes with certain colours in if she is to avoid an explosion of excitable behaviour.

Whatever the change it’s been worth it to me to see the bright, attractive, happy, sociable and fairly co-operative child that eats well and sleeps for 11 hours every night - I knew she was there, I just couldn’t always find her.

If you are struggling with a “difficult child” or one who doesn’t eat or sleep or communicate well - there could be a number of reasons.  It could be teething; it could be a phase, but please, please don’t rule out the possibility that there could be a dietary influence.

Reprinted from The Journal of the Hyperactive Children’s Support Group, 71 Whyke Lane, Chickster, West Sussex P019 2LD.