This post is long overdue.
A story I’ve been wanting to share, but just haven’t had the courage to sit down and write.
A story about my son, Piper, a speech disorder, a starving brain, and how real food and a key nutrient played a key role in his rehabilitation.
This is Piper’s story…
In 2009 I found out I was pregnant. The thought of carrying life inside my belly for nine months seemed to be a daunting task. I, like most mothers, wanted to provide my child with the very best start in life. One area of life that wasn’t ideal was food. I ate a Standard American Diet (SAD) of heavily processed foods, low-fat everything and lots of take-out. After spending many nights watching documentaries (like Food Inc.) and reading countless Micheal Pollan books, I was convinced a dietary change had to be made. I cut all the processed food from our life. I also went a step further, a huge step, I eliminated all animal products from my diet. The only animal product I consumed was honey.
I’m talking strict!
My pregnant body, now very close to delivering a new baby, was being nourished solely off plant-based foods and juicing.
March 5, 2010 was the big day. A day I remember very well. Thirty-six hours of natural labor and one eight and half pound baby later, I was a mom!
That first year was a blur. Sleepless nights, new learning curves, hours of baby snuggles, lots of nursing, lots of ear infections, and the sweet scent of a baby.
I had continued with my vegan lifestyle during Piper’s first year. I was proud to have a child who would never be tainted by animal products. A child that would only live off fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Shortly after Piper turned one, I started to observe that his little friends were flourishing verbally. Slowly his friends switched over from baby-talk to understandable words. Piper continued to say that same /mmmm/ and /bbbbb/ sounds. No words, just sounds. Not wanting to compare, I assured myself he was a late bloomer. Words would come soon enough.
When Piper turned two I weaned him from nursing. He seemed to be the ideal eater, a plant-based child. Despite his healthy and growing body, I became concerned about his speech. He continued to only use two sounds to communicate. His vocabulary consisted of around three real words, but even those were hard to decipher. “He’s a late bloomer!” I listened to the other moms share all the cute new phrases and words their children were developing daily.
My heart sank.
He’s gotta be a late bloomer.
I finally voiced my concern to Piper’s pediatrician. A very gentle doctor open to alternative people like our family. I expressed my concerns over his limited vocabulary of now five words. I was desperate and discouraged. I wanted so badly to communicate with my son. I wanted to hear him say his name and “I love you.” Anything! Just words. It seemed as though he was trapped. Longing to communicate, but unable to do so. The doctor checked his records and noticed a trend: ear infections.
Several months later, we sat in the waiting room of an ENT who advised ear tubes. We were told Piper’s ears were blocked with fluid and the tubes were our answer to communicating with our son. Within weeks we were to expect talking.
That’s what I experienced at that moment!
Lots of Hope.
We went through the surgery a week later. I couldn’t wait to hear my son talk! I waited a couple of weeks. Nothing. Another week. Still nothing.
It was at this time that Piper was evaluated by a speech pathologist. The speech pathologist said she believed Piper had something called Apraxia.
Apraxia of speech, also known as verbal apraxia or dyspraxia, is a speech disorder in which a person has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently. The disorder may result from a stroke, head injury, tumor, or other illness affecting the brain. Source
I left with a heavy heart. The prognosis wasn’t good. The speech pathologist recommended speech therapy with as many sessions in a week as possible. We were told the journey of apraxia was long and one that would take many years of therapy to see positive results.
A month after the diagnosis, we found a fantastic speech teacher who was willing to work with Piper in her home a few times a week. A friend also recommended seeking a nutritional counselor as an alternative treatment.
After intense meat cravings during my second pregnancy, I had recently started incorporating pastured meat into our family’s diet; however, we still followed for the most part a plant-based diet. I personally laughed at the idea of my child needing a nutritional counselor. The idea that my child needed counseling on how to eat seemed absurd. I didn’t want to appear proud, so I agreed to get the opinions of the counselor.
During the first meeting, the counselor immediately questioned the fat intake in Piper’s diet. Piper being raised a vegan for the first two years of his life, didn’t care for any animal products and lived off bread and produce. The counselor wasn’t very pleased with that diet.
What could be missing?
We were told to put Piper on fish oil (omega 3’s), doses of vitamin D, and increase his fat content. Apraxia is believed to stem from a neurological disconnect between the brain and the mouth, and the counselor seemed convinced that the omega 3’s and fat were critical links.
I was intrigued.
Over the next few weeks, I bought every book I could find on children and food. Was I depriving my son of critical nourishment which he needed? A missing link?
After scouring the pages of books, particularly Nourishing Traditions, I was convinced Piper needed a diet that nourished his brain.
His brain was starving.
Starving for fat!
In an effort to eat healthier, I had removed nearly all sources of fat, particularly animal fat, from our diets. During the most critical time of brain development I had starved Piper’s brain of a critical nutrient.
Recently it has been discovered that the Omega-3 fats are necessary for the complete development of the human brain during pregnancy and the first two years of life. The Omega-3 fat and its derivative, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), is so essential to a child’s development that if a mother and infant are deficient in it, the child’s nervous system and immune system may never fully develop, and it can cause a lifetime of unexplained emotional, learning, and immune system disorders. Source
The human brain is considered to be the most sensitive organ in the body to food, and is made up of near sixty percent fat. During the first two years of a child’s life the brain triples in volume requiring nourishing foods with lots of good fat. Nearly fifty percent of the food children consume is used for brain growth and fat is critical in this development. Without good fat, the neurotransmitters in the brain can’t properly transmit and a disconnect can easily occur affecting the entire body (emotional, behavioral, learning and language). Good fat is critical in pregnancy and for growing children.
I believe this was a critical piece to Piper’s speech delay. Piper simply needed a diet of real food and essential fat which would nourish his brain.
After nine months of a diet rich in good, traditional fats and real food, Piper today talks and communicates like a mature three-and-a- half year-old. Sure, he says words here and there that are difficult to understand because he leaves off the end sound or has difficulty with the beginning, but he talks (all the time)! He communicates with words people understand. His vocabulary has blossomed from a mere three words and two basic sounds to hundreds upon hundreds of words!
The biggest change that I believe helped Piper was… fat! A diet rich in good fat for a growing brain. We began to see remarkable changes in Piper within just a couple of months of consuming good fat and real food.
Here are the foods that I believe played a critical role in nourishing Piper’s brain:
- Raw, Pastured Whole Milk, Butter, Cream, and Cheese: Rich in fat-soluble vitamins A and D and other crucial nutrients. You can read more about why we consume raw milk, here.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil: Rich in Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docasahexaenoic Acid (DHA). FCLO supplies essential fatty-acids for the brain. I use Carlson brand.
- Soaking and Sprouting Grains: This traditional practice breaks down the phytic acid and anti-nutrients allowing the body to more easily digest protein, fats, and essential amino acids from grains.
- Fermented Foods: Yogurt (homemade recipe; Good Store-Bought Brands: StonyField Grass-Fed, Maple Hill Creamery, Organic Valley Grass Milk Yogurt, and Seven Stars), milk kefir (homemade recipe; Good Store-Bought Brand: Maple Hill Creamery) , water kefir, and kombucha, provide the body with good bacteria. This good bacteria produces essential vitamins the body needs, such as: Vitamin A, B vitamins, and essential fatty-acids.
- Homemade Bone Broth: Provide essential vitamins, minerals, and essential amino-acids. Bone broths are rich in protein and healing properties. I make this broth and use it to cook Piper’s favorite rice and any sauces.
- Pastured Meats: Rich in iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins A, E, and B12. Pastured meat is a healthy source of good fats.
- Egg Yolks from Pastured Eggs: Rich in omega-3 and protein. Most digestible amino-acids available to the body.
I truly believe with these small changes we have been blessed to witness the power of a healthy diet in a child’s life. I believe Hippocrates said it best, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
I’m overwhelmed by the amazing response to Piper’s story. Thank you for commenting and sharing your stories with me over the past eighteen months. It’s truly been a blessing to read emails and comments about the difference real food is making in so many children.
Today, Piper is an energetic five year-old boy who loves to talk and share stories!! He loves playing soccer and Legos. He still consumes a nutrient-rich diet. Piper’s favorite foods are: steak, hard-boiled eggs, lentils, chicken, broccoli, and the Hulkbuster Smoothie.
Here it is 2020 we have fast food vegan burgers and tons of sites selling vegan . Experts agree it is possible for a infant to be raised as a vegan. Next they say it takes planning and working with a cert. dietitian to make sure they get all the nutrients necessary for development. Maybe this gave them more clients. But I do not believe most new vegan moms paid mind to the recommendation. After all , young moms have the internet that knows more than their outdated moms or grandma. I’m sorry you had to find out the hard way but your shared experience will hopefully help the well meaning vegan moms. God bless you. I am the paternal grandma who is not allow to talk about diet any more to save fights . I wish I could find a way for vegan mom (since conception) , to read this . GD is 19 mos old who has problems with speech . She understands great, can say 30 basic nouns and wants to talk but most time utters one”ahhhhhh” sound. Mom thinks it’s cute but everyone else is concerned , kids are annoyed. I have spent time and money to find comparable V foods . Most Vegan have to use supplements that are expensive,over processed ,doubts of absorption , need to become habit, and r non appealing to toddlers or moms . I wish experts would list the cons before the pros when asked if possible to raise a healthy vegan baby. Alot of things are possible. If we are what we eat than a well balanced diet of moderation and variety (not restrictive) will yield well balanced person. I do not believe vegan was with developing babies or pregnant moms in mind . These are the most warned and protected humans. Common sense should alert as to why? . Pregnancy and infants have special needs. I also wonder how many of these vegan moms
were raised vegan ? I doubt many can even get pregnant, if so it may explain their choice. But those new moms who consumed animal products as a child are you not healthy as an adult ? Eat less animal products over an life time is more helpful to environment than no animal products ( finding deficiency) for a short time. Someone should make a viral video concerning our pregnant moms and babies nutrition and major risks of vegan diet during this special time. Thank you
Thank you very much for the quick reply and suggestion about the Deep Nutrition book. God bless!
I echo Lori’s Feb 2018 comment above. Our grandchild (2-1/2), raised as a strict vegan, clearly has apraxia – exactly as Kristen describes Piper’s condition. Any suggestion to his parents that this could be caused by a DHA and/or animal fat deficiency is met by complete and utter anger, derision and denial on their part. I have nowhere to turn and am extremely distraught. I fear they have caused permanent neurological damage to this child.
That’s tough, the only thing I can think is to show them research and present that research in a way that shows you’re not trying to supersede them as parents but just lovingly want to offer other options. The book Deep Nutrition is absolutely one of the best! The second would be Nourishing Traditions.
I hope this helped! Best of luck.
This is so encouraging! I have just started incorporating more good fats vs his bad fats back in and DHA supplements. I have read that probiotics and fiber help bring down inflammation in their small bodies as well so I am hoping this year we see a lot of speech from our little man!
That’s great, Roberta!
Thanks for the story, although it seems to me that a plant based diet is being blamed. A plant based diet can most definitely be considered healthy during pregnancy and beyond. Each person, whether vegan or not, need to do their own research as to what foods to include and what foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Omega 3s can be found in algae. No need to obtain from fish.
Healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds (chia, hemp, etc.) is plentiful in a plant based diet.
Iron rich foods such as beans, lentils and tofu combined with vitamin C foods is also fully available and suitable during pregnancy.
B12 is an American problem.
40% of Americans are deficient whether they are vegan or Not.
So it’s best to supplement. Furthermore, there are plenty of health risks associated with eating meat, dairy and eggs.
I just think that’s important to offer a full story and not blame the plants.
Hey Jennifer, Thanks for sharing.
No culture in history has lived 100% off plants. Personally, I don’t recommend or advocate a vegan diet as healthy, and hope to encourage mothers against such a way of long-term eating. As you mentioned, it’s important to do your own research and dive deep into tradition and what has nourished healthy families for thousands and thousands of years.
I agree, eating dairy, meat, and eggs from our conventional system (which is far from traditional or the way nature intended for those animals to be raised) is not healthy. There’s a HUGE difference between this type of animal product and a cow that’s raised on a local, sustainable farm, on grass. Or chickens raised on pasture with eggs that are so incredibly rich in nutrients–one of the healthiest and most nutrient-rich foods around. Or dairy that’s in a raw state or cultured and fermented. This can be such beautiful, live-giving food. But we have to look at the source. When this food is raised in a regenerative, sustainable way, it’s far more healthy and sustainable (way better for you and the earth) than any supplement can ever be. (Supplements are produced in a lab with ingredients that are much harder for our bodies, most of the time, to use and digest).
Thank you for this story. My daughter & her husband, who she thinks is a genius, are insisting on raising their son vegan. He is 16 months old and has done very well. He was breast fed until about a month ago and now I am worried sick about his health due to an only plant based diet. They are digging in their heels about this and have a few friends and relatives who are living vegan. I’ve tried so hard to get them to also fed him healthy animal products and nothing will work. We have found organic farms in the area that sell grass fed organic meats but they won’t even consider feeding him meat, fish, or cow’s milk. I would say he is feed as well as a vegan can be but I am so worried about his health. She also has a friend who is raising her children vegan. The eldest is 7 and they have thrived but I’m still terribly scared for my grandson.
Thank you for sharing the testimonies about your son. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder (mild autism) years ago and when I heard that there was some studies linking it to food or diet, something inside of me grabbed hold of that, so that I had no more doubt. I now eat gluten-free, dairy-free, no gmo-foods, no additives and all that, and trying now to eat exclusively organic, as I find that eating organic really helps with energy, appetite, and motivation.
It was learning about your son that helped me to learn more about fat, and now I will focus more on eating more fats from fish and especially krill, and not so much focus on eating flax. I’ve been wondering why I haven’t had too much of an appetite for it over the past months. And eating other healthy fats from seeds and nuts.
I find that if I want to stay away from the unhealthy fats found in the vending machine, I need to eat my healthy fats FIRST, so that I will have less vulnerability to caving in to eating the unhealthy ones, so that I will be satisfied, and that I need to eat my healthy sugars FIRST, to have power to avoid the unhealthy ones, but that if I try to cut out the unhealthy foods first, that my body will go on strike. I need to fill up first on the good stuff.
It’s refreshing to hear from you talk about the health benefits of healthy fats, and thank you for doing the research and looking. Thank you very much. You’ve motivated me to eat more fish. 🙂 and other healthy fats.
I enjoyed reading Piper’s story so much! Thank you so much for posting, and for sharing your son’s helpful supplements. Can you please clarify which Fermented Cod Liver Oil you use? Carlson doesn’t have one.
Thank you again,
Hey Pat, Thank you. I used Green Pastures with Piper, but I’m not sure if they make it anymore. It tasted awful, so I would have to find ways to sneak it into his diet. I prefer Carlsons Cod Liver Oil, which isn’t fermented. It’s rated very highly (or was) by the Weston A. Price Foundation.
My son has Apraxia and autism. He is an extremely picky eater, vegetables and meat is next to impossible to get him to eat. Do you have any suggestions s for me on how to incorporate your diet for my son’s needs? Thanks!
I know this is an old thread but glad to found this site and your advice. My daughter is 6 with apraxia and was interesting to hear the dietary suggestions! We have been trying dairy free (not Much help) does your child still take the supplements like cod liver oil? We do fish oil now. What was the biggest help in the your journey? Will have to get this book.. hoping we have the great success you and your son has had! Thank you!
Hey Holly, We do Carlsons fish oil now. The fermented cod liver oil was getting a bit too fishy for us. I think adding fat to his diet was the biggest help–egg yolks, butter, etc.
Your experience should be heeded by all people especially pregnant women. The B.S spewed by so called experts have and are destroying our overall health. The raging against sugar is dangerous. Sugar is the main building block of cells. When someone is near death in a hospital they are given a IV of sugar water. The cravings you had during pregnancy was your body telling you that you needed the nutrients in that food. The same is true for anyone craving a certain food. Maybe there is a connection between Autism and a pregnant mother not getting enough fat and sugar in their diet while pregnant.
Thank you, Joyce, for sharing!