Tom loves his sports. He has had a hectic schedule of activity inside and outside school. In my view this has been essential for Tom, who otherwise struggles to settle to his academic work. If he has had a good run around in the morning, he has a good day at school. He's always been like this.
Then recently, as he turned ten, he moved up a year at school, started working a longer school day, got more homework and we had a change round at home (of that, more to follow later). Suddenly he was exhausted and didn't have enough time to do his school work as well as all the sports. Within two weeks he dropped all his out-of-school and after school clubs to release more time. Now he had more time for his schoolwork, but still seemed to struggle to get it done. He found it really hard to concentrate, to remember what to do, to plan and complete big projects. He started getting into trouble for misbehaving in class - shouting out, not waiting his turn, not sitting still, not concentrating - and into a whole lot more trouble at home for not thinking of others, not doing his daily tasks, basically what seems like persistently not thinking, listening and/or concentrating.
We struggled with this for about four months. It caused a lot of strain in the family. Then finally we decided it was time to act. We began exploring whether Tom might have some sort of hyperactivity disorder.
I started by speaking to his (luckily very experienced, male) teacher. I was both relieved and surprised by what he said - "Tom's behaviour doesn't strike me as extreme enough to be a hyperactivity disorder, but it is typical of what I would expect of a severely allergic child". He should know. Not only has he taught quite a number in his career, he has two severely allergic children of his own.
That comment stuck in my head, mostly because I didn't know what he meant. Nobody had ever told me that it might be possible for Tom's allergies to affect his behaviour. And that's despite previously having asked various doctors and specialists whether it was possible his medication was making him over-active. I guess they'd all assumed I'd been told, or they didn't have enough evidence to prove whether or not it might be true. Of course, I'd read about artificial colourings and flavourings and the effects they can have on some children, but Tom's diet already excluded them...
We started seeing a family counsellor. It goes without saying, of course, that not all of our problems stem from Tom's behaviour. We all play our role in the stresses of family life. But there is something about Tom that I can't quite put my finger on. I've had a long time worrying about such things in the past. Quite often they have turned out to be important.
So yesterday I had a bit of spare time sitting around, waiting (I've been obliged to act as a Juror for the next couple of weeks and I was waiting for the trial to start). I had taken an intersting looking book out of the library - "Raising a Son" by Don and Jeanne Elium (3rd Edition, First Celestial Arts publ., 2004) - partly because I saw it had a chapter on Attention Deficit Disorder. I guess I wanted to learn more about ADD and ADHD, and to check whether Tom's behaviour was in any similar to what they described.
Suddenly, there it was again "The first step is to discuss (your) son's problematic behaviour with the family doctor. He or she will want to rule out other possible causes, such as .... allergies...". It was one of those electric lightbulb moments.
So today (during another quiet moment) I was revved up to see if I could find out more. Googling on my i-phone I got straight to some illuminating articles, including this particularly intersting quote from Food For The Brain and an article entitled "Understanding Food Allergies" - "As many as .... probably....one in three (adults and children) with behavioural problems react allergically to common foods such as milk, wheat, yeast and eggs. The knowledge that allergy to foods and chemicals can adversely affect moods and behaviour in children has been known, and ignored, for a very long time."
And what surprised me most of all, was my reaction - a Positive Reaction - a combination of discovery, revelation, understanding and relief. At last, here is a plausible reason why Tom might be more active than other children which did not involve him having another new label, another biological condition to be managed, or even just underlying early adolescent attitude problems! It just might be a previously unknown (to me) side effect of his allergic condition.
And so begins another new leg in our journey of living with food allergies!
Now I have to find out more, understand more, work out what it means, and hopefully identify some changes we might be able to make that will help Tom to improve his behaviour without giving this so much focus that our other, non-allergic kids become jealous or develop their own behavioural challenges through lack of attention to them. Hopefully it might mean changing his diet. After all, we have plenty of practice at doing THAT!
Can you help?
If you know any useful, reliable, authoritative sources of information about understanding and managing hyperactive behaviour in children with food allergies, please let me know - and I will keep you up to date with our journey and what I learn along the way. And if you have a similar story to Tom's, I'd also love to hear from you!
In response to my tweet asking "Have your child's food allergies affected their behaviour?" I received a number of positive replies, including the following
"Yes, yes and yes! My own difficult child became calm and cheerful once gluten-free" (with thanks to @GlutenFreeUAE)
"Definite brain / gut connection!" (with thanks to @GailLummis)