The week of September 20 is Autism Awareness Week at DietsInReview.com. The Parhams join us to share their story.
Phillip and Amy Parham were contestants on season six of The Biggest Loser where they lost a combined total of 256 pounds. They have three children: Austin, (14), Pearson (12), and Rhett (9). They continue to inspire people through their website and social network PhilAndAmyFitness.com and through “90 day fitness challenges” that they conduct across the country. In June 2010 they will release a book entitled “Dream Again: Phil and Amy’s 90 Day Fitness Challenge” and a companion DVD.
When it was first suggested to me that my son Rhett might have autism I instantly thought about Raymond on the movie “Rain Man.” Suddenly my life became about trying to “fix” Rhett. So I went out in search of every therapy, diet, and program I could find to do this. I soon learned the reason that they call autism a “spectrum” disorder. A child could have autism and not be able to speak a word. Or they could be like Rhett and talk all the time, but not really have a conversation. They could be highly intelligent or mentally retarded. They could take care of feeding and clothing themselves or they could need assistance with these things. We were some of the “lucky” ones. Rhett could go to the bathroom, feed himself, communicate his basic needs, and he kept eye contact and was affectionate towards us. Because autism is different for every child diagnosed with the disorder, not every therapy or diet works for every child.
Although I now know that autism has no cure, I did find things that helped him to function better. I had heard that wheat gluten and the casein in dairy products caused a reaction in some children with autism. So we put the family on a gluten and casein free diet. We did this for about a year, and although it did calm him down some, we had to weigh the toll it had on our budget and our other children. Our children already felt like they were making so many sacrifices for Rhett’s disability. The fact that they couldn’t have pizza every once in a while like “normal” kids became a sacrifice that seemed unnecessary.
Now, since we have been on the Biggest Loser, we have learned that many of the processed foods and drinks high in sugar that we allowed our children to have were just as bad for them. We have eliminated all of those things. We only drink water, skim milk, and juice, and eat fast food very rarely. Our children’s ability to focus and follow directions has seemed to increase tremendously. They also have more energy. We are definitely not perfect and are continuing to try and live a healthier lifestyle, but our children are healthier and we hope happier as a result of the changes that we have made.