A few months ago I wrote this story…
Today my son had an optometrist appointment. The first in many, I predict, because apparently he is very far-sighted in his left eye. Today was a first in two ways: his first eye exam and the first doctor’s appointment where my son actually acted like a well-adjusted 10-year-old. Ever since he could walk, or climb rather, I dreaded taking my son to his doctor’s appointments. He has always had a hard time sitting still, answering questions, paying attention, doing as the doctor asked, and so on and so forth. I just chalked it up to being nervous when put under the microscope, until his last physical a few months ago when we got a new doctor. She actually opened the dialogue about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD. She brought this up because, like most doctor visits previous to this, my son could not sit still during the exam. He rode the doctor stool around the room, climbed up and down off of the bed repeatedly, interrupted my conversation with the doctor and asked questions about the magazines on the wall, and he talked like a baby when the doctor asked him questions. She also said that she thought his hyperactivity and some bumps on his skin could be caused by a gluten sensitivity and that I put him on a gluten-free diet and note any changes—which we have started the process in the last few months.
Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive on the way to the optometrist appointment. It is hard to try to talk to a doctor when your son is being so disruptive. But, the most amazing thing happened, we had a great visit! He didn’t ride the doctor’s stool around, he didn’t climb in and out of the eye exam chair or fidget with any of the exam equipment and I think it was mainly because my son ate an orange– during his exam. I know what you’re thinking, how does eating an orange change things? Well, I think it worked like this: he had something to do during the visit to distract himself from his feelings of overwhelm and nervousness and somewhere to direct his fidgety energy.
I kept waiting for his “normal” disruptive behavior to appear, for him to start messing with the exam equipment or start talking like a baby, but he didn’t. He just kept working at that orange, eating each section slowly and only a little bit at a time so that he could still answer the doctor’s questions. Granted we peeled the orange before we went in so the peel wasn’t an issue, I just wasn’t sure what he would do with it! Sometimes you can’t predict the actions of your kids and that’s when orange peels go flying.
A couple of other factors to consider that may have contributed to this successful doctor’s visit, one: he had something healthy to eat prior and during the visit, raising his blood sugar, two: we discussed appropriate behavior before the exam (something we always do, as I feel the need to remind him that he is a mature ten-year old, who can speak in his own voice and is articulate, and that it’s o.k. to be bored it is just not o.k. to jump, run, or climb on anything unless directed to do so by the doctor!), and three: we have been weaning ourselves off of gluten and onto a gluten-free diet over the past month as I learn how to prepare gluten-free foods for our family. I believe it was the power of the orange, though, that tipped the scale. I liken it to that of using a stress ball to calm oneself in stressful situations.
I told my son that I thought that the orange helped him stay calm during the exam. He didn’t really see the magic of it, but I sure did! From now on, I am going to just nonchalantly give him an orange to eat before we go in for doctor’s exams and see if it is a reliable distraction/outlet for his nervous energy. It’s worth a try, and if anything it’s a healthy gluten-free snack!
I wanted to share this story with you because I feel that it is important to realize the profound impact that food can have on behavior. We have since discovered that our son is very sensitive to refined sugar. Gluten does not seem to affect his behavior in a negative way, but refined sugar absolutely does. We have found that he can eat honey, maple syrup, agave, and coconut palm sugar with no ill-effects. I just thought it would be interesting to share this story. I hope that it was.