My name is Holly Franks, and my son, Ellis Franks, is Autistic with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. I do have his permission to share details of his journey with you. I am a certified Holistic Functional Nutritionist. This is not intended as medical advice, but it is intended as education. I have seen first-hand, significant improvements in behavior, understanding, personality, and outlook on life in general after the implementation of the ketogenic way of eating.
I am so proud of Ketogenic.com for using their platform to expose the life-changing, therapeutic aspects of the Ketogenic way of eating. It is an honor to include our journey to keto and highlight how the ketogenic way of eating has helped my son with symptoms of Autism. I am condensing years of information for this platform, however, an expanded version will be available on my website Be Wildly Well at www.hollyfranks.net for anyone looking for a more detailed journey with more resources mentioned.
Even though my son was developing just fine until he wasn’t (another story entirely), it was never determined he might be Autistic. At 18 months, his pediatrician never noticed his regression, my adult daughter’s friend in college suggested to her that his language was not right; she’d been studying this in school. I hadn’t really realized the sounds he was making now weren’t really words. His face had drooped, and his jawline was very lapsed, he amused us with his inability to form his mouth around a spoon, babies should be eating finger foods anyway, right? I asked for a referral for speech therapy and again it was never suggested that he was Autistic, frankly, they had no education in autism and had no idea what his problem was. I just knew he was nonverbal, he screamed all the time because he wanted so desperately to talk. Managing his frustration was my whole life.
I did what any postpartum depressed mom that felt all alone would do: I gave him a bottle with apple juice! This was his comfort all day and the only way he would sleep. I knew it was a crutch, but I could not go on, and it was the only way we could make. I didn’t know at the time how serious the consequences were to his future self. I know now through my education with the Nutritional Therapy Association that I had indeed set him up for insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, reduced his immune system, fogged his brain, and induced carb addiction. Believe it or not, he had no cows milk or rice or pasta until he was much older. We had the good milk and whole grains, like soy milk and oatmeal with bananas… wrong!
Information was hard to come by on the internet. I was looking at the wrong causes, but nonetheless, I found a protocol that involved high fatty acid supplementation. I bought the Nordic Naturals omega 3, 6, 9 in lemon chewables, and he took these religiously. I taught him sign language words which is a popular trend now, and his frustration was immediately relieved. We watched the Baby Babble DVDs for hours on end. I was very frazzled and post-partum depressed for a number of years so I did the best I could. This is a whole other story within the keto realm. This was the very beginning of our love affair with fats.
Now, I know that this supplementation could have gone a lot further because there is a real protocol called The Nemechek Protocol for Autism and Development disorders by Dr Patrick Nemechek, D.O. We could have been on the road to recovering from injury much sooner had this information been more mainstream. Such is life, and that’s not our story. I only recently became aware of this protocol in the last two years! Which highlights how little mainstream information there is with regard to Autism and recovery.
Fast forward to 3rd grade. My 8-year-old sons anxiety was through the roof, and he was punching me and breaking things. My son was not an aggressive person, so this was completely frightening. A lot of yelling ensued, and I was really freaked out by it. We were in serious crisis mode. I was being blamed for coddling him, and I couldn’t express enough something was very wrong. I wasn’t coddling him. I was holding him up, scaffolding not helicoptering. This was the impetus to seek the diagnostic center in Dallas. I vividly remember thinking it made perfect sense to drive 6 hours east in a snowstorm to get to his 3-month waitlisted appointment that actually took 9 hours and completely froze my windshield wipers several times! Yep, that was me on the side of the road banging the ice off the windshield, “I’m going to make that appointment come hell or high water.”
BAM! Diagnosis: Autism. His Woodcock Johnson IQ was in the 91st percentile, and his social understanding was in the 1st percentile. Wow, he was very intelligent but clueless. I had worked really hard to foster independence, and it just wasn’t happening. I was seriously enlightened that everything I thought I knew suddenly wasn’t. This all made perfect sense though. I had misdirected anger towards all the “professionals” that had no clue. I was ashamed that I had not seen this. I was ashamed that I let the world tell me what is proper social behavior and acceptable for a “good citizen.” I was ashamed that I punished him for a week, and he lost his standing in Taekwondo because he could not get up. I was praised for making him miss the tournament, and driving all the way back home I failed to see this was not defiance; this was defense mode, and I overreacted. He couldn’t get up for a reason. I failed to see he couldn’t brush his teeth because of a sensory issue. I failed to see he didn’t wash his hair because of the water running over his head was fearful.
The concentration of my advocacy and education around our new Autism revelation was centered around making sure he understood what his brain was doing, understanding the behavior triggers, understanding his rights in school, did he need accommodations, finding the “right “groups to join, learning the “right” lingo, everything but nutrition. Knowledge is power in my book. He was always a good student—I never got a call from the school—and he was above average academically. His school Trinity School of Midland was a saving grace, and I will forever be grateful to all those that loved my son. He couldn’t speak until three years old, but then could out-read his peers by four and had an expanded vocabulary. Odd isn’t it?
I had to reduce the anxiety level in our home mostly by changing myself and my response to his behaviors and rethink everything I previously thought would produce a good citizen in the world. I had to get him out of defense mode as I learned from Asperger’s Experts Danny Reade. I had a lot of guilt to deal with at my somewhat abrasive attitude towards his behavior. I just immersed myself in all things Autism but still was not centered around nutrition.
This is where the story gets good for all keto lovers and even for those on the fence. To me it is an all “brainer.”
I stumbled across a hand out at Natural Grocers, about the low-carb, high-fat diet women were doing for hormone and weight loss. I wanted to get my hormones under control and lose weight and live happily ever after, right? I announced we would all be doing this way of eating for at least three weeks. I had to prep his mind for these changes to come so as to avoid rigidity. Luckily the universe was on my side, as the school cafeteria was no longer in service due to renovations, and it was conducive with “making” him take his lunches.
I got him a bento box because all the baggies of different foods weren’t going to cut it; he would not eat food from that many baggies. It had to look good, and he had to “see” the choices all at one time for it to be effective. Now, I wouldn’t worry about him actually eating all the food I could have called it fasting! Fasting was not the craze it is now.
Long story short, I did everything wrong and we had success anyway. I was still trying to mimic a sugar-heavy standard American diet with sugar-free replacements, lots of baked almond flour goods, and adding too much fat to the equation. Fat head dough was a life-saver for pizza though! I never would have made it without sugar-free chocolate Jell-O pudding made with water and cream! I would never recommend that to a client today, but it didn’t kill me. It was very difficult this way because as we know all sweet taste on the tongue creates an insulin response. Eating in general spikes insulin.
For the first time in my life, I was able to calm down and see my tendencies toward dysregulated eating. I did not have blood-sugar crashes, Jekyll and Hyde dissipated, and my stomach didn’t bloat but actually shrank. I didn’t even know what keto flu was back then because we were tired at first but kept adding the fats and made it through. I soon discovered fatty coffee and all was better. Now I know it was the salt and water I needed for electrolytes. This was our very first conversion from sugar burning to fat burning, so all in all it was without too much conflict and subsequent conversions are much easier.
I was unaware of the brain’s role in sugar addiction back then, the brain has been trained to give the body what it wants, so it will seek out carbs all day long. So, understanding the psychology of dysregulated sugar burning is beneficial to know so that you understand that you’re not just a failure. The body doesn’t need any more sugar, as it makes it all on its own. All the factors are working against us until that magic moment when ketosis happens, and we are fat-adapted. I thought this was all about me and a way to get back on track with healthier eating, but wait, what was happening with my son!
The changes I saw in my son were noticeable and worthy of further review. It was like the lights came back on. His little personality started to come back even funnier than before. He was more open to trying new foods. He has only had two meltdowns since! His “rigidity” is up for conversation now. His confidence was such that he did not care or notice if the other boys made fun of him for wearing hot pink tennis shoes to school. His anxiety level has been dramatically reduced by understanding, education, and blood-sugar control! A sense of control and calm is essential for the maintenance of overwhelming sensation of stimuli in the world. It’s been four years! This is a major event! No more sitting at the computer with a blanket wrapped around his head, for security. No more getting under the covers to de-stress. No more illogical reasons for this and that. No more anger towards me for everything. No more pushing me and breaking pencils. He became a hugger again—he’s big on getting his affection quota for the day. His allergies are gone, no more shots, yikes I won’t get into that! He does not have asthma, nor do I even have an inhaler or nebulizer anymore. I do not worry about sending him to summer camp without these medications anymore. He is quite the comedian and makes friends easily. He still prefers to stay home, and we homeschool now. He is very patient with the littles at our homeschool co-op. He still rocks back and forth to regulate his space, a sort of a nervous system stemming, but other than that most people never even know he is Autistic at all.
We have gravitated to a much different version of a ketogenic lifestyle these days. It is so easy to get educated about nutrition when you embark into the “keto world.” I did, and it has given me the functional perspective to use this way of eating therapeutically.
Ellis usually starts his day at 10:00am, joins his school through a virtual program called Willowstar3d, with a Perfect Keto MCT hot chocolate, then usually eats arounds 2:00pm and again at 7:00pm if at all. He drinks a lot of water with salt for absorption. Supplements we are currently using are Dr. Bergs Gallbladder support, Cruciferous Superfood, sea kelp and Sleep Aid, Biotics Beta TCP, Just Thrive probiotics, Walk About emu oil for vitamin K2, D3 and A, and sometimes Ancestral Beef liver and organs. He loves to cook now; his first specialty was fried eggs. We cook with all the usual suspects: duck fat, bacon grease, lard, butter and coconut oil. He likes cauliflower pizza crust now, and zoodles with our spaghetti sauce. He frequently checks his ketones with the Keto Mojo, and actively participates in nutrition for health and life. He loves egg roll in a bowl with lots of cabbage and bokchoy (tamari and ginger are the key), broccoli, green beans, and a big bowl of tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocados with homemade dressing. We keep it simple with just a few ingredient meals. Is it always a win? No, he would love nothing more than to eat Girl Scout cookies all day long and chase that with diet soda and Domino’s. And we have consumed all of those recently, so it is not perfect. We go to Five Guys, Whataburger, Jimmy John’s, and I let him have low-carb tortillas. When we visit theme parks, we load up on healthy fats for breakfast, drink the free water, carry some snacks, and indulge a little. Yay Disney and Universal Studios!
Reducing anxiety is key to symptom management. We know from some of our Keto friends like Allimillerrd.com and The Anxiety Diet that anxiety can be controlled through diet changes, specifically the ketogenic way.
The reason keto is our diet of choice is because we have insulin resistance, carbohydrate addiction, gluten sensitivity, and for the brain therapy from DHA uptake to the brain from animal sources. Plants do not have DHA, they don’t need it, flax isn’t going to cut it. Gut health, (leaky gut, SIBO, dysbiosis) is a major factor in maintaining good brain function, eliminating sensitivities and supporting digestion is how to address these nuances. As you remember, I used apple juice as a mother’s helper to calm him as a child, and we need to correct those consequences. My son knows no bounds when it comes to carbs, there is no signaling to stop, he will eat them in their entirety also a sign of serotonin depletion, so it is not worth it. Fat for long-term fuel, reduced cravings and reduction in eating all costs less because we eat less food.
Currently, I have forbidden diet drinks with sucralose and most noncaloric sweeteners, I have no problem doing that! I am determined to break up with sweetness! I do worry that when he gets out on his own, he will revert to sugar addiction. For now, I have seen a liberation from the constant feeding on sugar that removes the constant pre-occupation with mood stability, cravings, anxiety, nervousness, anger, meltdowns, and self-confidence in order to accomplish other things in life. Healthy fatty acid deficiency is epidemic and is what is needed to keep our brains healthy, hormones working properly, and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients. We literally make no essential foods involving carbohydrates. Our exposure to toxins in the environment requires antioxidants and phytonutrients from veggies as well. The food as medicine wins for us outnumber any TV doctor or celebrity opinion with multiple contracts selling dependency laden carb industry’s gimmicks to consumers that keep us beholden to frequent feeding and cravings and disease.
It is common knowledge among Autism families that removing casein, gluten, and following a Specific Carbohydrate Diet yields good results. I personally believe this does not go far enough. Ketosis can be very therapeutic and regenerative. You will not get this information from most pediatricians or physicians treating your child unless they are specifically educated on Autism and participate in what is considered to be non-mainstream education, such as Generation Rescue, Asperger’s Experts, and TACA (Talk About Curing Autism). Autism conferences like, The Autism Education Summit, present non-mainstream information free from retribution. We know firsthand that science isn’t always science due to so many manipulating factors when dollars are at risk. Seeing Autism clearly requires somewhat of a paradigm shift and each person with Autism is different. Moving outside the comfort of mainstream is my best advice to anyone seeking help for their loved ones. But buyer beware—as with all things, there are people trying to take your money. Google is your friend, so do your research.
Find a source you trust based on personal integrity, not by the number of followers or products on the market. Our version of keto as medicine is old school. Keto has gotten way out there; it’s really not that complicated. My trusted source for all things keto is Norah Gedgaudas, Primal Body Primal Mind, Primal Fat Burner, Rethinking Fatigue, Primal Restoration Certification, an impeccable researcher, author and speaker that cannot be bought. I trust her impeccably and these are my bibles. She is not an Autism expert she is a Brain specialist, certified Nutritionist and Primalgenic keto expert.
I don’t need a Doctor or Psychologist “Autism Expert” to tell me that blood-sugar control is key to insulin resistance and mood stability, or that anxiety must be controlled. No doctor has ever told me the importance of DHA as the most predominant fatty acid in the brain and with EPA, the anti-inflammatory component, is critical to neural function. No professional has mentioned the brain must be repaired, inflammation must be reduced, the gut must be healthy to absorb nutrients and promote serotonin and speak to the brain. Digestive support is critical to all ways of eating and must be evaluated for my Autistic loved one to thrive in order to promote whole-body functioning or homeostasis and this is not exclusive to Autism. This is optimal health for anyone. Keto may not be for everyone, but everyone can benefit from the metabolic state of ketosis. We all may be biologically individual, but there really is only one anatomy and physiology book for all humans. Our bodies all work in the same way, and we all need the same nutrients and supplemental support in appropriate quantities. I choose to keto on!
I graduated from The University of Texas of the Permian Basin with an honors degree in Leadership/Sociology. I was in the nonprofit sector as a Court Appointed Special Advocate CASA, Area Director of Special Olympics Texas, and Client Services Director at The Crisis Center. Currently, I am a certified Functional Holistic Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, NTP and certified as a Primal Restoration ketogenic educator. I practice Functional Evaluation, Lingual Neuro Testing, and Energy Testing. I am also a homeschooling mom and a facilitator at West Texas Homeschool Co-op. My three children and two step-children range in ages from 12–34. I enjoy cooking, gardening, research, Autism advocacy, reading, my grandchildren, rollercoasters, theme parks, traveling, nature, shelling, decorating and paying it forward.