Our family is what is commonly referred to as a "blended family". When we were arried in January 1992, Steve inherited a "package deal" which included my two children, auren and Mark, from my first marriage. Nicholas was born in October 1993.

Our six-year journey with Nicholas began early in 1996 when he was almost three. We were living in Wagga Wagga. Steve and I were in our late thirties, and Lauren and Mark were 13 and 10 respectively.

We are a Defence Force family, which means we are required move around a fair bit. This also means that we endure complications and added stresses that most non-transient families can only begin to imagine.

When Nicholas was born he came into this world in the usual way, a normal pregnancy, and no problems during labour or childbirth. He was a completely normal child in every way until around the age of three. He started to become difficult to manage from a behavioural point of view.

I was 30 weeks pregnant at that time, with Elise, and due to complications I was confined to bed for the last 10 weeks of my pregnancy. Steve was not allowed to take leave so we had to fly my mum down from Brisbane to help out for the first five weeks, and then for the last five weeks we had Steve’s parents, also from Brisbane, stay with us to help out until I was back on my feet. We put Nicholas’ bad behaviour down to having to cope with different people, different sets of rules, different ways of doing things etc. and told ourselves that everything would return to normal in time.

Elise was born in August and things did not improve. I mentioned Nicholas’ behaviour to the clinic sister when I took Elise to be weighed and measured, and she felt that perhaps he was feeling neglected because his new baby sister was taking a lot of the attention way from him. We enrolled him into preschool. We felt that perhaps if he were to ecome involved in something special just for him, something to improve his self-esteem, his behaviour would improve.

He settled into preschool really well and thoroughly enjoyed it. He was always very well behaved at preschool but the behaviour at home did not improve. This became the pattern of our lives for the next six years. He became obsessive about little things such as his bath. It was either too hot or too cold. It didn’t really matter what temperature it was, it was just never the way he wanted it no matter what we did.

We survived fairly well for the rest of that year and remained in Wagga Wagga until the end of 1997. Nicholas’ behaviour did not get any worse, nor did it improve. We told ourselves that since we seemed to skip the terrible two’s that perhaps this was just a bad case of the terrible three’s instead. I hasten to add that I did not experience any of these behaviours with Lauren or Mark, nor did I go through much in the way of the terrible two’s with them. Lauren and Mark were always very well behaved both in the home, and out and about, so this was a whole new experience for me.

At the end of 1997 Steve was posted to Darwin, and we spent an enjoyable Christmas with our families in Brisbane en route. We arrived in Darwin in mid January of 1998 and this is where our journey really started to get rough.

Nicholas started preschool five mornings a week and he became very tired with no energy. We put the tiredness and low energy levels down to the humidity and extreme heat of the tropics and the fact that up until our move to Darwin, he had lived all of his life in a cold climate. Nicholas was born in Canberra, and had spent the past two years living in Wagga Wagga before moving to Darwin. He started to lose weight, which we put down to the fact that Steve is very tall and that Nicholas had inherited the "tall" gene and was starting to grow. We decided he was going to be a tall, skinny child and didn’t think too much more about it. The behaviour was getting steadily worse but still only at home and never at preschool.

In March of 1998, I decided it was time to take Nicholas to the doctor because he was now 3½, still a bed wetter at night, and still no improvement in his behaviour. We were referred to one of Darwin’s best paediatricians. Nicholas had an ultra sound done on his bladder to rule out any nasties. This indicated that he had a large bladder capacity, which meant that he should be able to store the urine and make it through the night without any problems. Our paediatrician only ever used medication as a last resort after exploring all other options, and we were in total agreement of this. It was decided to put Nicholas back into night nappies, which we did, and given a bit more time and maturity, hopefully things would fall into place.

Initially, the bed-wetting was the bigger concern and the behaviour was secondary. Gradually, the priorities were reversed. Nicholas’ energy levels deteriorated and his weight loss continued. The dreadful behaviours worsened. As time went on all these things became serious issues. The volume of urine each night was no longer contained in the night nappy, and the behaviour went from bad to worse, to down right disgusting, with many violent outbursts. He became more obsessive. He had to have the yellow bowls and plates in our multi coloured dinner set, and he had to have his shoelaces the exact same length. If he didn’t get his own way, a huge tantrum would ensue.

Nicholas’ weight loss continued and he was now looking so thin and unhealthy that he looked like a prisoner of war. His energy levels were so low that he would be playing on the floor of our living room and tell me he was tired. I would tell him to go and have a rest but he didn’t want to. By the time I turned around to do something, and looked back at him, he would be asleep on the floor mid play.

Our paediatrician decided to try a medication called Periactin, which was supposed to kick start Nicholas’ appetite. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to work. Our paediatrician then decided the behaviour might improve with a change in diet. He started to tell us about the chemicals in food, both natural, and added. He had a basic knowledge of this but decided to refer us to a dietician.

The dietician that we saw also only had a basic knowledge of food chemicals. She did her best but really couldn’t answer any of my questions and was of no real help except for one very important piece of information. She wrote down the name of a local lady by the name of Sue Dengate, whom she said had a support group for people like us, and knew a lot about diet. She did not have a contact phone number or any other details. She also recommended that I buy the book Friendly Food that was recommended by RPAH. The book was about avoiding allergies, additives and problem food chemicals.

I went straight from the dietician’s rooms to our local bookshop where I purchased the Friendly Food Cook Book. The woman who ran the bookshop asked me if I’d read the book Fed Up by Sue Dengate. I hadn’t, and the store was out of stock. This prompted me to try to find Sue’s phone number in the local phone book. Prior to contacting Sue, I phoned my mum in Brisbane to ask her to try to get hold of the book and send it to me.

I eventually got my copy of Fed Up and was shocked at what I read by both the natural and the added food chemicals. Nicholas was much worse in Darwin than he was in Wagga Wagga and our paediatrician said that it could be as simple as changing our bread. He said that in Darwin, because of the humidity, the breads had a lot more preservative in them than the breads down south. In the tropics the bread goes mouldy much quicker. I began reading food labels for the first time in my life and discovered that our bread which we all ate at least once a day, had preservative in it. This was only the beginning. After making contact with Sue I began to realise how fortunate I was to have her, especially living in our local area, because she has saved our lives on numerous occasions over the years.

The biggest hurdle for me in coming to terms with the failsafe diet was that I had to completely change my way of thinking when it came to foods. I had been raised on a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables and this was how we were raising our children. The obvious additives and preservatives were things that I could comprehend very easily as being "nasty" and I was more than happy to eliminate things like red cordial and "junk" food, although we really didn’t eat a great deal of junk food.

The most difficult thing for me then, and even now, was coming to terms with the natural food chemicals that seemed to be in just about every fresh fruit and vegetable imaginable. In our early days of the failsafe diet, I went through a very real period of mourning. I mourned the fact that my son could no longer eat many of the fresh fruits and vegetables that most people ate and took for granted in their daily lives. I also mourned the fact that I had to take away many of the things which he truly loved, such as bananas, cheese, burritos, and much more. I was concerned about his nutrition because this new way of eating did not leave him with very much, and his weight from the age of three had always been a concern to us.

I quickly discovered the importance of reading the labels on everything I bought at the supermarket. It is something that you have to be totally diligent about because what is considered "safe" one week could be considered "unsafe" the very next week. A simple thing like a change in the ingredients can make a huge difference between a "safe" product and an "unsafe" product. One mistake could be the difference between whether the diet was successful or not.

In the beginning we made many mistakes but with trial and error, and the guidance of Sue, we managed to make our way through this dietary minefield and come to some semblance of what could be called our new normality. A diet with very limited fresh fruit and vegetables in comparison with our past life of a diet, which consisted of no limits at all, when it came to "healthy" foods and fresh fruits and vegetables.

We implemented the failsafe diet (the elimination diet recommended by RPAH), and with Sue’s guidance we managed to avoid a lot of the common mistakes and pitfalls. It is not an easy diet to do as a beginner and so to have her help in this was invaluable. Initially, the whole family went failsafe in order to support Nicholas. We remained failsafe for quite a long time but eventually we all went back to our normal diet, except of course for Nicholas.

We still don’t eat chocolate or any of the stuff he really loves in front of him. We try to "escape" if we feel the urge to be a bit naughty as we are very aware of his feelings. Nicholas did show considerable improvement once we got past the dreadful withdrawal symptoms, however, the improvement although noticeable was not enough and so we continued in our search to get our lovely little boy back. The calm, gentle beautiful little boy that we once had and were not prepared to give up without a fight.

We noticed that Nicholas used to get particularly irritable just before meal times, so when Steve mentioned this to our paediatrician he told us to try an over the counter complex sugar called Poly-Joule. We left the surgery shaking our heads in exasperation and thinking "yeah right" that will work. We were extremely surprised to discover that it did in fact work and he was the best he’d been in a long time.

Nicholas had already been tested for diabetes because his paternal grandfather is an insulin dependant diabetic, and so are two of his cousins. The success of Poly-Joule prompted our paediatrician to put Nicholas in hospital for two days and a night for some specialised fasting tests. Bloods and urine were taken at specific intervals over a 24hr period of total fasting except for water. At about ¾ of the way through the testing Nicholas started to have a "hypo" which resulted in an immediate halt to the tests.

The official results of these tests were that Nicholas had a very rare form of Hypoglycaemia called Ketotic Hypoglycaemia. We were then advised by our paediatrician to give Nicholas regular doses of Poly-Joule so that his sugar levels remained stable instead of up and down like a roller coaster. We then decided that the Ketotic Hypoglycaemia was the main cause of these dramatic mood swings and behaviours.

We continued with the failsafe diet as well as the Poly-Joule and again we saw some
improvement, but once again it was not enough. The disgusting behaviours continued and I again contacted Sue in desperation. She suggested we implement 1,2,3 magic and very generously loaned us the video. We were very impressed with this simple technique so we decided to try it. The implementation of this behavioural technique saved our lives, and to this day, continues to play an important role in our lives. Once again, over time, we saw some improvement, and once again it still wasn’t enough.

We again went back to our paediatrician who decided to put Nicholas on a one- week trial of Ritalin. By this stage we were desperate people and willing to try just about anything. At the end of the week we again contacted our Paediatrician and told him that it really didn’t seem to have any effect on the behaviours. We now know that medication, like diet, requires fine-tuning, and adjustment to be effective. It was unfortunate that the paediatrician did not mention this to us at the time. We were, at this stage of our journey, very much in a period of trial and error.

He referred us to a visiting psychologist who said he’d like to hypnotise Nicholas and put Steve and I on medication. I decided this was somewhat extreme to say the least and informed our paediatrician that I would not be going back.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that this was pretty much as good as we could get, although things were still not good, and that is putting it mildly. The bed-wetting continued and so we were referred to a visiting neurologist who asked us to measure the capacity of Nicholas’ urine output. We did this and were told that he definitely should have the capacity to be able to store his urine overnight. He also recommended the bell, pad and alarm system to try and rectify the problem.

Our paediatrician decided that Nicholas was too young for the bell, pad and alarm system, so he prescribed Minirin, a nasal spray medication that is designed to stop bedwetting. We were told to give him half the minimal dose for his age and weight and after only three doses Nicholas was rushed from school to hospital in an ambulance because he was having a seizure. Blood tests taken at the time showed low sodium but nothing more. Seizures were one of the known side effects of this drug but it was extremely rare. Nicholas was one of the rare ones.

During these years Nicholas’ behaviour remained disgusting and it continued to be that way, but only at home. He never showed any of the violence at school, and never at the paediatrician, or our local GP. I would tell the doctors and teachers about his behaviour at home, and they would look at me as if I was some kind of neurotic woman. I began to feel as though I was from another planet. I also began to doubt my skills as a parent.

Relationships in our house were strained to say the least. There were times when Steve felt like leaving, and there were times when I felt the same way. Fortunately, we never both felt this way at the same time. I had many desperate teary phone calls to Sue during this time and several similar desperate calls to our paediatrician. I enquired about respite care because I felt I desperately needed a break. As a Defence Force family we were completely on our own with no extended family for support.

Relationships between Nicholas and our two teenagers were also strained. My eldest daughter wanted to leave home because things were so bad and so desperate, and she’d had about as much as she could handle. My eldest son just couldn’t stand Nicholas and every time he was near him he would pinch, prod, poke, or annoy him in some way. I would never catch him doing it but I would always catch Nicholas retaliating and that would result in immediate time out for Nicholas.

In those days Nicholas had such dreadful behaviour that I made the mistake of blaming him whether it was his fault or not. It took me a number of years to catch on to what big brother was doing. I remember one occasion where things got so desperate that I went back to our GP and asked him what we should do. We had been going to our aediatrician for over two years and still did not have the result we desperately needed.

Our GP gave me this piece of very important advice. He said, "love this child, he is not doing this on purpose, no child ever wants to be like this". I have remembered this piece of advice and over the years it has helped to keep me going. I kept telling myself when things got rough that it was not deliberate, but that these behaviours were uncontrollable.

Time out and behaviour management strategies were effective up to a point, but Nicholas would never go to his room voluntarily. He always had to be carried there, kicking and screaming. I lost count of how many times he broke my watchband in the ensuing struggle to get him up two flights of stairs to his room. The older he got, the bigger and stronger he became, which made him much more difficult for me to deal with. He was super strong when he was in full tantrum mode and I started to have real concerns about how I would manage him, as he got older.

The years of difficulty and stress really took a toll on us as a family. My enquiries into respite care led to a dead end because there was none available to us in Darwin at that time. I had reached desperation and was seriously considering fostering Nicholas out because I was reaching the point where I was afraid that I might lose control one day and hurt him. At that stage the only thing that stopped me was my love for my son, and the determination I had to keep going, and to keep trying, and my unwillingness to give up. I felt that if his own mother couldn’t deal with him, then who could?

I used to suffer badly from hormonal, monthly mood swings with every menstrual cycle so I made the decision to have a hysterectomy. I felt that if I was in one of my "moods" at the same time Nicholas was having one of his violent tantrums, that this was a combination, which was destined to end in disaster.

My GP was supportive of my decision because I’d had four children, two girls and two boys, I had just turned forty, and I definitely did not want any more children. My hysterectomy was never considered to be a drastic measure on my part; it was simply necessary for me to survive. It was, for me, the best thing I could have done, and I have no regrets about that what so ever.

Nicholas in the preschool year was never disruptive or badly behaved in that environment. He did not join in very much with the other children, particularly in singing or dancing, or anything where he had to really let himself go and have fun. He was always very stiff and controlled. I remember seeing his teacher once grab both his hands and physically move his arms to do the actions for a song they were singing up on stage. He hated it. He showed very little in the way of emotions, he very rarely smiled, and was very rarely spontaneous with anything, both in conversation, and in the form of gestures. He had a marked delay in his speech and I was forever explaining to people that if he did not answer a question straight away, he was not being rude; it simply took a while for him to process his thoughts.

In his first year at school he was fortunate to have a teacher who was very supportive and who also had a son with ADD. She asked me if Nicholas had ADD and I said no, our paediatrician had never even mentioned this as a possibility. Nicholas has always been an excellent reader, and very good at maths. His writing however, was very poor. It was very difficult to read and I was worried at one stage that he might have been dyslexic. He wrote a lot of his letters and numerals backwards or like the mirror image. He never completed any of his written work. In the first year of school this was not too much of a concern, and on his report it was written that he is a good, well-behaved little boy who daydreams. His teacher suspected processing problems of some sort and so it was recommended that we take him for hearing and eye tests, both of which came back
saying that everything was fine.

In his second year of school his teacher had trouble getting him to stay on task. She tried keeping him in at lunchtime; but he didn’t seem to care, and still did not complete his work. I mentioned his inability to stay on task and complete his work to our paediatrician. He was not overly concerned because Nicholas was so good at reading and maths. Nicholas became very clever at covering up his weaknesses.

At the end of his second year of school, our third year in Darwin, we were offered a posting to Sydney. We thought long and hard about accepting this posting because our eldest daughter had just completed year eleven, which would make this move a particularly difficult one for her. In the end we decided to accept the posting because we felt that in Sydney we would have access to a greater number of experienced professionals. We pretty much thought that if we had no luck in Sydney with Nicholas then this was perhaps as good as it was ever going to be.

We were referred to a very experienced paediatrician in Sydney who listened to what we had to say and gave us two questionnaires to be filled out and returned. One was a parent questionnaire, and the other was a teacher questionnaire. The result of these questionnaires was that Nicholas had, in her opinion, ADHD. Our paediatrician felt that Nicholas was not bad enough to require medication even although the disgusting behaviours continued.

Once again, I had to explain to yet another paediatrician that these behaviours were only ever exclusive to us at home. I began to get the feeling that we were being perceived as having some sort of bad home life that was causing these behaviours. My gut feeling was and still is, that two things caused these behaviours. One was diet related, and the other was frustration from learning difficulties at school. I learned very early that if I allowed Nicholas to digress from the failsafe diet that we were in for a very rough ride, always with violent behaviour. School was something that I was unsure about until we started to have huge battles over homework.

A month after arriving in Sydney, Nicholas’ behaviour became worse. We put this down to the fact that we had just moved, he was missing his friends from Darwin, and all the stresses and strains associated with changing schools etc. We felt sure that with the passage of time things would improve. They did not. He started punching, head butting, kicking and screaming. When he was sent to time out he kicked a hole in the wall. This became a common occurrence.

After one such session I phoned our paediatrician in tears and said that I couldn’t do this for much longer. I tried increasing the Poly-Joule and this seemed to have no effect. Our paediatrician decided to admit Nicholas to hospital and re do the testing for hypoglycaemia. The result of this was that Nicholas had now outgrown the hypoglycaemia, which we were originally told he would outgrow at around the age of nine. The decision was made to stop giving him the Poly-Joule.

We were then referred to the enuresis clinic at Westmead Children’s Hospital to try and address the bedwetting. Nicholas was 7½ by this stage. The specialist that we saw recommended the bell, pad and alarm system. We had great success with this method and within three nights Nicholas was dry for the first time in his life. He has never wet the bed since.

Prior to leaving Darwin, Nicholas’ eyes became very sensitive to all kinds of light from different sources including, sunlight, and computer screens. He had a CT scan to rule out any nasties. In Sydney he was referred to the eye clinic at Westmead Children’s Hospital where we were prescribed two different types of eye drops for viral conjunctivitis. The eye specialist was very good and when I explained Nicholas’ sensitivity to foods he prescribed preservative free eye drops. The viral conjunctivitis was cured, however the light sensitivity remains.

Our paediatrician told me that she believed only 4% of children were affected by food intolerances and so I began to educate her on this matter. At every visit I would tell her "we had pizza the other night, I let Nicholas off his diet and he went totally off the planet". Another time we had Chinese take away as a treat for Elise’s birthday, (something we hadn’t had for years), I let Nicholas off his diet and within minutes of eating it he had thrown a major tantrum and broke one of our kitchen chairs. After two weeks of swimming at school, on a Saturday at home, he was told "no" to something and he broke a solid wooden door on our entertainment unit.

Our paediatrician always listened to me but I always felt that I was still being perceived as some kind of neurotic woman who was speaking a strange language that no one else could understand. I phoned her one day in tears after one of these episodes and said that I was afraid that I might hurt him if things didn’t improve. She told me she could arrange for respite care if I needed it. After that phone call, at every visit, Nicholas was asked to take off all his clothes with the exception of his underpants. He was checked thoroughly from top to toe. I know that these children are considered "at risk of abuse" and I realise how close I have come to hurting this child on a number of occasions, but I have to say that this was one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had to deal with.

At this point, I started asking questions like "who protects the parents?" It seemed that it was okay for Nicholas to kick, punch and head butt me, but it was not okay if I lost my temper one day and hurt him.

I remember sending him to time out on one occasion and I was bending down holding one leg to remove his shoes. He swung around with the other leg and kicked my nose. On another occasion he threatened to break my glasses. Another time, he told me he was going to break my arm and he kicked me so hard in the forearm that I actually thought he did. I went to our local GP who said that it wasn’t broken but that the deep muscle tissue was badly bruised.

There are other instances where he has kicked and bruised my legs, and these have been recorded on my medical documents. These dramatic violent outbursts were always followed by periods of remorse where Nicholas would come to me crying and feeling bad about whatever it was that he had done. I always took full advantage of these times and we would sit down on the couch and have a cuddle and talk about it. These times actually reinforced to him, that we did still love him very much, and they reinforced to us that he truly didn’t want to be the way he was.  Nicholas behaviour continued its decline. Who would have thought that this was possible? He spent a lot of time in his room in time out. He would throw a tantrum for no apparent reason. He would kick, punch, and head butt. All it would take was for us to look at him in the wrong way, whatever the wrong way was, or to tell him "no". It got to the point where every time he was sent to time out, he had to be physically restrained otherwise there would be another hole kicked in the wall.

Often it would take 20 to 30 minutes for him to calm down. At times I would have to lie on top of him on the floor to restrain his arms and legs. He was always very strong during these episodes and he could easily lift me off the floor with his legs. If I let go to steady myself then he would be free to kick, punch and head butt.

Our paediatrician referred us to the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Westmead Children’s Hospital. We were concerned whether Nicholas’ very limited diet was adequate on a long-term basis given that he had now been failsafe for four years.

We had to measure, weigh and record everything he ate and drank over a three-day period. This included his medication and brand names of the food that he was fed. This information was entered into a computer and analysed, the end result being that with a few minor modifications his diet was not ideal, but adequate.

Moving to Sydney brought with it some complications that we weren’t expecting. Brumby’s bread, which we took for granted in Darwin was no longer easily accessible. Our failsafe sausages were hard to come by. I bought a bread maker but Nicholas did not like the bread we made. I found commercially available failsafe bread but Nicholas did not like that either.

I decided to let him try Helga’s bread because he liked it, and remembering that our paediatrician believed only 4% of children were food intolerant, I thought I’d give it a go. Nicholas’ behaviour got worse over a period of time so we made the decision to get the bread that we knew was safe and that we knew he liked. We decided to make the effort and do the one hour drive to the closest Brumby’s bread shop.

He started to eat his school lunch again. Prior to this he was throwing it in the bin. We knew this because we happened to be at school one day and actually caught him doing it. Sausages were another problem. I had asked my local butcher to make up a special batch to a recipe out of Fed Up. He assured me there were no preservatives or additives in them. I was not totally convinced about this, so we again made the decision to travel to a butcher that we know we can trust. Unfortunately this was in the opposite direction to Brumby’s.

Our paediatrician decided to refer us to a psychologist for a behavioural assessment with a view to using medication. The referral stated that in her opinion the mother was maternally depressed. I was pretty annoyed about that to begin with but after some thought I decided she was right. Who wouldn’t be? Given the number of years and the many stresses we endured during this journey. At this stage she still felt that Nicholas wasn’t bad enough to need medication.

We had the assessment and the psychologist initially thought that he had Aspergers Syndrome. She did a questionnaire with us and decided that he did not meet the criteria. However she did recommend medication, even if only as a temporary basis, to help restore very fragile family relationships. An anti depressant was also recommended and because of Nicholas’ delayed speech she asked that we see a speech pathologist. Our paediatrician decided against an anti depressant for Nicholas but agreed to try him on Dexamphetamine. Nicholas started taking Dexamphetamine in July 2001.

Nicholas did not do well on Dexamphetamine. He became very teary and emotional, more so than usual. He lost weight more rapidly, which was not good as he was under weight to begin with. He also had a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night; often he would get out of bed and play with toys late at night, in the dark, before falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion.

We persevered with Dexamphetamine for a while because we wanted to give it a fair go and also because we noticed that Nicholas’ written work had improved dramatically with his homework. Prior to medication homework was like a battleground. He would sit for hours and write three words, some days he would write nothing at all. He would now complete all of his homework and sometimes even illustrate his stories.

In the end, the weight loss, lack of sleep and the emotional ups and downs just weren’t worth it so we asked our paediatrician if we could try him on Ritalin. I had heard of some excellent results with Ritalin and I wanted to give it a try. Our paediatrician was somewhat reluctant to make the change because we were finally booked in, at my request, to the Immunology Department at Westmead Children’s Hospital, to do the double blind capsule challenges. She did not want to make any unnecessary changes at this stage.

I had seen such an improvement in Nicholas’ written work with the Dexamphetamine, and also glimpses of a lovely little boy, in between the nasty tantrums, that I decided to stand my ground on this issue. We started the Ritalin in November 2001 and after a couple of "settling in" weeks Nicholas started to improve out of sight. A month later at our next visit to our paediatrician, Nicholas’ weight had remained the same. This was a good sign because it meant he had not lost any more weight. He had started to sleep much better at night and the emotional ups and downs that he experienced with the Dexamphetamine seemed much less once he started taking the Ritalin.

Our paediatrician recommended that Nicholas should only take Ritalin during the school week, never on weekends or during school holidays. This has proven to be very effective.

At the same time we were referred to a speech pathologist that also thought that Nicholas had Aspergers Syndrome. In September 2001 she did a language assessment that showed that Nicholas has high-level receptive and expressive language problems in the areas of semantics, pragmatics, auditory processing and verbal reasoning. He relies on visual information when listening to instructions, and finds listening alone, without pictures, more challenging. He has poor semantic organisation, including weak word finding skills. Verbal reasoning and critical thinking in the form of problem solving is also a major area of weakness.

The speech pathologist still felt that Aspergers Syndrome was a consideration and recommended that we see another psychologist, one who is very well known, and who specialises in the Autism Spectrum Disorders.

We saw this psychologist who also thought that Aspergers played a part in all of this. He did the Aspergers questionnaire with us and decided that Nicholas did not meet the Aspergers criteria. However, he phoned me a couple of hours later and said he’d had a rethink after reviewing the results. He now felt that Nicholas did have features of Aspergers Disorder. Nicholas has now been diagnosed as having a variety of developmental disorders. These include ADHD, high-level language impairment, and features of Aspergers’ Disorder.

We implemented some anger management strategies, and learned other ways of saying "no". We re-trained ourselves to say, "not right now, maybe later" instead of using "no" as an answer; this strategy is simple but very effective. Other strategies included the use of social stories. These are stories that Nicholas wrote with the help of the psychologist about what he can do when he feels angry. We also used many types of small rewards to reinforce good behaviour.

Our psychologist report stated that Nicholas required Integration Support in the classroom to assist attention, on task behaviour, to adapt tasks, and to specifically implement social, communication, and empathy programs. This report assisted the school in obtaining Government funding to provide some extra assistance for Nicholas in the classroom.

We have been very fortunate to have a school that is supportive of special needs children. They have placed Nicholas in a class with a girl in a wheelchair who has an aide on a full time basis. When the aide is not required to assist the girl, she is free to give Nicholas whatever assistance he needs. He has an integration teacher who assists him for one hour each week, one on one, and he also has access to other integration teachers on an as needs basis. He has visits at least once a term at school, from both his psychologist and speech pathologist, who will jointly monitor his progress over the coming years.

The double blind dietary capsule challenges were only ever done on weekends and during the Christmas school holidays. Remembering that Nicholas only takes Ritalin on school days to enable him to stay on task and complete his schoolwork. This enabled us to get a very clear result and record only the food related behaviours. It also enabled us to record the behaviours accurately without any other outside influences.

We began the double blind dietary capsule challenges at the beginning of December and they were completed at the end of February. The results were as I’d suspected. No great surprises. He is highly sensitive to MSG, calcium propionate, sodium benzoate, sodium metabisulphite, salicylates, antioxidants and food colourings tartrazine, sunset yellow, erythrosine and azorubine. It was a huge relief for us to finally have an official, clinical diagnosis from the immunologist. These results confirmed my suspicions in relation to food related behaviours.

Most challenges that he reacted to were with violent reactions such as kicking, punching, head butting, throwing things or ripping posters off the wall in his room. There were a couple of challenges where he reacted with babbling and increased hyperactivity.

It took me five years to find the courage to do these challenges and when we were almost finished them, Nicholas came to me, and said that he didn’t want to do any more because he didn’t want to be naughty. He realises that some foods exacerbate his oppositional behaviour. He also realises that some foods make him unwell.

We occasionally have burritos for dinner, which is one of his favourite foods. On these rare occasions I let him off the diet. He always has at least three or four, plain, with no filling, exceptfor maybe a small amount of grated cheese. At bedtime when we are tucking him in and saying "goodnight" he often tells us that he "doesn’t feel well". In addition to this, and because of the additives and preservatives in the burritos, he becomes noticeably hyperactive.

Since Christmas 2001, Nicholas has undergone a complete transformation. Time outs are no longer a big part of his life. The delay in his speech is all but gone. He smiles, laughs and does things spontaneously, something he seldom did before. He comes home from school, takes his afternoon medication and sits straight down to do his homework with no prompting from me and no arguing from him. Homework is no longer the battleground that it once was. He completes all his written homework and pretty much all of his written work in class.

He is developing a wonderful sense of humour and is an absolute delight to be with. So far this year, he has earned three merit certificates at school. He was voted as a school representative council member for his class. He received a special smiley pencil award for sitting up straight and behaving beautifully during assembly. He was also Super Kid for the month of April, which earned him a Super Kid badge that entitles him to politely go to the front of the queue at the canteen. Unfortunately this was not very useful for him because he couldn’t really buy much that is failsafe, however, it was great for his self-esteem and he was very proud of this achievement. He also got to have morning tea with the Principal. He was let off his diet for that special occasion and when he got home, I asked him what he ate. He said, "I can’t remember, but it was fun".

I cannot put my finger on any one thing that we have done differently, for these wonderful changes that have taken place. After five years of the failsafe diet, almost five years of behaviour management in the form of 1,2,3 Magic, the final piece to our puzzle has been medication, in the form of Ritalin. It is my firm belief that no parent ever wants to medicate their child, especially one so young. We had spent the past five years exploring and implementing diet and behaviour management. During these years we saw some improvement but not enough for us to survive. Medication was our last option.  In our case, we needed the multi-modal approach, and no one thing would work without the other. The combination of diet, behaviour management and medication was, and still is, the key to our success. Diet for us was not enough, however, I believe that without implementing the failsafe diet all those years ago, Nicholas would have needed a much higher dose of medication. I also believe that his developmental disorders, ADHD, high-level language impairment and features of Asperges Disorder would have been much greater. His behaviour was often so violent that I was convinced he would one day be in a juvenile prison, or worse.

In conclusion, all of Nicholas’ violent behaviours and reactions were in my opinion, caused by two things, food intolerances and the frustrations associated with learning difficulties. The food intolerances are controlled with diet. Without diet, the violent behaviours return. Medication helps Nicholas to stay on task, which enables him to complete his schoolwork and homework. This helps to overcome the frustration associated with learning difficulties.

Regardless of whether or not Nicholas is taking medication, we know that if we allow him to break his diet, and we sometimes do on special occasions, we can expect a return of the violent behaviours. On these occasions behaviour management is still required.

We still have a long way to go in terms of monitoring Nicholas’ education and assisting him with overcoming these learning difficulties. We are fully aware that there will be some rough patches as our son navigates his own path in life, but for now, the most important thing for us as a family, is to finally have our loving, gentle, caring, beautiful little boy back with us again. He is a pleasure to be with, and a son to be truly proud of. Relationships during these past four months have started to heal and we have finally found the light at the end of a very long tunnel, something that for many years we thought we were never going to find.

I would like to thank the following people for their support and the individual roles they played in helping us to achieve our happy ending.

Paediatrician: Dr Ross Diplock – for his advice in trying diet before medication.

Author: Sue Dengate – for her continued support with helping us to navigate the dietary
minefields, and for keeping us on track with her unfailing belief of foods and the way in which they affect behaviour.

Paediatrician: Dr Patricia McVeagh – for assisting us in the final stages of our journey, and the implementation of controlled medication.

Consultant Psychologist: Lizette Campbell – for her recommendations for speech therapy and medication.

Speech Pathologist: Philippa Greathead – for her continued support, her referral to psychologist Anthony Warren, and for her language assessment, which really brought home to us the many learning difficulties that Nicholas was experiencing.

Psychologist: Anthony Warren - for his continued support and for his report that was integral to obtaining Government funding for extra assistance in the classroom.

The Failsafe Discussion Group: This group of people primarily discuss the failsafe diet, but also discuss many other challenges faced by special needs families. Their wealth of information and support knows no bounds. I would not have survived these "challenging" years without these people. I have learned so much from this group and we are all still learning. Together, we can all make a difference, and we can all find that light at the end of the tunnel.

- Susan, June 2002