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New book on autism, parenting & food

This guest Q&A is with Suzie Carpenter, a professional speaker, health coach and the author of the new book On the Bright Side: A Mother’s Story of Love and Healing through Her Daughter’s Autism.

In 2001, Carpenter’s daughter Kelly was diagnosed with autism, celiac disease and over twenty food intolerances. Since that moment, Carpenter began embracing parenting and food in an entirely new way and became her daughter’s partner in the journey. Today, she gives dynamic workshops to inspire and motivate individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Hi Suzie! Tell us, when did you first have the idea to write your new book?

In 2009, when I was in nutrition school, I started thinking about writing a book that would tell our story and also help inspire others to take a deeper look at how food may be affecting their own health and happiness. Yet, I was so busy coaching clients on nutrition and lifestyle adjustments that I didn’t have time to jump into the book writing process.

Then in 2013, I went to a book writing retreat and gained the confidence to start writing. It wasn’t until 2015 that I fully immersed myself and committed to writing the book.

The memoir writing process was an unbelievably transformative experience and invited so much more love into understanding and appreciating where we were and how far we’ve come in the journey with our daughter Kelly.

How is Kelly doing today?

Kelly is doing amazing. We feel incredibly grateful for her progress and are incredibly proud of her commitment to eat the right foods despite what others may be doing around her.

Kelly is a beautiful combination of creative, empathetic, and prophetic. Her disposition is peaceful and positive. One of her goals is to be able to help others be happy with themselves.

Last year she was the lead role in her school play, Ariel in the Little Mermaid. And this year got the part of Fiona in Shrek.

Her smile is a ray of sunshine every single day. Kelly regularly points out the bright side of every situation. Thus the name of my book, On The Bright Side.

What would be a message you’d give to parents who may have children on the spectrum who have food-related challenges (i.e. picky eaters, etc.)? At Autism Speaks we have a column called Food For Thought where we answer food-related questions in our community.

Don’t give up! Find someone to talk to, to get help from, and remember you are never alone.

At times it may feel like food doesn’t make a difference because there are so many challenges with autism. But it does, even cutting out sugar is a big factor in stabilizing mood and behavior.

Find what motivates your child and use that to help get them to try new things or eat the right foods. Give them non-food rewards for behavior. 

Even though your child is faced with the challenges of autism, and it feels like eating right is just one more thing to have to do, their body will function at its very best with the right foods.

If possible, teach your child to listen to their own body with whatever signals you can help them to learn. That is the most powerful tool of all, that inner knowing and trusting.

Who are some role models you have out there in the autism community today?

I continue to be inspired by Suzanne Wright. Her passionate determination will always be a guiding light in our own journey to advocate for people on the spectrum.

Temple Grandin for her writing, speaking and amazing insights into how her brain works and how she relates to animals.

Kelly is a daily role model in my life.  Every day her grateful smile reminds me to live in love, to focus on her gifts. Her smile makes my heart melt and the hearts of others. It shows the accomplishment she feels from overcoming the challenges of autism and finding her own happiness in just being herself. Her ability to be in the present moment, find beauty in everything around her and to notice even the tiniest details in what she sees are quantities that inspire more joy. Despite the only one at her school who eats a sugar free, gluten and dairy free diet, she doesn’t complain. Instead she wonders if the other kids would be happier and more confident if they too ate the right foods.

What are some of your hopes for Kelly in the future?

Kelly had the lead role in her school play t he past two years. Because of how much she enjoys acting, she would like to take some acting lessons and explore that as either a hobby or career. Kelly also has a passionate interest in photography and would like to go to art school to study photography and art. She hopes to be a professional photographer some day. I’d also like to see Kelly share her prophetic insights and glass half full perspective to motive others through writing, speaking or her art.

What’s next for you after the book release? Anything fun coming up?

My plan is to go on a book tour where I will give inspirational talks and do book signings. I’d also like to get Kelly involved in speaking to audiences since she is comfortable on stage and is full of prophetic insights and positive mindset tips. I will also continue writing on my blog and coach a handful of clients.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Autism is complicated. We have been lucky to realize improvements in so many areas of Kelly’s original presentation. While I hesitate to say she’s “recovered” because she is still innately challenged on many fronts, there were so many times when I thought she’d never be able to do something and then she proved me wrong. Find what makes your child tick, use that to motivate them towards their own success. Lucky for us, determination is one of Kelly’s innate traits, and there is no doubt that it has helped her in getting to where she is today.

It wasn’t easy and took years to get here with lots of trial and error along the way. I’m a firm believer in perseverance paying off - stick to what you believe and learn to trust your instincts. Celebrate every victory no matter how small or large. Most important of all, love your child for who they are in their core of being, find that spark in their spirit and kindle it constantly.. 

No matter how tight a grip autism has on your child, be their parent, loving them every step of the way.

My heart aches for those who continue to suffer and my hope is that we can find more answers to this puzzle we call autism.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.