By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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'Power tools' for special needs

Photo courtesy of Keri Bowers:Taylor Cross, diagnosed with autism, now studies filmmaking at Moorpark College.

Filmmaker says arts brought out autistic son

Ventura County Star April 26, 2009

An artist her entire life, Keri Bowers found it only natural to immerse her son in the creative medium as a boy born with developmental delays who eventually was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

“I began using the arts when Taylor was a baby,” Bowers recalled of her son, who had serious developmental delays, sensory issues and language and physical delays.

“Back then, there were few resources for a quirky boy like Taylor,” Bowers said. “We couldn’t even get a proper diagnosis until he was 6 years old, due to a lack of understanding about so-called high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome.”

Today, her son, 20-year-old Taylor Cross, is an acclaimed filmmaker taking five film classes at Moorpark College — feats his mother largely attributes to his upbringing.

“I believe the arts directly and indirectly got him to where he is today,” said the Thousand Oaks mom. “When he was young I used my creative wits by using music, painting and drama and even posing my Taylor with a cereal box, taking pictures of him to help him learn to smile.”

And when she was told her son might never walk or talk, Bowers became even more determined to work every angle she could think of to help him emerge and develop.

“The arts were the only way I knew how,” she said. “I used paint on his fingertips to support diminishment of sensory issues. I sang songs about social stories I wanted him to learn, and drama helped him to learn to do an oral report in school.”

The effect the arts had on Taylor was so profound that Bowers created a documentary called “ARTS” that highlights “Possibilities, Disabilities and the Arts.”

The film showcases how the arts can be valuable “power tools” to improve vital skills for daily living and even lead to potential career paths for those with special needs.

“In ‘ARTS,’ we see how fine art, music, dance, drama, public speaking, comedy and other forms of creative expression provide essential tools for improving social skills, life skills, self-confidence, emotional well-being and communication, as well as looking at the potential for career paths for individuals with disabilities,” Bowers said.

“ARTS” joins other films Bowers has made — including the 2006 award-winning “Normal People Scare Me,” produced by Joey Travolta, made with Taylor and narrated by Graham Nash. “It became a hit in the global autism community because it touched a lot of issues not previously talked about in a film,” said Bowers, who also made “The Sandwich Kid” with her younger son, Jace (now 14), who was challenged by Taylor’s disorder.

Filmmaking aside, Bowers has affected Ventura County’s special needs community in many ways, including her launch of PAUSE4Kids, a Conejo Valley-based nonprofit that serves children with developmental disabilities. In earlier years, she facilitated five annual summer camps and community-based social skills groups.

“That was where I was able to use the arts with others,” Bowers said. “My strategies worked so well with so many, I knew I was on to something that could help transform lives.”

A world-renowned speaker, Bowers has addressed numerous topics at more than 200 venues throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

“I love to do workshops and speaking engagements and screening our films,” she said, “but the creative process of making films is most enjoyable to me above everything else I do.”

To purchase Bowers’ films, go to

Changing children's foods can also alter behaviors

Parents report successes in treating autism by omitting certain proteins

When Barrie Silberberg’s son was 2 years old, he taught himself the alphabet. By age 4, he could read and was very verbal and exceptionally bright.

“I thought perhaps Noah was gifted,” recalled the Thousand Oaks mom. “But although he excelled intellectually, I noticed his social skills seemed lacking.”

In preschool, he never played with other children, and by kindergarten, his behavior disintegrated.

“He had uncontrollable meltdowns where he’d scream, throw things and become violent toward his classmates,” his mom said. “He had severe sensory issues, limited social skills and poor eye contact. He suffered digestive problems and would eat only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, chips, pretzels, french fries, milk, yogurt and cheese.”

After her son was diagnosed at age 6 1/2 with autism, she spent hours on the computer seeking information, and kept stumbling across a diet that some parents were using that excluded all gluten — the protein in wheat, rye and barley — and casein, which is dairy protein.

She gave the diet a try, starting with the elimination of all dairy products. To her amazement, “we saw a huge change in his behavior. He was a much calmer child. If stopping dairy could do this in just four days, what would gluten removal do?”

A book ‘from the heart’

The results were so profound, Silberberg wrote a book, “The Autism and ADHD Diet: A Step-by-Step Guide to Hope and Healing by Living Gluten Free and Casein Free (GFCF) and Other Inventions,” published this month by Sourcebooks.

“There are no books detailing simple-to-follow, step-by-step guidelines on the GFCF diet, which also addresses being dye-free and preservative-free, as well as many other interventions,” said Silberberg, who completed postgraduate work with an emphasis on special education from CSU Northridge.

She also is active in her local chapter of the Autism Society as well as national autism-related causes.

“My book was written from my heart,” she said. “All of the time and effort I did to help my son to be where he is today was all from experience, research and talking to millions of moms across the globe, and a few dads and grandparents, too.”

There is some validity to “healing by living gluten-free and casein-free,” said Dr. Eric Sletten, director of the Sletten Wellness Medical Center in Ventura.

“However, the subject of healing is huge — for just as the cause of autism is proving to be multifactorial, so too is the treatment required to recover a child,” said Sletten, a board-certified family physician who has not read Silberberg’s book.

That said, for many the diet is an essential piece of the puzzle.

High success percentage

The San Diego-based Autism Research Institute conducts ongoing parent surveys that evaluate the efficacy of numerous biomedical interventions.

“Currently 66 percent of surveyed parents state that their child got better while on the GFCF diet and 3 percent said they got worse,” Sletten said. “If any drug came on the market with such overwhelming success statistics, then you would see it in every third commercial on television, but there just isn’t a lot of money to be made in promoting good nutrition.”

Speaking from personal experience, Sletten has a 7-year-old son who he said has recovered completely from autism.

“Our success came through early intervention behavioral therapies coupled with biomedical treatments, beginning with strict adherence to the casein- and gluten-free diet,” he said.

In their incompletely digested forms, gluten and casein take on the molecular structure of morphine. In fact, they are called gluteomorphines and casomorphines, and can be measured in a urine specimen.

“Morphine acts on the brain by stimulating opiate receptors. This makes us foggy and indifferent to painful stimuli,” Sletten explained. “Although there are no human studies yet to prove that these metabolites enter the brain and cause this effect we commonly get reports from parents that their kids are spacy and have an unusually high pain tolerance.”

Why would autistic kids have such a problem with gluten and casein?

“It is well-known that children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) have gut problems, and that would put them at risk for maldigestion and malabsorption,” said Sletten.

“Based on the science so far, there is no reason not to say that autism is treatable and that autism is preventable.”

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