PHILADELPHIA - A local mother has penned a new cookbook inspired by her 11 year old son after her he was diagnosed with autism and severe gastrointestinal problems at 21 months old.
This book, Cooking with Leo isn't just a guide to kid friendly clean eating, it's a love story.
It's the story between a mother and son who through the clouds of uncertainty brought on by autism and discovered a special connection in the kitchen.
"Leo he was never interested in sports or games or toys but he was always interested in food," said mother and author, Erica Daniels.
Erica doesn't know why Leo always gravitated to the kitchen, perhaps it was the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables she would prepare him, or maybe it was the ritualistic nature of making each meal.
"He wanted to hang out in the kitchen and he would make a mess and he would try to make things on his own," she said.
Leo was diagnosed with autism at 21 months. Like many children on the spectrum he also suffers from severe allergies and stomach sensitivities.
"When you have a child with an illness you do everything you can to try to help them," said Erica.
And that's what Erica did. She re-learned what to eat and how to eat. But it wasn't an easy transition.
"There's this chapter called 'Holidays used to suck' because we couldn't go anywhere because all the food was full of allergens," she said.
And navigating the emotional challenges of Leo's diagnosis felt isolating too.
"I remember being in denial and just saying, 'I'm going to fix this real quick and no one is even going to know about it'," she said.
But as time passed, culinary experiments became more like mom and Leo adventures and while Erica tapped into her creativity to create meals with hidden fruits and vegetables, Leo tapped into a hidden talent.
"He was really much more capable of doing things than I thought he was," she said.
And so Cooking With Leo was born. Along with the promise that Leo may one day take these skills and translate them to not only a book he can call his own, but a career and life of his own.
"Being an 11 year old boy with autism he's not academic. There's things other kids - you know, he's not great in sports. So I wanted him to have something he could always be proud of and that would always represent his family," said Erica.
As you can see it's not an ordinary cookbook, but an extraordinary story of love and finding that connection with your child.
To purchase the Cooking with Leo cookbook, CLICK HERE.
Part of the proceeds from sales of the cookbook go to the organization, Hope 4 Leo.