Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Twelve years ago, I brought my cat William to the veterinarian and said something was wrong with him.

“Is he eating?” the vet asked.

“Same as usual,” I said.

“Using the litter box?”

“Yes.”

The vet slid her hands along William’s sides, under his belly. “How’s he acting?”

“Seems fine.”

She bent back William’s ears and peered inside and finally asked, “Well, what’s the problem?”

I told her I didn’t know what the problem was. I couldn’t identify anything particularly different about William. I just had a feeling that something wasn’t right.

I find myself operating on the “feeling” principle a lot these days. This morning, after Martin left for school, I had a feeling that he is improved, howsoever marginally. (“Improved” meaning “closer to neurotypical.”) I can’t say why. We didn’t have an outstanding breakfast; he refused to eat anything but the pear chunks from his bowl of buckwheat cereal, pre-soaked walnuts, and pear. (I make gluten-free cereal twice per week, under the “needs a few carbs” rule.) He was mostly quiet, he didn’t want to use the potty, and he resisted his HANDLE exercises.

We did have a breakthrough on Saturday. Friends had brought their daughter, who is a few years older than Martin, over to play. At some point the little girl got hold of her father’s iPhone and opened an app by which she could tap the screen to play music. She tapped away, and the iPhone sang a disjointed cacophony of notes. Martin, sitting nearby, watched the activity with interest but also seemed confused. Twice he turned his gaze toward me, to read my facial expression about the iPhone performance. One symptom of autism (and a symptom that Martin shows) is lacking ability to read facial expressions, and/or lacking interest in doing so. Martin looked to me twice, not once. It was no accident.

Funny, though, I didn’t have a feeling on Saturday that Martin was improved.

Today I do.

Who knows? It’s easy to attack intuition. On a rational level, I can discredit my sense that Martin may be improved. On a gut level, the feeling colors my whole day. I feel like Martin’s doing well, so I do well.

Twelve years ago, the vet found nothing wrong with William by appearance or outward physical condition. Only with her stethoscope did she discover that, by her estimation, William’s heart was beating more than 400 times a minute. My hunch had led us to the misfire between the upper and lower chambers of William’s heart that that eventually would kill him.

When it comes to kids—human or feline—I think I know my own. I hope.

So Do I Still Have to Be Honest?

This was to be the day. I’ve been thinking about it all week, and today I was going to post a disclosure—a confession. It would have read something like this:

We’re not making progress, at least not that I perceive. We got off to an explosive start: Martin zoomed from restlessness to sleep, from lethargy to energy, from drifting to engagement, from low muscle tone to standard body-type. Then, late in summer, the advances dwindled, and Martin backslid in attention and language.

It’s almost winter now, and I’m wondering if we’ll get back on track and whether the burden of an ASD recovery journey really makes sense. I’m even ready to admit that, had I felt this way in August, I would not have started blogging. It’s too difficult, exposing your own aspirations and vulnerabilities on-line (even if anonymously) when the very subject you’re blogging has beaten you into the gutter. Back in August, when I wrote my first post, we weren’t chugging along like we once had been, but it just felt like we’d pulled into a rest stop on the recovery highway. A check of the map, maybe a snack, and we’d be back on our way.

But then the ignition refused to turn. Two or three months later, the biomedical car remains stalled, and Triple-A has not shown. I’m stuck.

 That’s approximately the ode to frustration I had in mind to post.

By now, if I’ve set this up properly, you’re asking why I say what “was to be.” Why am I quoting the ode to frustration, instead of posting it directly?

The answer is that Martin climbed out of bed this morning and said, “Hello, Mommy.” When I plopped into the chair in his room and asked if he’d like to sit on me, he responded, “Sit on you,” getting the preposition correct if not the idiom. He asked to use the potty and did his business without clawing at his legs, which he’s been scratching raw from yeast itch. When I helped him get dressed, he put his arms into his sleeves and then—instead of letting the shirt stay bunch around his chest, as usual—he tugged the hem down over his belly, looking like any neurotypical three-year-old getting dressed. He glanced down with each step as we descended the stairs to the kitchen. He ate his waffle with a fork. When I asked if he wanted more, he said, “I want more waffle.”

It was a good morning.

True, it was just one good morning, and later this afternoon Martin got spacier.

As it turns out, for now, one good morning was enough. I decided not to let my icky desperation take the starring role in today’s post.

Still, I had to reveal what I’d thought about writing. That’s my commitment to honesty here.

This morning I thought I heard the engine try to turn. I can’t wait for tomorrow. We may leave this rest stop yet.

Crunchy Granola (Not a Recipe)

Because I’m vegan, many people assume I wear billowy tunics over yoga pants, enjoy camping, and/or engage in frequent protests. You know—that I’m the crunchy-granola type.

Generally speaking, no. I prefer designer clothes, detest sleeping anywhere that lacks a clean bed and private shower, and have a don’t-rock-the-boat personality ill-suited to getting in people’s faces. Though I respect everyone’s views, I won’t be occupying Wall Street anytime soon.

At the same time, trying to recover Martin is making me crunchier. I’ve already banned artificial-chemical-based cleaning products from our home. Our food is organic, and I spend a lot of time on farms picking it out. Our water is filtered, twice.

The ingredient list of Martin’s body wash reads like the recipe for a fragrant dessert: organic coconut oil, organic olive oil, organic aloe leaf juice, organic vanilla bean extract, organic orange oil, kosher vegetable glycerin, potassium citrate, organic shea butter, and organic calendula extract. I firmly believe that, in the event of New York City food shortage, my family could live several weeks, quite salubriously, off Martin’s body wash.

Martin uses a natural, BPA-free toothbrush. Fluoride-free toothpaste.

Blackberries get turned off in the car. Electronics see their plugs unsocketed without mercy. The microwave sits forlorn, idle, wondering what he did to piss me off.

Martin spends more than 12 hours per day in contact with his mattress and sheets, so I’m on the hunt for a natural mattress. I’ve found them for babies. So far nothing in toddler/child size, though. Same for sheets. I may need to replace his toddler bed with a big-boy bed in order to get organic, undyed sheets that fit.

And now I’m learning about flame retardants applied to most children’s pajamas, and how they might affect Martin’s brain. In fact, dyes and treatments used on children’s garments in general may pose neuro-sensitivity hazards. So I’m shopping for organic clothes. Jeans, a three-season coat, and pajamas arrived today.

Have you ever had occasion to note the cost of organic clothes for kids? Martin’s wardrobe is about to get a whole lot more limited.

Shower curtain liners are made with PVC. Get them hot and steamy, it seems, and they’ll release those chemicals into the atmosphere. I used to worry about litter-box fumes. Now it’s eau de PVC. I just ordered a hemp shower curtain. I’ve become Woody Harrelson.

Bottom line: The crunchy-granola life may be my destiny after all. I just can’t believe the toxins to which we expose children every day.

It’s almost enough to make a protester out of me.

Stupid Yeast

We’re battling a renewed outbreak of yeast. That’s why Martin’s attention has dipped so low. I’m certain now. All the signs point to yeast. He’s scratching his legs. He’s grinding his teeth. His pee stinks. His energy flags. He has trouble settling to sleep. He giggles drunkenly.

Finally realizing that yeast is at work here (again) stirs mixed emotions. On one hand, I’m beyond frustrated. We started fighting yeast in February, and by the beginning of summer we had it under control. I even allowed more carbohydrates to sneak into Martin’s diet. Not many, but more—quinoa pitas, rice crackers, banana muffins. On my mental checklist, “balance yeast” had thick line through it. But now yeast is out of whack again, and I’m learning that as soon as one strain is defeated, another may flourish.

On the other hand, I’ve expended so much attention on Martin’s diminished attention without knowing the cause. I’m relieved that we have a culprit now. The yeast realization provides a roadmap. We conquered yeast once before, and we’ll do it again, adjusting diet and anti-yeast supplements (sac boulardii, &c.) as necessary.

Indeed, pinpointing yeast helps me filter Martin’s current issues. Yeast clearly does no favors for attention, energy, or language; I’ll call those the “yeastier areas,” and admit that they’re in bad shape. Yeast doesn’t seem to affect body control or mood as much. I posted several days ago about what’s going right, even now. To that list I will add that Martin is steady on his feet, engaging in few self-stimming behaviors, transitioning well, and more or less happy. I’ll call those the “less-yeasty areas,” and hope that their current chart-topping performance means we’re making progress despite the yeast flare.

I’ve said before: It’s an amorphous enemy, this autism. ASD is defined by symptoms, not causes. The causes may differ for every child, and they may change within one child.

Then again, every child—neurotypical or otherwise—is different, too, and every child changes throughout life. When we’ve finally wiped out autism, Martin will create some new worry to keep me up at night.

Well, bring it on.

Burgers

I made hamburgers. I browsed a few recipes on-line and read about adding ingredients like eggs, Worcestershire sauce, breadcrumbs, and onion powder.

I went with quail eggs, sunflour, coconut aminos, and a dash of white pepper. I fried the hamburgers in macadamia oil and served them with mashed cauliflower for dinner.

This weekend Martin ate the leftover hamburgers as breakfast, accompanied by sweet-potato French fries. Adrian asked, “Will he be having a Coke with his burger and fries?”

How did they taste—any good? I wish I knew, but I’m not about to try one. Martin ate them without complaint.

Such an obliging boy, my Martin.

Intruders in the Sanctuary

We brought Martin to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary today, in celebration of a friend’s birthday. We played with ducks, chickens, turkeys, lambs, goats, pigs, and cows. Usually I love to do stuff like this, to admire animals whom society at large treats as commodities for food/clothing/additive production.

It’s more difficult now, of course, because Martin is eating meat. Merriam-Webster defines a vegan as “a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also: one who abstains from using animal products (as leather).” Abstaining from using animal products entirely is, more or less, impossible; living in this world demands using products made by others, and too many of those products—film, computers, pain relievers, wines, McDonalds French fries—contain, or are manufactured with, animal parts for one to avoid them. But for many years I’ve done pretty well, at least on the big stuff: meat, eggs, dairy, leather, wool, and so forth. For the most part, I’ve avoided the stuff you really cannot have without using animals.

Not anymore. How can I press my forehead against a steer’s and stroke his muzzle, when this morning Martin ate leftover hamburger with breakfast? How can I allow a turkey to nestle between my shins, when our car contains a Thermos of turkey-neck broth?

I’m glad that we’re managing Martin’s dietary changes without resort to caged, agribusiness animals. I’m glad I’ve visited the farms where his meals grow and die and observed that, other than the part about being slaughtered early, their lives aren’t that different from those of the sanctuary animals. I’m satisfied that, as Adrian remarked this morning, we’re using meat for a distinct, defined purpose (dense protein and easily digestible fats to hasten Martin’s recovery) and not out of laziness, or like a celebrity chef determined to sample as many varieties of flesh as possible, only for the sake of doing so.

Beyond those comforts, I’m still having trouble navigating the decision. I need to envision an end-point, when this chapter closes and Martin, recovered, returns to being a vegan. I know he may not always stay that way; as he matures he’ll make his own choices. Still, I can try to point him in the direction our family prefers, which I don’t feel I’m doing at the moment.

As for right now, I need to find a way to apologize to all these animals. I’ve decided to add the money we spend on Martin’s ghee, eggs, honey, and meat and send an equal amount to a farm sanctuary with outreach/education programs.

It’s a start. Kind of.

Do You See What I See?

Samara has been ill this week, and not working. Last night after Martin went to sleep she came for a visit and brought new toys and books, including two bathtub boats and a ride-in fire engine. We left the boats on the dining table, and the fire engine in the front hall.

This morning, as Martin sat at the kitchen counter waiting for breakfast, he spun on the barstool. He likes to spin, and I tend to assume it’s a self-stimming behavior. (Or just plain fun. I went ga-ga for my Sit’n Spin as a kid. Remember those?) Only a quarter-turn into his spin Martin leapt from his barstool, ran to the dining table, and seized the bathtub boats.

Most of our apartment—kitchen, den, family room, front hall, dining area, reception salon (that’s a couple chairs and coffee table that I’m making sound as fancy as possible)—comprises a single, large space, so there is a lot to observe, and the dining table stands at least fifteen feet from the kitchen counter. Moreover, the dining table was stacked with books, papers, a laptop, several items waiting to be Freecycled, and sundry junk, so the bathtub boats were kind of obscured. Certainly non-obvious. I would not have noticed them; I don’t notice unfamiliar items in my home until they (1) trip me, (2) bite me, or (3) emit an unpleasant odor. But Martin, somehow, spotted his new toys in a partial second. Before I even realized what he was doing, he was on the floor playing with them. He refused to return to the kitchen counter until I told him to bring the bathtub boats along.

Now I find myself wondering: When Martin is spinning on the barstool (before we progressed with biomedical intervention, he used to spin himself without a barstool, too) or running, apparently haphazardly, around the perimeter of the apartment, is he actually noticing—processing—his surroundings at a rate faster than I could?

Earlier today I was driving the West Side Highway with Martin when a truck passed and pulled directly in front of us. From the backseat, Martin said, “That’s a piano truck.” I looked up and saw, written on the back of the truck, a company name along with “piano sales and service.” There was no picture, only lettering. Holy crap! I thought immediately. Martin can read. I have one of those autistic genius kids who just learns everything on his own. I was getting ready to phone Adrian with the miraculous news when the truck made a left turn and I saw, on the side that must have faced Martin when the truck passed us, a gigantic picture of a piano.

I do have a tendency to get carried away like that. So I’m trying not to take too much from Martin’s spotting the new toys mid-spin. In fact, I’m trying to see two sides of the event. It may demonstrate that Martin possesses a strong awareness of what’s around him and is not vacationing in Martinland as often as I sometimes think. On the other hand, it may suggest that Martin has a hyper-sense of order and, even in our disarrayed home, perceives immediately what changes from one day to the next. I’m going to keep an eye on Martin’s interactions with his environment and see if I can figure out whether it’s the former, the latter, or a combination.

Anyway, after I let him bring his bathtub boats to the counter, Martin ate his scrambled quail eggs and sweet-potato fries peacefully. About ten minutes later I went to the bathroom. When I returned, the barstool was vacant again.

This time I found Martin in the front hall, sitting in his new fire engine.