Exceedingly Difficult

I’m typing with my left hand. With only my left hand. It’s slow-going. I am right-handed, dominantly, not ambidextrously one bit.

My hair looks awful today. I managed to wash and condition (in a 20-minute shower, wasting water), but drying with one hand was hopeless. Hold the hair dryer, blow, drop the dryer, brush, retrieve the dryer, blow.

I can barely prepare food, because I can’t hold a knife to chop. Adrian had to buy his lunch yesterday and today, other than his lentils. Instead of mincing vegetables into meatballs, I made Martin’s lunches from buffalo chorizo, which contains high-sal ingredients. Martin had an anxiety-ridden day. I blame myself.

You guessed it: I broke my right wrist. I was playing tag on ice skates with Martin. Despite his protests and refusal to play hockey, Martin is still a better skater than I am, and with a lower center of gravity, and he was wearing hockey skates, while I had ancient rented figure skates. In retrospect, challenging him to a game of tag was—well, you can choose the right word.

I have to wear a bulky cast for six weeks, and the orthopedic surgeon is banning contact sports and weights for three months. B’bye, spring softball season. My personal trainer is designing some “cardio and legs” program to replace my lifting routine. I’m glad ski season is winding down.

I will try to keep blogging. But I’m still not sure even how I will feed Martin, so I can’t make promises.

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This is my arm! Why is the cast orange? Well, I do love Syracuse University.

Back Off, Maddow

Most weeknights, if I’m in the kitchen (and most weeknights, I am), I watch The Rachel Maddow Show, unless the New York Rangers are playing, whereupon I toggle between hockey and opinion. Watching TRMS, a liberal-leaning program, doesn’t signal my politics; I don’t always agree with Maddow on the issues. Instead, I find her a stickler for facts who bestows a clever touch even on obscure political events. And in any event, my politics don’t belong on FindingMyKid, which is “a parent’s real-time blog of autism recovery,” not “a parent’s thoughts on politics.”

Last month, Maddow did a segment on Betsy DeVos, the then-nominee for secretary of education. I don’t consider it political to say that I think DeVos was a deplorable choice; as a lawyer and special-needs parent, I believe the secretary of education must know the law, especially the law concerning special education. DeVos’s inability to articulate the meaning and enforcement requirements of the IDEA should have disqualified her. Instead of leading the segment by discussing DeVos directly, Maddow led by making fun of Neurocore, a Michigan-based biofeedback company. DeVos is an investor in Neurocore, and Maddow is not the first to report that DeVos does not plan to divest her interest in the company. Unlike other pundits, however, Maddow ranted hardest against Neurocore itself: its religiously rooted beginnings, its cost, and its methods, which she called “having children watch a movie and then interrupting them,” or something similar (I don’t have a transcript).

“I’m sure there are people who swear by this method,” Maddow said—as if she were speaking directly to the blogger behind FindingMyKid, who was thinking, “Hey, Rachel, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

When it comes to reports on vaccines and the CDC’s vaccination schedules, I am used to listening/reading with a grain of salt. Actually, I just pour buckets of salt on the whole story. Mornings, I listen to NPR, whose coverage of vaccine issues I have found (perhaps) especially awful. Recently I’ve been hearing that Morning Edition is “brought to me by America’s Biopharmeceutical Companies.” Natch? But when it comes to other topics outside the mainstream—i.e., not vaccines—I still challenge myself. You might have read in a comment to the post “Opposite Direction” that we are trying the ionic footbath for Martin. (Follow-up post coming.) Before I commenced that new treatment, I re-read the criticisms and praise of ionic footbaths, and re-watched the videos purporting to debunk their efficacy, and spoke with Martin’s MAPS physician, and asked myself those two familiar questions: Is there any chance this will help Martin? Is there any chance this will hurt Martin? Ionic footbaths aren’t hurting him. As I will write soon, I’m not sure they’re helping, either. They certainly aren’t the panacea articulated by the commentator on the “Opposite Direction” post.

Neurofeedback, like ionic footbaths, is outside the mainstream. I do neurofeedback with Martin, not Neurocore, but Braincore. It’s expensive ($3,000 for 30 sessions, initially) and cumbersome (thrice-weekly visits to a center). Martin loves going, because he gets to watch and re-watch his favorite movies, like Hotel Transylvania 2, Despicable Me, and Zootopia. I, on the other hand, wish Martin were not re-watching movies. Is all this worthwhile, or as Rachel Maddow implied, just ridiculous?

The premise behind neurofeedback is that the brain can be monitored via its electrical activity (electroencephalogram, or eeg) and trained to work more efficiently. Martin wears electrodes on his head, which measure his brainwave frequencies by computer. While wearing the electrodes, Martin watches a movie, with the sound played through earphones. When the computer reads less regulated brain function, the movie dims and volume fades. When the brain function better regulates, the movie brightens and volume gets louder. Martin thereby trains his brain to work more efficiently—for his own enjoyment, or so it seems to him.

Seems promising. Indeed, in October 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics rated neurofeedback a level-1 evidence-based intervention for attention and hyperactivity. (It can also be used to treat traumatic brain injury or and a variety of other conditions, such as PTSD.) But that doesn’t mean the treatment is free from criticism, Maddow-generated or otherwise. Most criticism seems to focus on a lack of comprehensive evaluation. As with so much that a biomed family does, sometimes what’s going on in the lab doesn’t keep up with what’s happening in the field, so here we land, again: Might the treatment help? Is there any possibility it will hurt Martin? Neurofeedback clears that standard, easily.

We’ve been doing neurofeedback for several months now. The next logical step is to check the pudding: Any proof in there?

The answer is—

I dunno.

Sorry if that’s another letdown. Martin is up and down, as usual. More up than down. Something must be causing the ups. Maybe the ionic footbaths. Maybe all the skiing. Maybe his supplements and antimicrobials, along with a small amount of (oral EDTA) chelation, are doing their job and helping his body shed immune impediments.

Or it could as well be the neurofeedback.

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Knife

We knew when we put Martin in public school that socializing would be problem.

It has been.

Academics: Not a problem.

Speech/language: Fading as a problem, except for social/pragmatic usage.

Behavior: Sometimes a problem (the silly, detox-y days), but his teacher handles the behavior masterfully.

Socializing: Problem alert.

Last month, in the post titled, “I’m the Issue,” I wrote about my concerns for Martin’s self-esteem.

At night, when the reading is done and the teeth are brushed and Martin and his stuffed Minions are tucked under organic linens, I sit on his bed to tell him that he’s a great kid and very, very loved. If he’s having anxiety, I make him repeat: “I am safe. My mom is in the house. My dad is in the house. My mom and dad will keep me safe, and I will keep my Minions safe. I can sleep well tonight.” Sometimes we talk about the day he’s had, or the next day he will have.

“Is it okay,” he asked me two weeks ago, during this intimate time, “if people don’t like me?”

I said, “Of course it is. Everyone has some people who don’t like him or her. There are people who don’t like me. There are people who don’t like Daddy. You can’t make everyone like you.”

“But is it okay,” my beautiful eight-year-old son continued, “if no one likes me?”

I am a failure.

Feeding Them Both

Forgive me another post on food. I don’t usually hit food twice in a row—I’ll make this one quick.

Many are the challenges to feeding a three-member family when the child is mostly Paleo/low-sal/meaty, the mother is vegan, and the father is primarily pescatarian and prefers salads.

The vegan, who prepares the food, comes last. I’ll pretty much forage the (vegan) scraps of what the other two eat, so let’s take me out of the equation.

Sometimes I can feed Martin and Adrian the same meal, as with the “anything” pasta. Other times, I make a main course for Martin and repurpose it into a salad dish for Adrian. I’ve got quite adept at this repurposing. Add sliced avocado, maybe some fruit and nuts, and voila!, fancy salad.

Yesterday I made the promised white-bean skordalia. (Remember? The cannellini beans I forgot to soak?) For Martin, I scooped a heap of skordalia onto a plate and inserted two dozen raw carrot sticks, which poked out in all directions. I called this creation (which I forgot to photograph) a “moon flower.” Martin removed and ate the carrot sticks, then finished the skordalia with a spoon.

For Adrian, I made the skordalia the major protein in a salad, with pine nuts for flair. I added mixed greens with his favorite dressing—olive oil mixed with chickpea miso—and macadamia nuts and diced cucumber on top. I had fresh strawberries, so I finished dressing the plate with fresh strawberries.

Happy kid. Happy husband.

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ASD Recovery Recipe: Anything Pasta

So I’ve discovered that I can make a decent pasta meal out of anything “vegetable” in my refrigerator. Like, virtually anything.

Last night I planned to make white bean skordalia. By the time I discovered that I forgot to advance-soak the cannellini beans, I had only minutes to devise another dinner. I surveyed the kitchen and assembled these ingredients:

->Carrots, with their green tops. I always cook the carrot greens. Once when I was checking out, the supermarket cashier casually snapped off the carrot greens and tossed them in a garbage bin. I promptly commenced a lengthy oration on the benefits of carrot greens.

->Red onions.

->Garlic.

->Celery.

->Toasted onion salt. With Martin’s current low-salicylate diet limiting spices so much, I’ve been trying to get creative with salt.

->Pine nuts. I avoid the pine nuts from China. I’m not anti-China, but I am concerned with shortcomings in China’s food-safety schema.

->Green lentil pasta.

I prepped the carrots (greens and all) and celery in a vinegar bath, then cut them into pieces and put them in my food processor. October 13, 2011, I wrote a post titled, “Kitchen News: An Update on the Hunt for a Food Processor With Glass Bowl,” which (based on total unique views) is the most popular post ever to grace this blog. Five-and-a-half years later, I am still without a glass food processor. I processed the carrots and celery almost to a paste. Then I chopped the onions and garlic roughly and added them to the food processor.

While the pasta was cooking, I heated a generous amount of oil and fried the finely minced vegetables. When they were almost done, I added onion salt and a scoop of pine nuts.

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Finally I drenched the cooked pasta in cold water to prevent mushiness and added it to the veggie pan.

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The resulting dinner was pasta coated in lovely crunchy-garlicky bits. Martin said, “Oh yes, this is delicious!” and Adrian ate every last bit from the pan.

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Must remember—“night in a pinch” will henceforth be known as “garlic pasta dinner.”

Bound To

The autism recovery path is so jagged—so many ups and downs—that the key to longevity is managing my own emotions. Well, one key. Other keys are financial stability, a supportive co-parent, close friends, a cooperative school district, available therapies, access to organic foods, home ownership or other opportunity to create a cleaner living space, and let’s face it, we’re talking about innumerable keys. But certainly managing my own emotions is one. I struggle not to pin my mental state, any given day, to Martin’s transitory condition. Martin has good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, good months and bad months. I don’t mind the elation when Martin feels well and performs well. Giving into despair when he doesn’t is a recipe for driving myself crazy.

That being said, it never ceases to bewilder me when Martin looks near-typical one day and strongly symptomatic the text, without any obvious intervening factor.

Two Fridays ago Martin earned his yellow belt in taekwondo. He didn’t perform exactly as well as the other eight-year-olds being tested but nonetheless paid attention and made the correct moves and legitimately earned the belt. We went out for sushi to celebrate, and Martin went to bed early. He spent that Saturday in New York City with his uncle Eddie. By all reports they enjoyed themselves and Martin’s behavior was stellar. Saturday evening we had dinner at home; Eddie (who eats meat, occasionally) and Martin had organic roast turkey, Brussels sprouts, and brown rice pilaf with vegetables and sprouted pecans. Martin, exhausted from his day, again went to sleep early and without incident. That night he slept 11-and-a-half hours.

Nothing changed.

Nothing, except that Sunday morning Martin was antsy in church. He rocked around during children’s time and, I learned later, disrupted Sunday school with incessant talking. That afternoon he became crabby. Sunday night, alternating between anxiety and cracking himself up, he had trouble falling asleep. I dropped off close to 11:00 pm. He was still awake.

Monday’s school report was—less favorable than one might hope.

Tuesday’s report was—disastrous. After school, Martin looked goofy and distracted at taekwondo class. At church Kids’ Klub, in front of all the children, he called the teacher a “liar” when she misspoke and said “tomorrow” instead of “next week.”

By Wednesday evening, following a trombone lesson that made me ask myself why I’m still paying for trombone lessons, Martin was running back and forth. Remember that? Run from sofa to stairs, stop, turn, space out, then jump and pa-dap-BUMP, run back to sofa, stop, turn, space out, then jump and pa-dap-BUMP, repeat. Classic repetitive behavior. Haven’t seen it in months. Months. Before Wednesday, I would have put “running back and forth” into the “so far gone” bucket.

There were other behaviors too, both at home and at school, that for Martin’s privacy I’d rather not document here.

On Thursday, Martin started to reemerge from the mystery fog. Thursday’s note from school said, “Martin had a better day. :-)” Friday, which was a parent-teacher conference day with no school, Martin had a successful play date with two friends and focused well at taekwondo. Saturday afternoon he worked three hours on a Lego project with Adrian, without complaint. Sunday he hosted a home play date for three friends.

The Friday-Sunday update is based on reports from Adrian and Samara. I was away for the weekend, with six girlfriends from high school. Some of them read this blog. Thanks, ladies. You sustain me.

So why did Martin, without any apparent external stimuli, tank for several days? I don’t know.

And why did Martin’s Wednesday ROOS, combined with a Friday parent-teacher conference about behaviors that are causing fellow students to alienate him, send me into a tailspin, albeit a short-lived tailspin? That I do know, and I’d like to find a way to change the answer.

 

Conversation, Y’all

In my law practice, we work with an attorney from Texas who likes to throw “y’all” into sentences, even in email. She writes, “Think y’all need to flesh out that argument,” or, “I’m going to that hearing, and y’all should too.” As a literary device, her “y’all” is most effective as a lead-in or closer, like, “Y’all, we cannot take that case,” or, “Think that one through, y’all.” The concluding “y’all” is grandiose. When this attorney ends a sentence with a comma and “y’all,” I think, Did you get that? Did you pay attention? Because she was talking to you.

Being New York born and raised, I’d sound silly if I tossed y’all around the way my co-counsel does. So when I do choose to conclude a statement, especially a mono-word declaration, with a y’all, let’s agree that it’s extra-grandiose.

Conversation. Conversation, y’all.

Finally, we’ve got conversation. The kind of conversation that involves listening and responding to the partner.

Our family employs a housekeeper who comes weekday mornings, usually arriving just before Martin and I leave to catch his school bus. One day she was surprised to find Martin playing in the family room, and me away from home. (I had an errand to run, and by previous arrangement would be returning to retrieve Martin and drop him at school; Adrian was in his home office, working.) Given that Martin has always shied away from speaking with her—until recently, he buried his head in the sofa pillows whenever the housekeeper addressed him—she was even more surprised to have this conversation with him, subsequently relayed to me:

HK: “Martin! Why are you at home? Don’t you have to go to school today?”

Martin: “I am going. My mom is coming home to take me.”

HK: “If you want, I can drive you over now.”

Martin: “No, it isn’t allowed for anyone different to drop me off.”

Martin and I are spending the coming summer in Nicaragua. (Remember this post? More details later.) One morning, over breakfast, Martin asked, “How many days will we be in Nicaragua?”, and I replied, “Sixty days. All of July and August.”

Eight hours later, in the car, without additional prompting, the following conversation ensued:

Martin: “July and August each have 31 days.”

Me: “That’s true.”

Martin: “But you said we will be in Nicaragua only 60 days?”

Me: “Good point. What is 31 plus 31?”

Martin: “Sixty-two.”

Me: “So we will be gone 62 days.”

Martin: “Mommy, is Nicaragua going to be the longest trip you’ve ever taken?”

Me: “No, once I was in India for several months. I was studying there.”

Martin: “Will Nicaragua be the longest trip I’ve ever taken?”

Me: “Yes.”

These are conversations, y’all. They involve give-and-take. They require response to what the conversation partner has said.

I’m excited, of course. And there’s a caveat, of course. Most of Martin’s conversations still revolve around what fascinates him: right now, bridges, geography, and names. So while he’s made progress thinking dynamically enough to add to a conversation, he still needs to reduce his rigidity and apply that dynamism to a variety of topics.

Y’all.