New Year!: We Zipped by a Whole Foods Market

There are times when I should trust my instincts.

Remember when I thought Martin was having a yeast flare, but went with the plan of his his doctor, who didn’t think yeast was the issue?

I was right. Yeast was the issue, and by not addressing yeast directly and immediately, I let it get worse. By four days into our Utah trip, Martin’s skin was a mess. That’s his “tell,” for candida. He gets a mild rash on his legs and belly, which spreads to his arms and backside as he scratches and scratches until he’s covered with bloody nicks. It’s awful. December 30, though we rubbed balm from head to toe, Martin could not stop scratching, and I was washing little spots of blood off his sheets and clothes.

I messaged his doctor, attaching photos. She agreed that we needed to take immediate anti-yeast measures and suggested Martin go back on Candex. This time, I supplemented her opinion with my own and decided to kickstart the new treatment with two weeks of Candidase.

. . . Which explains why, New Year’s Eve, after getting up late and skiing and meeting Adrian’s colleague for a drink, I insisted on driving to the Park City Whole Foods Market for Candidase and Candex.

As I wrote this, one week after New Year’s Eve, the situation has improved dramatically. Candidase works best on an empty stomach, so each night after 10:00 pm, I slip into Martin’s room and give him two Candidase capsules, which he swallows without waking. I do the same thing before 6:00 am, and he takes a third dose immediately after school. For the time being, I’ve cut the already sparse grains from his diet, and tried to further limit natural sugars. Last Sunday, just after we returned to New York, I baked semisweet spinach brownies, which are nut-free (appropriate for school snacks) and better than they sound.

FullSizeRender-2

Whenever possible, I’ve been substituting those for the Lärabars Martin loves, which are healthy but, because of the dates, high-sugar, at least by my standards. Instead of a (grain-free but still sweet) baked good like banana bread, Martin has been eating vegetable omelets, sometimes with turkey bacon, for breakfast.

FullSizeRender-3

Martin still scratching, though much less. His belly looks good. His arms and legs are beginning to heal again. He is comfortable.

Honestly, I am disappointed that Martin has had yet another yeast flare. I had hoped that, by this time, his system would be healed enough to keep candida in check.

But who’s got time for wallowing? I’m in battle.

 

A&A Part II: Formaldehyde

When we moved to the suburbs, June 4, 2013, we bought Martin a new bedframe, a twin-size rally car frame. Because of wheels, bumper, and built-in shelf, it occupied more space than the plain, unfinished hardwood frame he’d had previously. In the City, his bedroom was too small for a fancy rally frame; the suburbs have some advantages.

We did not, however, replace Martin’s mattress, which was an expensive organic mattress that I’d ordered two years earlier from California. A bedframe is one thing. An organic mattress does not get replaced so willy-nilly.

Martin never adored the rally bed, even though he and Adrian had picked it out together on-line. I think the metal headboard and side rails were cumbersome. Martin still tends to toss and turn at night, and to throw his limbs over the bedside. I would hear him at night, banging his arms and head on metal. Plus, the metal was cold. I didn’t love the rally bed, either. At the time, I still had to pick Martin up, out of bed, while he was sleeping, to take him to the bathroom or help him wake up. As he grew bigger, it was hard to lift him over the rails without straining my back.

What I did know was that the rally bed was safe. I’d researched the materials of which the frame was made, and the manufacturing processes, and I felt comfortable that they posed no particular dangers.

This June, 2015, Martin decided to break up with his rally car bed. The end of their two-year relationship came suddenly. Martin, for a couple weeks, had been having trouble falling asleep. One night, after an hour or two of talking to his stuffed animals, giggling, dancing down the hall to the potty, and calling for drinks of water, Martin asked to sleep in the queen-size bed in the guest room. I can’t remember whether I acted out of frustration, or exasperation, or hope, or some combination; in any event, I let him climb into the guest bed, and he was asleep within minutes.

The next night, the same scenario replayed. Martin stayed awake, busy as a bee, until finally he finagled permission to move to the queen-size bed in the guest room. The night after that, he skipped the rally bed altogether and asked to do bedtime in the guest room. He also stopped having trouble falling asleep. I don’t know why. Maybe the “trouble” was intentional, a ploy to try a different bed. The explanation he gave was, “Now that I’m almost seven, it’s just easier to sleep in a big bed.” That’s exactly what he said: “It’s just easier.” The little cad.

After Martin had been sleeping, without issue, in the guest room for more than a week, Adrian and I devised a plan. I didn’t want Martin to continue sleeping in the guest room. Unlike his bedroom, the guest room isn’t coated in EMF-blocking paint, isn’t right next to my and Adrian’s room, and doesn’t have his name on the wall in wooden block letters. On the other hand, Martin wanted a bigger bed and seemed to be sleeping better in a bigger bed. His own bedroom, though bigger than his City bedroom, is not wide enough to accommodate a queen-size bed. Adrian and I decided the solution was to offer Martin a double bed for his upcoming seventh birthday, and to bill the gift as a “big-boy bed.” In fact, we would give his bedroom a mini-makeover, changing the Curious George theme to an outer-space theme, because he’s into planets and moons.

(Actually, we offered Martin a list of new room themes to choose: music, outer space, books and writing, Big Hero 6, sports generally, or the New York Rangers. I was pulling for the Rangers. I was silently willing him to choose the Rangers. But it wasn’t meant to be. Martin likes planets.)

A big-boy double bed needs a big-boy double-size mattress, and for Martin it has to be an organic mattress. To make our big-boy-bed plan work, I would have to bite the bullet and shell out a lot of money for a new organic mattress. I found an organic mattress showroom not too far from us, drove there one morning, asked questions, compared choices, and ordered a satisfactory option. I also purchased a waterproof organic mattress cover, for the various mishaps that can occur in a seven-year-old’s bed. Then I set about procuring two double-size organic cotton sheet sets.

By the time all that was totaled, I was not in the mood to spend more money, and I suppose I let down my guard. I ordered an inexpensive bedframe, with storage drawers underneath, from wayfair.com. It arrived quickly, and with Samara’s help, I spent three days assembling the thing. (Adrian has myriad talents. The use of tools and hardware is not one of them.) The new organic mattress came just in time for Martin’s birthday. I filled the bed’s drawers with Martin’s stuffed animals, covered the mattress in organic sheets, switched the Curious George wall decals for outer-space wall decals, and hung up posters of the planets and moons. Martin loved his birthday gift. He immediately moved from the guest room back into his own outer-space room, into his new big-boy bed. That was at the end of June.

Martin’s allergy troubles began in earnest over the summer. As part of our search for answers, I asked our environmental consultant to check for mold, mildew, or other triggers to which Martin might be responding. Almost immediately, he found elevated levels of formaldehyde in Martin’s bedroom. Formaldehyde! It seemed to emanate from—did you guess this?—the cheap bedframe I’d bought online after spending so much on the organic mattress and linens. Martin has been exposed to formaldehyde. Way to go, me. Worse still, the consultant theorizes that the expensive mattress may have absorbed enough formaldehyde from the frame to pose an ongoing problem.

As soon as my parents, who are visiting from Texas, depart, Martin is moving back into the guest room and I’m throwing away—yes, throwing away, because although my first choice is to donate, I refuse to pass an unsafe product to any child—the bedframe. The double-size organic mattress will move to the basement in the hopes that it can air our enough to be safe again. (We have a well-ventilated basement with windows.) This time I will do my research and spend the money on a truly safe wooden bedframe, then have the organic mattress retested and hope it has become salvageable.

Remember the organic twin-size mattress that we brought with us from the City, the one that was on the rally bed? I didn’t have the heart to let that mattress go. It was too expensive. In my office I have a daybed with a trundle. I moved the twin-size organic mattress onto the trundle frame, under the main bed, thinking that we might one day put it to another use. Then my cats discovered that they could crawl underneath the daybed cover, onto the trundle mattress, and be tucked into their own flat cave between the trundle and the main bedframe. Before I even pinpointed to where the cats were disappearing hours at a time, they had left so much fur on the twin-size organic mattress that I wonder whether it will ever be suitable for humans again.

Way to go, me.

Martin doodled this on a homework sheet. I can't be sure, but I'm hoping it's some sort of representation of Henrik Lundqvist.

Martin doodled this on a homework sheet. I can’t be sure, but I’m hoping it’s some sort of representation of Henrik Lundqvist.

Leave It. Not the Yes Song That I Love. A Different Kind of “Leave It”

I am compelled to write again on the topic of guilt.

I’ve acknowledged before that I feel guilty for my son’s autism. I know I’m not alone. The Thinking Moms’ Revolution ran a post on this topic last year, titled “How I Gave My Son Autism.” That post exposed a reality: Many mothers, when they find out the health conditions that underlie autism and the environmental factors that may trigger them, feel guilty for not knowing more, for not doing more to prevent autism from invading their children’s lives. I am one of those mothers.

I am also tired of defending my right to feel guilty. Here’s a simplified version of a conversation I had this week:

Friend:

“Why don’t you weigh in publicly on some of these debates, like vaccine safety or antibiotic use?”

Me:

“They are tough issues, and I feel like everyone is so polarized and aggressive. I need my strength to recover my son and don’t want to spend it on defending myself.”

Friend:

“You’ve learned a lot, though. Why not share it?”

Me:

“Someday I will, when Martin doesn’t need me as much. Now is not the time. Understand also—all that I know now figures into the guilt that I feel for what I didn’t know when Martin was a baby. It’s painful for me to share that.”

Friend:

“Wait! You know you shouldn’t feel guilty, right? You know it’s not your fault that Martin has autism? Tell me that you know that.”

This issue arises constantly with well-meaning persons who are not biomed parents. They hear that I experience guilt, and they rush to reassure me that I have nothing to feel guilty about.

While I can’t fault anyone for wanting to make me “feel better,” random reassurances that I bear no guilt don’t make me feel better. They upset me. I know things. These things make me feel guilty. I have this feeling. I have a right to feel it. The emotion is mine to resolve (or not) on my own terms.

Biomed parents get it. When I speak with another biomed parent about feelings of guilt, the response is usually something much closer to, “I get that. How are you coping? Want to brainstorm ways to channel that into positive action?”

We don’t get to walk around telling people what emotions they should or shouldn’t feel. I, personally, become uncomfortable when a mother says that her child’s autism is a “gift.” But I don’t respond, “Wait! You know autism isn’t a gift, right? You know you shouldn’t feel like your child is lucky?” I respond, “Tell me more, if you want to.” And then, if she wants to talk, I listen. If she doesn’t, I leave it alone.

The guilt that I feel is not harmful to my relationship with Martin. To the contrary, it prompts me to do my best for him, however I can.

So, please, leave it alone. That’s a good way to help.

Wait—That’s Bad?

In the post about Martin’s disastrous Disney morning, I also mentioned buying him a black coffee, hoping it would help.

In my effort to present an honest picture on this blog, I keep my readers abreast of my application for Autism Parent of the Year. Remember when I started my kid on glasses and Heilkunst the same day, then couldn’t figure out which made him puke? Or when I denied him the chance to connect with a boy at church? How about when I vacationed in Jerusalem while Martin pined and threw tantrums at home? Way to go, me!

Let’s add coffee to the list. Months ago, Martin asked to sample an iced coffee I was drinking. I drink my coffee black: There wasn’t any soy milk or commercial almond milk or carrageenan or whatnot to worry about, so I let Martin try a sip. I thought he would hate the taste. Instead, a practice began, wherein Martin drank my coffee. More and more coffee each time, until finally I was buying him his own black iced coffees and giving him hot coffee at home.

My reasoning? Brewed coffee is GAPS-legal, and the stimulant effect seemed to do Martin well. He seemed more focused. No harm done, right?

Not so much, is MAPS doctor informed me when I mentioned the coffee habit (and convinced her to believe me). A stimulant isn’t really so good for Martin, and I should stop with the coffee, ASAP.

Which was my honest intention, until things ran amuck at Disney. Coffee! I told my brother Rudy. Grab some coffee! It helps!

Except when it doesn’t.

In Hope, Acknowledging the Despair

Remember last week’s post so long it required subheadings? Remember the subheading “Whence My Anxiety?” and how I described the City Kids Club rejecting two-year-old Martin? Remember yesterday’s post, which was a follow-up to the post so long it required subheadings? Okay. This is another follow-up to the post so long it required subheadings, and specifically a follow-up to the “Whence My Anxiety?” section.

Done with introduction/explanation. Thanks for your patience.

It was summer 2010, around Martin’s second birthday, when Adrian and I realized something was “off” with Martin. If you read this blog, you probably don’t need details about autism’s warning signs: lack of attention, inability to follow simple directions, nighttime wakefulness, daytime exhaustion. In September 2010, an old friend of mine, an Early Intervention provider, traveled from my hometown to the City and helped us complete an M-CHAT (modified checklist for autism in toddlers) questionnaire, which she evaluated. (As it turned out, my friend didn’t really need the M-CHAT. After ten minutes just interacting with Martin, she knew that he almost certainly had autism.) By October 2010, we had begun the process of formal diagnosis and enrollment in EI.

I remember autumn 2010 as a time of Martin not really regressing, but slipping. The symptoms moved from “something off” to “obvious.” He lost all eye contact. He no longer responded to his name. His communication skills stopped developing. He drifted the perimeter of our apartment, dragging his fingertips along the wall as he hummed to himself. What we’d once called Martin’s “happy dance”—running circles around our open staircase when Samara arrived—became instead a self-stimulatory ritual beyond his control, ever more circles, ever longer, until finally he’d collapse into a lethargic slump and spend the next hour on the floor, pushing a toy back and forth.

We began changing Martin’s diet in January 2011, and started biomedical interventions in February. The initial progress was so swift that I thought we’d be done with autism within a year or two. Within months, Martin was sleeping through the night, and we the first seeds of functional, i.e., non-echolalic, language were sprouting.

For September 2011, seven months after we started biomed, we were able to secure a spot in one of the City’s preeminent special-needs preschools. Stop your giggling. It’s New York City. We compete for special-needs preschool placements, of which the City has far too few. Martin was placed into a bilingual (Spanish/English), 12-1-1 (12 students, one teacher, one assistant teacher) classroom. It was a stretch, we knew. The instructors from Martin’s EI center said he needed a smaller student-teacher ratio than 12-1-1. Adrian and I figured, however, that Martin was getting better, and that soon he would be able to function in the 12-student class, and that in any event, the only spots still available in preschool were in the bilingual, 12-1-1 setting. So we took the spot, with gratitude.

From the beginning, Martin’s classroom teacher reported problems. The other kids could follow one-step directions, at least, and already were learning to cut with safety scissors. Martin followed no directions and melted down when it was time to transition activities. The other kids were fully toilet-trained, or well underway toward that goal. The other kids could watch short films. The other kids could walk to the classroom by themselves. Martin—Martin was himself. Very soon we began to hear murmurs that Martin might need to change classes.

The hammer fell a few months later. Adrian and I were called to a meeting with the teacher and administrators. Martin could not handle a 12-1-1 classroom. Fortunately, the school now had a spot available in an English-language, 8-1-2 classroom (eight students, one teacher, two assistant teachers). Martin would be moved slowly, spending short periods of time in the new classroom, and then half days in the new classroom, and finally saying goodbye to his 12-1-1 friends.

Martin’s removal from the 12-1-1 classroom ranks second in the painful moments I’ve experienced on this journey, behind his rejection from the City Kids Club. To be sure, the 12-1-1-to-8-1-2 classroom move is a distant second. The preschool wasn’t kicking Martin out; they were thoughtfully placing him in a setting to meet his then-current needs. And I was more prepared. I’d had weeks to internalize this possibility, and didn’t even need to reach for the tissue box someone had put on the table at our meeting. Still, the decision forced me to acknowledge that Martin’s recovery was not going to happen as fast as I’d thought, and that after the rapid initial progress, his improvement had slowed. His needs were still great, more extensive even than the needs of most preschoolers in special education.

Also on the Top 10 Most Painful Moments List? Touring private special-education elementary schools, trying to find an appropriate kindergarten placement for Martin, and hearing repeatedly that while dyslexia, learning disabilities, dyspraxia, &c. were acceptable, children with “autism and other global delays” should not bother to apply. Let’s not go there, this post.

I was already blogging when Martin changed preschool classes. I didn’t write about the event, at the time, because it was too painful. Later, when autism’s grip had loosened a bit more and I was feeling better, I decided to write about it. I meant to write about it. But I didn’t. For whatever reason, I still couldn’t get there.

So what’s going on now? Why am I dragging these dark moments onto the internet for all to read?

It’s because of hope. Martin right now is living a bold season for recovery. Language, good. Sleep, good. Health, good. Attention, improving. Socialization, improving. Physical skills, improving. I am surfing an wave of hope. Full recovery seems more possible than it has in years. More possible, maybe, than since the 12-1-1-to-8-1-2 switch.

I might regret reviving, here on the blog, our journey’s lowest points. Wind, you can have my caution. I’m overjoyed for the confidence to share.

Year 2014 in Review

A year ago, I woke up on New Year’s morning with the conviction that 2014 would be a banner year in Martin’s recovery.

It’s time for a look back at 2014.

Martin and a boy he played with on the beach, Florida Keys, New Year's 2014.

Martin and a boy he played with on the beach, Florida Keys, New Year’s 2014.

We started several interventions to which, for a change, Martin plainly seemed to respond. (I write “for a change” because these were some of the few times when I was able to isolate particular interventions that helped. More often, it’s just something in “the whole package.”) When I posted in late July about five treatments that were “working now,” I also posted my frustration in jumping to conclusions based on initial positive results. I’m going to report now that at least two of those five “what’s working now” treatments, six months later, still are kicking autism’s butt: camel milk and Candex. Martin’s language took off immediately following the introduction of camel milk, and it hasn’t stopped since. Did you Tuesday’s post about the conversationalist? How cool was that? As for the Candex, Martin still has yeast flares. (I’ve come to accept that candida overgrowth may be a battle we fight for many years. Therein may lie our war.) Since we started using Candex, however, those flares have been milder and of shorter duration. They’ve been manageable.

Martin with his cousin Mandy in the snow, February 2014.

Martin with his cousin Mandy in the snow, February 2014.

And the other three “working now” treatments, the GAPS diet, Enhansa™, and MitoSpectra? We are still on all three. I modified the GAPS diet by adding quinoa and reducing Martin’s meat consumption to one meal per day. (The reduction of meat isn’t particularly a “modification,” I suppose, though it felt that way.) I think Martin’s gut health is better than ever, though I wish he weren’t still prone to yeast flares. As to Enhansa, Martin’s chronic inflammation appears to have eased; I can’t say whether the Enhansa is responsible, or general improvement in gut health. I may stop the Enhansa, as an experiment, and see what happens. I plan to keep the MitoSpectra, for the time being. I reduced Martin’s dosage when a blood test revealed high levels of carnatine, and I feel like I could be doing more for his mitochondrial functioning (hence the quinoa). I’m keeping the MitoSpectra because I haven’t yet discovered that next best thing.

Martin at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Oyster Bay, New York, Spring 2014.

Martin at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park, Oyster Bay, New York, Spring 2014.

In the second half of the year, after my “What’s Working Now” post, we started vision(-ish) therapy with Dr. Deborah Zelinsky; Heilkunst homeopathy with Rudi Verspoor; and a weekly facilitated social group with local kids. So far, I give all three a big thumbs up. We are in another period when “things are going well” but I’m not totally sure why. I may be observing a slight uptick in Martin’s eye contact and attention span. I’ll give that development to Dr. Zelinsky. Martin had a fever and apparent healing reaction over the Christmas break. That goes to the Heilkunst. As for the social group, that’s a confidence-builder. Martin is happy to have friends of his own. Last week, for the first time, he asked to bring a game that everyone could play—the lovely wildlife bingo set his uncle Eddie gave him.

Martin rock climbing at a birthday party, July 2014.

Martin rock climbing at a birthday party, July 2014.

Did I make mistakes in 2014? Of course I did. I think the straight-up GAPS diet had too few carbs to meet Martin’s mitochondrial needs. I know there is debate on this point. For my child, I should have known; way back in 2011, when we first went grain-free, Martin showed signs of mild ketoacidosis, and we had to add a few gluten-free grains back in. This time around, I should have guessed that he would need more carbs than GAPS allows.

Martin with his uncle Rudy, Strasbourg, France, August 2014.

Martin with his uncle Rudy, Strasbourg, France, August 2014.

I rushed treatments. The mother who launched our biomedical journey cautioned me against the urge to do everything at once. Nevertheless, when I find an intervention that excites me, I might move too quickly. Even today, four years into Martin’s recovery, I’m prone to that amateur mistake. Other times, I just fail to pay attention and mistakenly start two treatments together. C’est la vie.

Martin looking over St. Bartholomá church, on the Königsee, Berchtesgadan, Germany, August 2014.

Martin looking over St. Bartholomá church, on the Königsee, Berchtesgadan, Germany, August 2014.

Despite my tendency to rush, though, I think honestly I can peg 2014 as the year when I internalized “marathon not sprint.” Sure, for years now I’ve parroted the mantra. Autism recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Autism recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. But what kind of marathon did I really envision? In my “banner year” post, last January, I wrote, “I now understand ‘the long haul,’” and “I no longer fear that some mythical window will close while Martin is five . . ., or seven, or any age.” Even after I wrote that, however, the notions took some time to sink in. It wasn’t until November, when I wrote the “Journey” post, that I finally abandoned the idea that this process will have an end date. Striving for better health may well be a perennial task, one that Martin needs to continue even after he becomes responsible for his own care. Autism recovery is not a sprint. It isn’t even a marathon. Autism recovery is a lifestyle.

Martin hiking in the Adirondack mountains, near the Great Sacandaga Lake, August 2014.

Martin hiking in the Adirondack mountains, near the Great Sacandaga Lake, August 2014.

Behavior-wise, in 2014 Martin took new interest in socializing with other kids. Although he still isolates himself when he becomes overwhelmed, for the most part he wants to be near his friends, even if just to play side-by-side on iPads. Late in the year, Martin also (finally) made progress on nighttime potty training. He wakes now when he needs the potty, and yells for me. “Thanks, kid.” Language-wise, in 2014—well, wow. Martin has been asking “why” questions (like, gazillions of why questions) for a long time now; in 2014, he started answering them, coherently. He’s become conversational, staying on point for multiple exchanges. He can talk on the phone. This afternoon he’s going to call Uncle Eddie and wish him happy birthday! And the perseveration has decreased. Did I mention that the perseveration has decreased? Yeah, the perseveration has decreased. Such a relief.

Martin, on the left, with his cousin Luke, in the Florida Keys, New Year's 2015.

Martin, on the left, with his cousin Luke, in the Florida Keys, New Year’s 2015.

I am pleased to conclude that 2014 was a banner year in Martin’s recovery. All signs point to significant improvement in health, and corresponding changes in behavior.

May it be one banner year among many.

 

TWIFU

TIFU. Know what it means? Click here (at your own peril) if you don’t.

Now take the T (“today”) and substitute TW (“this week”), because the events I’m about to describe happened on Monday.

In yesterday’s post I talked about starting Heilkunst. Martin’s first two clears arrived last week. I waited to start them, because I hadn’t had time to peruse the instructions for the clears, or to revise Martin’s daily supplementation sheets to include the clears and the accompanying drainage formula. Monday I had the time, got everything prepared, and decided to start Martin’s first clear.

By Monday we also had been waiting more than a week, since our visit to Dr. Zelinsky, for Martin’s new glasses to arrive. Martin, with characteristic precision and fierceness, had said he wanted his glasses to arrive “on Saturday, November 1 and no other day!” They didn’t. So when the glasses finally appeared on Monday, November 3, I was eager to present them to Martin and let him start wearing them.

Here’s what happened after the school bus dropped Martin off Monday afternoon:

3:50 pm. Martin put on glasses for the first time, agreed to wear them generally.

3:50-4:20 pm. Martin played, read, and drew pictures, wearing glasses. He took his afternoon supplements.

4:20-6:20 pm. We went to social-skills group. Martin wore glasses. On the way, he drank his camel milk. The group leader reported that Martin had a great session and participated well.

6:30 pm. Driving home from social-skills group, we pulled into Stop & Shop for Martin to pick out his own Lärabar®. Even though we have Lärabars at home, Martin takes great pleasure in going to the store and choosing one. (No doubt he also likes that Stop & Shop stocks “cherry pie” and “pecan pie” flavors, which I don’t keep at home.) Martin, glasses on, seemed energized, if not decisive. He ran back and forth between the standard Lärabar display and a temporary rack of “seasonal” flavors like “pumpkin pie” and “gingerbread.”

7:00-7:30 pm. Martin sat at the dinner table. His dinner was bone broth and pasta with squash and cauliflower. While Martin sipped his broth, I assembled and administered his evening supplements, including for the first time the Heilkunst drainage drop and a Heilkunst clear. He took them without issue.

7:30-7:45 pm. Although Martin loves pasta, after just a bite or two he pushed the pasta bowl aside and said he wanted to finish only his soup, which he did. He also requested dessert and ate a small piece of chocolate. Then he said he didn’t want to wear his glasses anymore, didn’t want to take a bath, and was going to get ready for bed.

8:00 pm. In his room, teeth brushed, pajama-clad, without glasses, Martin scrunched himself into froggy position on the floor and said his belly hurt. Did he need to return to the potty? I asked. Could I get him a drink of water? Would he like more soup? No, no, no, Martin answered. He climbed into bed and asked me to read him a story.

8:20 pm. Martin was in bed, lights out. From the kitchen, I heard him calling me. I walked down the hall to his doorway. “Mommy, my tummy hurts,” he said and smacked his lips. I realized what probably was coming and started toward his bed. Too late. Within seconds, Martin, his pillow, his sheets and blanket, several stuffed animals, and a small part of the mattress were splashed with vomit. In the mess I saw several undigested supplements, along with the few bits of pasta he’d eaten.

Martin almost never pukes. I think it’s happened maybe two or three times in his life.

And I didn’t know what caused it Monday. That was the TWIFU. I know that I should separate new supplements, treatments, therapies, and even vitamins by at least two-to-three days, in order to pinpoint the cause of any reactions. I know that. What did I do Monday? Without a second thought, I let Martin wear new glasses for several hours and started the Heilkunst. When he reacted, when he puked all over poor Curious George, I couldn’t isolate the cause. Was wearing glasses too much stimulation for Martin’s brain stem? Did he get dizzy? Or did the first Heilkunst clear cause his body to reject something? How could I tell?

I’ve been working at Martin’s recovery for four years. You’d think by now I’d have a clue.

P.S. Because of my carelessness, I had to undertake some additional investigation. By the time I finished cleaning Martin, washing linens, and doing my best with the mattress and pillow, it was late evening. (Admittedly, I would have been awake anyway. The Rangers went to a shoot-out.) I didn’t want to bother Dr. Zelinsky or Rudi Verspoor at that hour. Instead, I texted with another Dr. Z mom I know and posted an inquiry in a Heilkunst group on-line, which generated immediate responses. By the time I went to bed, I was 90% confident that the vomiting was unrelated to the new glasses and instead was a proper reaction to the first clear, which was a clear for the coxsackie virus Martin had two years ago. I was even more confident when Martin woke the next morning with a slight rash on his hands, a much lighter version of how he’d looked during the virus. Still, I can’t be 99.99% confident, and that bothers me.

Not a Special Moment

This morning I had one of those disappointments to remind me that, no matter how far we’ve come, I still have a son with autism.

Adrian had already left for work, Martin was eating breakfast, and I’d finished giving his supplements early, so I had five minutes to spare. Bouncing around my Facebook feed I saw several references to Alfonso Ribeiro doing “The Carlton” on Dancing the the Stars last night. I’m not a big DWTS watcher, but who could resist traveling back 20 years and watching The Carlton again? Hastily, I used my iPhone to Google.

The dance was as delightful as I’d imagined, and I thought, “I want to share this with Martin.” I brought my iPhone to the breakfast table and restarted the video for him. I said, “This funny dance made me happy.”

What did I expect in return? I don’t know. Maybe a laugh. Maybe a question like, “Who is that man?” so that I could talk about The Fresh Prince. Maybe just a moment, together, when we would share a kibble of amusement. Just a moment.

Instead, Martin retreated to his comfort questions, the topics on which he fixates these days:

– “Are there children in that audience?”

– “Can we go there?”

Ÿ- “Do you have to practice to be in that audience?”

Each of these questions has, somewhere in the past, an origin. For months now, Martin has wanted to attend anything that resembles a concert, however remotely. When a group comes on the car radio, he says, “Mommy, does this group play shows still?” And then, “I want to go there.” He often melts down if we cannot proceed directly to a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert, or if informed that Adele is not currently appearing in our suburb. When Nick Jonas sang God Bless America before the U.S. Open women’s final, which I was watching on television, Martin deemed the event a concert and lost his cool because I didn’t have tickets. As to whether one has to “practice to go there,” last fall Martin and I attended a community event in which a children’s band and chorus performed. Martin became distressed that he could not climb up on stage and perform too. My attempt to explain that concerts are a culmination of much practice became a fixation for Martin. Now, no matter what is denied to him, he blames “practice.” “Mommy, do you have to practice to be a pirate?” “Do you have to practice to eat food that makes your belly hurt?” “Do you have to practice to go to Arkansas and meet the Duggars?”

There was no sweet moment this morning, watching Alfonso Ribeiro dance The Carlton. As soon as the video started, so did Martin:

“Are there children in that audience?”

“Yes, Martin, I assume so. This is taken from a television program that—”

“Can we go there?”

“No. See, this is taped from a televi—”

“I want to go there.” [He was growing distressed.]

“It does look like fun! But it’s not something we can—”

“Mommy, do you have to practice to be in that audience?” [He was beginning to cry.]

“No! You don’t have to practice to be in an audience. You—”

“I’m never going to go there! Never!” [Here ensued a meltdown.]

“Martin, I was hoping to share this with you, but it’s just making you cry.” [I turned off the video. We made it less than 30 seconds.]

I shouldn’t have said that last comment; Martin is sensitive, and I don’t want to induce guilt for behavior he cannot control. But I was frustrated.

We all have our shortcomings.

Go, Diva!

For the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we rented a condominium in a Florida Keys resort. (That’s the way our family rolls, with Martin’s dietary restrictions—vacationing only where we have a fully equipped kitchen to use and organic groceries nearby.) Martin was allowed to bring two stuffed animals. He chose (1) “Boo,” a preposterous Santa-hat-wearing dog he received for Christmas, and (2) a brown bear that had arrived in a lovely gift basket for the family.

“Martin,” I asked as we drove to LaGuardia, “what is the bear’s name?” Martin sat in his booster seat, clutching both stuffed animals. I figured he should get first crack at naming the bear.

To my surprise, Martin had an immediate response. “Goadie Va,” he said, or something similar. Goat Eva? Go, Diva? Was he talking to me? Am I a diva?

“Goadie Va?” Adrian asked, from the driver’s seat.

“Goadie Va,” Martin replied, with certainty. 

Adrian and I looked at each other. I made a who-the-hell-knows kind of shrug and said, “Okay, the bear’s name is Goadie Va.” No further discussion on the name was had, as our family, Boo and Goadie Va in tow, headed south. 

Behavioral therapy for autism often stresses acting neurotypical and giving a child the tools for participating, even marginally, in a neurotypical-dominant world. Certainly that was my experience with ABA, a technique that only frustrated Martin. Although Martin spent only a couple months in ABA—I found the therapy almost useless (for us), and we abandoned it for RDI—I may have internalized too much of the message that Martin should be instructed to act a certain way. To this day, I find myself saying, “Let’s try that again,” until Martin evinces a satisfactorily neurotypical effort.

“Martin, that man said hi to you. How should you respond? I’m sorry? Let’s try that again.”

“Martin, you walk through the doorway. You don’t flop through it. Let’s stand up and try that again.”

“Martin, you sit at the dinner table. No leaving your seat to jump up and down or touch the clock. Let’s try that again.”

There are approaches to treating ASD premised on the idea of joining an autistic child in his own worldview. The best-known among these approaches is probably The Son-Rise Program®. Son-Rise is not a therapy we’ve tried, so what I know comes from reading and from communicating with families who do participate in the program.

According to the Son-Rise website, “Joining in a child’s repetitive and ritualistic behaviors supplies the key to unlocking the mystery of these behaviors and facilitates eye contact, social development and the inclusion of others in play.” In the midst of my over-used “Let’s try that again” orders, I ponder the Son-Rise argument. Take, for instance, my telling Martin not to run from the family room to the front hall, touch the front door, run back to the family room, fall onto the sofa, and then start over again. Would Martin and I better enjoy our time together if, instead, I ran with him from the family room to the front hall, and touched the front door, and ran back to the family room, and fell onto the sofa, and then started over again, all by his side? Would he trust me more? Would I be more his ally, and less a monotonous dictator?

Martin hauled Boo and Goadie Va all over the Florida Keys, from the Hemingway House to parasailing in Islamorada. He slept with them every night, and provided regular updates on their preferences, such as, “Goadie Va wants to wait in the car. Boo will come in the store.” Never once did he call the bear anything other than Goadie Va. I chalked it up to Martin finding a quirky sound (“Goadie Va. Go, diva!”) and fixating on the sound.

Near the end of our trip, for the first time, I noticed Goadie Va’s right paw. Stitched on the paw pad, clearly and adorably, was the name “Godiva.” Of course, Godiva. Goadie Va had arrived in a Godiva gift basket at Christmas. Martin can read. If a bear has a name stitched on his paw, obviously—duh!—that’s the bear’s name.

I almost never spend time in Martin’s world, almost never try to adopt his black-and-white Weltanschauung. I wonder: In my relentless advocacy for neurotypical behavior, how much am I missing?

Newtown

Here are some things I’ve heard about Newtown—I guess we just say Newtown now—that may or may not be true. I heard that the shooter had autism, or some form of ASD. I heard that his mother tussled with the school district about his special education. I heard that she encouraged her son to “fit in.”

I thought, How terrible. How could the mother of a child with special needs tell him to do precisely that of which he is incapable—to fit in?

I thought, I would never do that to Martin. He is who he is. I will not chisel away his self-esteem by telling him to be like other kids, when he can’t.

As a child, I was boyish. There was no dress-up or experimentation with make-up for me. I had short hair; I preferred jeans to skirts or dresses or even slacks; I played sports and climbed trees; I didn’t mind when strangers mistook me for a boy, which they often did. Like other boyish girls, I faced persistent pressure to change, mostly from adult females, well meaning or otherwise. (“I can’t believe you’re not getting this right,” the art teacher chided, when used too little adhesive on my papier-mâché project. “You’re just always so messy.”) The effect was that I didn’t like myself. I believed that I should be girlish, but I wasn’t. That just wasn’t me. And so who I was—wasn’t right.

I’ve been determined not to tell Martin that he isn’t right. Martin should fit in with other kids only as much as he wants to or is ready for. That’s an easy call.

Still, Newtown and the rumors surrounding it got me thinking: Are there other instances when I tell Martin to do what he’s not (yet?) capable of?

There are. About fifty million per day.

“Martin, pay attention.”

“Martin, stop dawdling.”

“Martin, look at me.”

“Martin, no repeating. Say it only once.”

“Martin, eat.”

“Martin, hurry up.”

“Martin, walk like a big boy.”

“Martin, just go to the front hall and put the shoes on.”

The hard part is figuring out when Martin is just playing me. Example: Bedtime. Martin insists that I do his bedtime routine: potty, supplements, teeth brushing, reading, tuck-in. He’ll agree to take his bath for someone else (say, Adrian or Samara), but bedtime is all Mommy. In fact, Martin is so fixated on bedtime with me that perseverates on continual reassurance. Within five minutes of waking each morning, he has said, “Sleepy-time with Mommy!” at least once. He says it throughout breakfast and while he gets ready for school. It’s one of the first statements I hear when I pick him up from school: “Sleepy-time with you, Mommy!” Anytime that he senses I am about to leave, even if only to go to the bathroom, he becomes agitated and says, “Sleepy-time with you! Sleepy-time with you!”

On vacation last week, Adrian and I went out to dinner and left Martin with my parents. As soon as Martin realized that Adrian and I were leaving, he began to scream and cry. “I want to go to dinner, too. Sleepy-time with you, Mommy! Sleepy-time with Mommy!” He threw himself dramatically to the floor, grabbed Adrian’s foot with his right hand and my foot with his left hand. “You’re not going to go out! You’re going to stay here!”

We left.

Within five minutes I received a text message from my mother: “Everything fine here. Martin calm.” When we returned home later, I learned that Martin had done his entire bedtime routine and gone to sleep without complaint.

On the one hand, I know that Martin’s ASD and accompanying fixations make him cling to routines, and I need to indulge that. On the other hand, Martin wants me to indulge him, and he exploits my willingness to do so. When it comes to keeping pace and hurrying up, Martin is a heckuva lot more cooperative if he’s excited about where we’re going. Getting from our apartment to the school bus? It’s a ten-minute process. Getting from our apartment to the playground? He’s moving faster than I am. Am I wrong to tell him to hurry up and focus for the school bus? Same with meals. If the plate is beef bites with fermented cauliflower, I have to repeat some variation of, “Maybe you could take a bite?” at least two dozen times, or even just spoon it into him myself. A bowl of gluten-free oats with butternut squash and coconut oil goes down his throat like bathwater through the drain. Am I wrong to tell him to hurry up and focus on eating the beef?

One of my first reactions to Newtown was, “Thank God the shooter killed his mother first. It was an act of mercy; how could she have gone on?”

Looking back, I think that reaction—it was a gut reaction, and I am not saying that the Newtown shooter’s mother had anything to do with what happened on December 14; I know almost nothing about the circumstances—was my conscience expressing the responsibility I feel for Martin’s future. However far biomedical recovery takes us, I am the one who has to help Martin learn to live in the world and still love himself.

Holy crap.

Martin checking out a holiday train display.

Martin checking out a holiday train display.

securedownload