Why, Hello Again

How does one restart blogging?

I’ve been thinking about that. Mostly while lying awake at night and also wondering why the [redacted] I’m not blogging. But still.

And ta-da!: The plan I’ve conjured, the blogging redux after seasons of silence:

An update.

I’ll offer my readers—in the event I retain any—tidbits about where we stand now, and then, my blog restarted, I’ll pretend like I never was away.

1. We’ve left the City for the suburbs. New York, New York, no more. We moved June 4 to a ranch house, situated on 1.15 acres in a town where many of our neighbors prefer another NHL team to the New York Rangers. An autism diagnosis was one thing. This kind of upheaval—it’s disconcerting, to say the least.

2. Martin attends kindergarten at a private school for children with learning differences. His class has twelve pupils and multiple instructors. Adrian and I feel extremely lucky that Martin has the chance to attend such a school, never more so than this past weekend, when we attended one classmate’s birthday party and watched Martin frolic with his new best friends.

3. Martin receives traditional occupational, physical, and speech therapy at his school. Saturday mornings I drive him into the City for two sessions of Anat Baniel Method (ABM) therapy. We continue working with a HANDLE therapist, and doing home-based exercises activities on the RDI approach. One evening per week Martin takes piano and drum lessons (the latter by his own initiative) with a certified music therapist.

4. We have not yet recovered Martin. We have, however, made progress, and a good deal of it:

•            Though he retains some patterns, Martin’s speech is rarely rote anymore. He has some quirks, such as substituting “but because” for “because” and adding “for” where it doesn’t belong, as in, “Can I have a piece of paper for to draw a picture on it?” Nonetheless, he can express his wishes, wants, and needs verbally, and well.

•            Martin can engage in conversation of six or more exchanges, so long as he is answering the questions (not asking them, which is a level higher). Here is an exemplar talk, which we had when he arrived home one day last week:

“How was school today?”

“It was good.”

“Did anything special happen?”

“We had a surprise reader!”

“Oh, yeah! Who was the surprise reader?”

“It was Quinn’s family.”

“Quinn’s family? His whole family came, not just his mommy or daddy?”

“His whole family came.”

“Wow! What was the book about?”

“It was about snowmen.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yes. I liked it. We made snowmen!”

Note that Martin, who once just “said things,” was speaking accurately. I confirmed later that Quinn’s mother, father, and older sister had all come to do the surprise reading, that they’d read a book about snowmen, and that they’d helped the class with a snowman-making craft project.

•            Lethargy is a thing of the past, and Martin’s “floppiness”—his tendency to fall onto anything within reach—diminishes every day. His core strength has improved, insofar as he is as likely to sit up as to slouch. His manual dexterity is such that he grips a pen appropriately for writing and drawing, he can manipulate small items like pills, and he uses his hands independently for drumming. (That last achievement might not pertain to dexterity per se.)

•            Martin takes a keen interest in his peers: what they eat, how they play, the structure of their families, where they live. He requests play dates. What he still lacks is a solid understanding of how to interact with friends. We’re working on that.

We vacationed recently at a resort area. When Martin was having trouble engaging any other child there, I would approach the child’s parent and say something like, “I think my son would like to play with yours. My son has Asperger’s, and he’s never quite sure how to go about making new friends.” “Aperger’s” sounds much less scary than that other A word, I think it’s pretty accurate for where Martin is now, and the parents I approached responded uniformly positively. Martin made a couple of “vacation friends” that way.

5. Martin still exhibits “autism” behaviors. He perseverates. A lot. This has been an issue forever. Right now he prattles endlessly about traffic lights, hair length, the time, and the moon. He also has three prominent stims (self-stimulatory behaviors), which become more pronounced when he’s tired or detoxing. The stims are running back and forth, making a slurp! sound by sucking air through his lips, and carrying or playing musical instruments. And of course, Martin can be rigid. He wants to wear his blue vest every day, drive one particular route home, read Pete the Cat or Knuffle Bunny books every night.

6. I now understand “the long haul.” I think that, when I started the process of recovering my son, I didn’t really comprehend what how long one might need to haul. The mother who introduced me to biomedical intervention had largely recovered her son within two years, and was done with the process entirely within three years. I failed to grasp that her family’s timing was exceptional. I thought that by kindergarten we’d be done.

My family has been at this three years now, chipping away at the underlying health issues that exhibit themselves as “autism” in Martin. My son has made staggering process. If we never achieve anything more, I will know that our time and money have been well spent. Still, he is not recovered, and much work remains. Fortunately, I no longer fear that some mythical window will close while Martin is five (he’s five now), or seven, or any age. A mother of a recovered 14-year-old told me recently, “Our best year was when he was 12. Twelve years old is when he made the most progress.” Twelve years old is a long, long way off for Martin. If that turns out to be our best year, so be it. We’ll get there.

7. This year, 2014, is going to be extraordinary. Don’t ask me how I know. I can say this: I woke on January 1 with that feeling, and it has not left me. Martin will hit new milestones, and so will I. This past weekend I met with an old friend from law school. My friend used to work in venture capital but for the last year or two has been searching for a new path, something more creative. I told him that I haven’t been doing much writing, or much of anything else, because I’ve been so focused on Martin’s needs. Without warning, he turned to me and vocalized something I already knew: “2014 is going to be a banner year. For you, for your son, for me. I think this is our year.”

See you soon.

Support. The Supportive Kind

Friends who know I have a son with autism mean well, but sometimes, even in their effort to be supportive, they say the wrong thing.

Here is the statement I hate most:

“All kids do that.”

Now, if you’re a friend of mine, and you’ve ever said about Martin, “All kids do that,” please do not worry. I know your heart is in the right place. I know you want to help. And this post is not directed at you, or at anyone in particular. Believe me, I’ve heard, “All kids do that,” from almost everyone within the limited circle that knows about Martin’s diagnosis.

I know from reading other blogs that I’m not the only parent who detests “All kids do that.” When someone says, “All kids do that,” then regardless of what that person means to convey, I hear one of two things:

1.      “I know Martin has autism and all, but don’t you think you’re going overboard? Maybe you’re a little hysterical about the whole thing, or you like to complain?”

2.      “I have absolutely no inkling about the realities of your daily life with Martin.”

Yes, I know that even neurotypical kids “have a favorite color.” On the other hand, if you board a subway and find that all the yellow seats are taken, can you expect your neurotypical kid to panic and run out the closing subway doors, without a care whether you are following? If your kid says the moon on his pajama top is yellow, and you suggest it might look more blue, do you assume bedtime will be delayed an hour while he howls inconsolably? Have you ever had to purchase napkins in different colors so that your family could practice sharing the yellows without a meltdown?

And I know that even neurotypical kids “tend to repeat themselves.” On the other hand, unless you live with autism, I am guessing that your kid has never lost awareness and stared into the distance, uttering some combination of words scores of times. I am guessing that your kid does not continue repeating even when he’s alone in a room, his words like a proverbial tree falling in the woods, and then falling again, and then again, and again. I am guessing that your kid’s brain does not get stuck in a groove so deep that he becomes physically unable to cease perseverating. There are times when Martin’s need to repeat himself—“Our President’s name is Obama. O-B-A-M-A. The last letter is A. Obama is the President. Do you know how to spell that? The last letter is A. Our President’s name is Obama. Do you know what our President’s name is? It’s Obama.”—reaches such intensity that, if I were to duct-tape shut his mouth, his arm or leg would have to flail in compensation until he could speak again.

(Don’t panic, dear readers. I’ve never tried any such thing. I just know it’s true.)

“All kids” do a lot of things. But they don’t do them like a kid on the spectrum does.

So what does help? What should someone say, if not “All kids do that”?

A friend of mine (let’s call him Ted) once lost several family members in a house fire. Ted and I lived more than a thousand miles apart at the time, so I wasn’t present for the immediate aftermath or the funeral. A few weeks later, when it was time for me to call, I asked another friend, Deb, what I should say to Ted. Deb is a minister, she’s wise, and her own father had died recently. She counseled (I’m paraphrasing):

“Say you’re sorry about the loss, and then talk about anything else. Follow his lead. When you’re grieving, distraction is a blessing.”

I called Ted and said I was so sorry for his loss and wished we lived closer together. He responded by asking how I was doing, and the conversation moved naturally to catching up on each other’s latest activities. We talked jobs, law (two attorneys, boring!), mutual acquaintances. Once, after a pause in the conversation, Ted said, “You know, they were so close to the door when they collapsed. It was the smoke. They almost made it out,” and I knew that Deb had been right. Ted’s mind was so consumed with loss that the twenty minutes we’d just spent talking about other topics were like a vacation for him. And immediately after saying, “They almost made it out,” Ted asked if I’d seen some movie over the summer. The house fire did not come up again.

When you encounter me, know that for at least 23 of the preceding 24 hours, I have had almost nothing on my mind except autism and recovery. I’ve been giving pills, cooking special foods, corresponding with parents on-line, reading about the latest treatments, cleaning air purifiers, mixing clay baths, filtering water, completing HANDLE exercises and concocting RDI games, fighting for a special-education placement, juggling therapy appointments, navigating social-work bureaucracy, keeping Martin’s doctor up to date, and worrying about what vaccinations are doing to our children.

You can ask me how Martin is doing. I will respond, “We have our ups and downs,” maybe add one or two recent achievements, and then move on. Here are suggested topics I would probably rather discuss than Martin’s autism:

•            How are the Rangers play-off chances looking? Will Lundqvist win the Vezina a second time?

•            Why is it still winter at the end of April?

•            Is the new Jackie Robinson movie melodramatic? Does melodrama ruin a good story? Did it ruin Argo?

•            Who is going to be the next mayor of New York City?

•            WNYC reported that 70% of home sales in Brownstone Brooklyn are all-cash deals right now. Seriously, 70%?

•            Is it okay to put a cat on Prozac?

You get the idea. There are a million things to talk about that are not autism.

And if you really, really want to talk about autism, say you support us. Adrian’s mother once set the gold standard in that regard. Adrian was visiting his country of origin and staying in the family home. One evening he and his parents and siblings crowded around a computer to Skype with me and Martin back here in the States. As it happened, that day Martin was at his worst. He would not sit with me or look at the computer. He failed to respond to any questions, or even acknowledge his father and grandparents and aunts and uncle on the screen. After 30 seconds I gave up and released Martin, who jogged around the room, yelling gibberish.

It was a painful moment for me, and though he didn’t say anything, I could tell it was painful for Adrian, too.

Evidently, so could Adrian’s mother.

After we finished with Skype, Adrian went out to dinner with friends. When he returned to the family home that evening, everyone else was in bed. On the kitchen counter was a note from his mother. Loosely translated:

“Martin will get better. I believe in what you’re doing. Love from Mamá.”

Next to the note was a plate with a cookie.

That’s all we really want, any of us, right?

A little faith, and a cookie.

Wondering Where Recovery Lies

Martin and I are at LaGuardia, on a flight delay. Fog. We’ve survived a hurricane ripping through New York and an unseasonable Nor’Easter dumping snow onto our neighbors’ powerless, unheated homes. Here at LaGuardia, however, it’s “patchy fog” that ruins the day.

I just spoke with the staff at Martin’s doctor’s office. That’s where we’re trying to fly—to his doctor’s office. We’re lucky; they’re going to rearrange some scheduling to accommodate our 90-minute delay. Let us hope it’s 90 minutes only.

I want to make it to the appointment, because medically speaking, Martin is not doing well. (Again.) Since our last appointment, eight weeks ago, he evened out, then looked good, then slipped. For the last three weeks he’s been plagued by a yeast imbalance. (Again.) Since beginning biomedical intervention almost two years ago, we’ve got yeast under control three times, only to have it strike back three times. Right now Martin’s skin is leathery and covered with scratches. He itches. He can’t resist clawing at his arms and legs. And with yeast come symptoms: distraction, irritability, toe-walking, skipping. I dread the pa-dap-BUMP sound that means Martin has lost attention, jumped into the air, and is about to start running laps. I hear pa-dap-BUMP a dozen times a day.

Still, outside the biomedical realm, Martin is making some progress. Last month he began Anat Baniel Method (ABM) therapy. Within a week we saw verbal progress: He started using the command form. He said, “Mommy, come play with me,” at the playground. I thought that might be a fluke, until he called, “Mommy, come here,” from the bathroom and then said, “Turn it off please,” when I ran the Vitamix during breakfast. Previously Martin could not use the command form; he either used an affirmation (“You’re going to come here”) or expressed a desire (“I want you to come here”). I was on cloud nine with the new verbal ability, until Martin barked, “Make me a snack!”

We’ve made some RDI progress, too. We’ve been working on pacing and facial referencing. Two days ago Martin asked for his drumsticks. I said, “I think I saw them on the chair.” Martin walked to a chair in our living room, didn’t see the drumsticks, then turned back to me, looking for more information. (Ding! Ding! Ding! RDI success!) I said, “No, one of those chairs,” and thrust my chin toward the sitting room. Martin got the idea but missed the exact location; instead of the sitting room, he headed for the dining table. (Our loft has an open floor plan. These areas all sort of merge.) Then he turned back to me again. (Ka-BOOM!) I said, “The chair over there with the doll on it,” and there he headed, to find his drumsticks.

So it’s a mixed bag, these days. Since we started biomedical intervention, I’ve lived with the assumption that the key to Martin’s recovery lies in healing the immune issues that underlie the disorder. These days, when the biomedical aspects are getting us nowhere—unless “Symptomatic Itchy-ville” counts as a place—but behavioral and physical therapies are showing some results, I question my assumption.

I’ll post again after today’s medical appointment.

If we make it.

Stuck at LaGuardia. Not much to do.