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This happens:

Martin enters our house, sees me in the kitchen, and without my saying a word or any other provocation, immediately trips into a puddle of anxiety. He asks what’s for dinner, then complains about what’s for dinner, says what he wants instead. If vegetables are involved, he asks if other kids eat vegetables and why he’s not like other kids. He jumps. He lists activities in which, he thinks, I won’t let him participate: Can I go to the taekwondo picnic without a grown-up? Can I ride my bicycle to the Stop & Shop? He makes demands and contradicts them: Can I have more than 30 minutes of screen time? No! No screen time! Mommy, no screen time today! Near tears, or in tears, he flees the kitchen and throws himself on the sofa, spewing nonsense.

Three days ago, Martin entered the house to find me prepping his favorite meal—“pizza bar,” in which he gets a pizza crust, sauce, Daiya cheese, and his specified toppings (pineapple, black olives, artichoke hearts, and anchovies) to assemble and bake as he likes—and staged an anxiety attack because I was using Nature’s Promise organic pizza sauce, not Poblano Farmsbrand.

I’ve tasted the two sauces. I’m certain if he hadn’t seen the jar he wouldn’t be able to distinguish the Poblano Farms from Nature’s Promise.

When these meltdowns happen, Adrian or my brother Eddie, having entered the house behind Martin, watches the whole performance, dumbfounded. Once Martin has adjourned to the sofa, Adrian or Eddie says something like, “I don’t get it. He was just fine until we entered the house.”

These events happen, and happen, and happen again.

Martin has severe anxiety, and I, his mother, have become the locus of that anxiety. This reality is difficult for me, and painful. It’s difficult for me because I, too, am prone to anxiety, much more than Adrian or Eddie. As Martin becomes upset and nervous, so do I, which despite my best efforts to hide, Martin detects and incorporates into his own mood. We spiral. It’s painful for me because, even though I know Martin’s anxiety is generalized and not tied to the stimulant that provokes the meltdown, these incidents feel like an attack on me.

As to why I am the target of Martin’s anxiety, my theory has long been that Martin perceives me as the arbiter of limitations on him, especially food. I am the one who sees the entire world in terms of Martin’s allergies; Adrian knows, for example, that Martin is allergic to all forms of dairy, but he still calls me with panicked questions like, “Does chocolate have milk?” I am the one who has done the research on organic versus non-GMO versus “all natural,” who studies food dyes and additives, who says thanks but no thanks when a well-meaning host offers to grill Martin’s turkey burger on aluminum foil to protect it from beef juices. Adrian, along with everyone else who supervises Martin, tends to say, “I’m not sure about that. We’d better check with Mommy.”

What’s worse, Martin perceives me as an arbitrary arbiter of these limitations on him, with good reason. I have loosened the strictures on corn, refined sugar, soy, and a few others. I’ve done so because (1) Martin gets to me with his constant whining, crying, and preemptive anxiety about food (see above: “I, too, am prone to anxiety”), and (2) I genuinely feel bad for Martin and want him to be able to participate to the fullest extent possible in what his peers are doing, and much of the time, what his peers are doing is eating a bunch of crap (which I say in a loving, non-judgmental way).

I’ve tried to make Martin the arbiter of his own food choices. I created a chart with four columns labeled foods I never eat(this column comprised only gluten and his food allergies), foods I try to avoid, foods I eat sparingly (“Mommy, what’s ‘sparingly’?”), and foods I eat as much as I want. My idea was to turn decision-making over to Martin, with just enough supervision to know what he was up to and intervene if “sparingly” became “once an hour.” But the chart itself morphed into an anxiety source, as Martin melted down over details like whether rice is “sparing” or “unlimited,” and how he should tell if vegetables are genetically modified (“try to avoid”) or organic (“as much as I want”). For all the progress he’s made, Martin still wants bright-line rules and certainty, and also wants those lines to fall exactly in the position that accommodates his preferences. I can’t always make that possible for him.

Recently, a friend proffered an alternative explanation as to why Martin’s anxiety targets me: I’m the one Martin trusts most, so he allows himself to release when I’m present. The meltdown Martin had last Wednesday supports this theory. He’d been out with my brother Eddie and “doing fine.” Upon arriving home and seeing me, he started complaining about his class photo, from last October. All the other kids had their eyes open and nice smiles, except Martin. The photographer picked the shot with Martin’s eyes closed and an awkward grimace. (In defense of the photographer, it is very hard to catch a decent shot of Martin.) From the class photo, Martin moved to worrying about when he almost arrived late the day in March he was to say the morning Pledge of Allegiance over the loudspeaker. Then, becoming more upset, he remembered how, first semester, the kids had to wait in the cafeteria for chess club instead of going out to play, even though school ended at 2:25 and chess club didn’t start until 3:00. By the time Martin started perseverating about his mid-year fixation with the little girl Nicole, he was in full meltdown.

That sequence, from seeing me to meltdown, took less than three minutes. Clearly, Martin had walked through the door cocked and locked, ready to fire. It took me about 20 minutes of sitting with him, calming him, and coaxing him with questions to get him to admit the real issue: It had been the last day of school, and Martin felt terrified about not seeing his school friends over the summer. I understood where he was coming from. I remember, even as a young adult, fearing the end of law school or of temporary employment because I would lose access to people whose company I enjoyed, but whom I would not see independently. Martin’s remaining social deficits mean he doesn’t get playdate invitations. The kids who play the role of friends during school recess would be likely unavailable to do the same over the summer.

Once we’d sorted out the true cause of the meltdown, Martin became apologetic. He didn’t mean to shout angry things at me, he said. He’d been like a volcano ready to explode, and the last day of school brought up bad memories in his head. So indeed, maybe he’d melted down at me because I was the safe space to do so.

The safe space who controls his life. That’s me.

Everything Is Wrong

These past six or seven months have probably been the most challenging since we began biomedical recovery eight years ago. Martin has “tanked” before—but never so dramatically, or for so long.

That’s not why I haven’t been posting to my blog. I promised honesty about the disasters as well as the pinnacles, and I’ve followed through on that promise. No, I haven’t been posting because I started a new position in August (if you’re keeping track, now I have two jobs, both part-time), and that combined with meeting Martin’s needs (the cooking! all that cooking!) has kept me awfully busy.

Yes, I’m “doing too much.” Yes, that’s part of who I am. But I love both of the positions in which I’m working. My only worry is whether I have time to meet Martin’s needs. On that point, I must be scrupulous.

The troubles began last summer, in Costa Rica. Martin started feeling like he had to pee constantly. He might finish going to the bathroom, wash his hands, and return five minutes later. He sometimes required three trips to the bathroom before we could leave the house for camp. When I asked whether he really needed to go, he might reply that he thought he needed to, or that he wanted to “adjust” his privates. Clearly, some irritation was plaguing Martin.

Next came the physical tics. The first tic was thrusting his index fingers into his nose and then his mouth. Not picking or fiddling, thank heavens, but thrusting. Often. By the time we returned to the States and Martin started fourth grade, he had added eye rubbing. He pushed his knuckles roughly into eyes, then moved his palms in circles on his eye lids. His eyes looked red and sore.

The nose-mouth tic faded, only to be replaced by a need to touch his genitals and then his backside, almost ritually. You can imagine what this did to all those fledgling friendships Martin had been assembling toward the end of third grade.

Desperate, I allowed Martin’s New York doctor to put him on antibiotics. I had to hit desperation before we tried antibiotics, because antibiotics are destructive to gut health, and poor gut health has been one of Martin’s toughest health issues. Long-term antibiotic use, however, is known as an effective treatment for PANS. We believe Martin is suffering a PANS flare, and when you see your 10-year-old constantly frustrated because he feels compelled to touch his private parts, even in front of other kids—let’s just say you’ll try almost anything.

The self-touching did fade, thank heavens, only to be replaced by a verbal tic. Beginning in December, Martin lost control of his mouth and, in response to the slightest frustration, blurted inappropriate phrases. I mean really inappropriate. It’s no longer limited to, “I hate you,” or, “Stupid!” He’s called his teacher, and me, “bitch.” He told his classroom aide, “Die, scumbag!” His classmates are “idiots,” whom he informs, “I have a girlfriend in second grade. We’re having sex.” (“Please believe me that these are not phrases that are used in our home,” I begged his teacher one day, unable to account for the behavior.) Often, after Martin says such things, he becomes upset and apologizes: “I don’t know why I said that! I knew it was coming out, but I couldn’t stop it in time!”

As is characteristic, Martin’s skin has been a mess since this ordeal started. He claws at his arms and legs, which are marked with bloody spots and recent scars. Mornings and evenings we massage him with CBD oil. The CBD oil helps but doesn’t resolve the irritation, which originates from within.

Martin’s school team—his teacher, his classroom aide (shared with another student), and his behaviorist—are terrific. They understand that the behaviors are out of Martin’s control, so he is not punished, not even for the most egregious name calling and acting out. (If I were a teacher, being called the b-word in front of other pupils, I might not have had the same self-control.) They’ve come up with a incentive-based rating system: Every day we receive a sheet rating Martin’s behavior from one-to-five stars, with a number of categories (“Did I keep my hands to myself in the hallways?” “Did I use kind words during recess?”) and a space for comments. Evenings, Adrian and I discuss the report with Martin in the least threatening way possible, and strategize for how he might do better.

Last week, Thursday and Friday, Martin finally had two five-star school days, with no inappropriate language. Saturday, my brother Eddie took Martin to the City for one of their “big adventures” and reported excellent behavior. Saturday evening Martin vomited his dinner and went to bed early. Throughout Saturday night and Sunday morning, he vomited. Sunday he voluntarily spent the day in bed, without complaining. By Sunday evening he felt better enough to start eating again, and he asked me not to cancel a pre-planned playdate Monday morning—it was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, so the kids were off from school—with Ryan, a boy from last-year’s social skills playgroup.

The playdate went really well. Ryan is a year younger than Martin, with corresponding developmental delays. The two conversed fluidly, albeit about unusual topics. They were, for example, both incensed with the school district’s decision to have classes the day before Thanksgiving 2018, when that day was off in 2017; this gave them 10 minutes’ conversation or more. After a while, Martin wanted to fall back onto his standby, screen time. He asked whether Ryan wanted to play Fortnite. “I’m not allowed to play Fortnite,” Ryan replied. To my relief (I was eavesdropping from the kitchen), Martin said okay and suggested LEGO instead. They played LEGO.

Could we finally have turned a corner? I asked myself. Two five-star days at school, taking care of himself while sick, and now a successful playdate?

Hope is a train I shouldn’t always board. It sets me up for deflation.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week were three-star days, or worse. On several occasions Martin tried to hit other kids. To hit other kids.He’s never been a hitter. And he was throwing the word “idiot” around.

Here’s the summary of right now: Martin has been on antibiotics eight weeks. The constant bathroom-going and most of the physical tics have ceased, though not soon enough; he has lost virtually all the friends he gained last year, when he had such a tremendous spring semester. His state of being cycles from anxiety to meltdown to uncontrolled silliness. He loses control over what comes out of his mouth.

I’m trying to focus on what’s happening on a deeper level. Martin is conversant, much more than he used to be. He is self-aware, and sorry for the consequences of his behaviors. His inference skill has improved, and with it, his reading comprehension. He had such a good weekend that I’m starting to believe we might be getting close to leaving the PANS, or whatever it is, behind.

And he’s trying.

But today he told his teacher he’s going to “blow up the school.”

Here we are.

How It Lingers

My sister is visiting us, here in Costa Rica, with her two daughters:  Mandy, who is Martin’s age, and Julie, who is about to turn two years old.

Sunday we took a day trip to a nearby beach town. When we arrived, the kids got fruit smoothies. Then we hit the beach. The waves were pretty strong. We adults (my sister, my brother Eddie, and I) took turns going into the surf with the kids. I try to get Martin as much salt-water time as possible. I consider the ocean a health spa.

Martin had already had several solid days with Mandy. She attended camp with him. The two of them fussed and played for hours each afternoon. They put together evening concerts: Mandy wrote an emcee script for Martin to perform, and then, using five-pound dumbbells for microphones, the two sang Uptown Funk!, A Million Dreams, even a jazzy version of Happy Birthday to send to Adrian, who’s in New York. The songs were accompanied by the kids’ original choreography, which resembled running crisscross while high-fiving each other at each pass.

And now, Sunday, everyone was having a great time, as far as I could tell, even if Martin did start to get anxious as lunchtime neared.

We left the beach to walk to an outdoor fresh-preparation food stand (everything gluten- and dairy-free! pura vida!). Along the way we stopped at a souvenir shop, where Martin selected an inexpensive carved frog. I spoke to the proprietor in Spanish. Martin refused to look at the man. Instead he put his face near mine and whispered, “Mommy, pretend you don’t know a word of English!” Martin’s picked up an odd obsession lately: He tries to dictate who can speak which languages, and when. He even manages to impart his angst into the topic. If he finds out we are going out to dinner, he demands to know in advance whether I plan to speak Spanish or English to the waiter and tells me to guess whether he plans to do the same. In the souvenir shop, I said, “Martin, that’s silly. He can tell I have a North American accent. Why don’t you say hi?” The proprietor then greeted Martin, in Spanish, and asked how he was doing. Martin turned away as if he hadn’t heard. Covering, I apologized and said that my son does speak Spanish but is shy about doing so.

As soon as Martin and I were back on the sidewalk—Mandy and the others had wandered to another shop—Martin started to meltdown. His meltdowns are so infrequent these days that I don’t anticipate them like I used to, and this one caught me of guard. Martin asked, “Why did you do that? Why did you tell him I speak Spanish?” His words quickened as he said, “Why did you try to make me say hi? I didn’t want to do that. Why are you so mean? You’re the meanest mom in the whole world.” He was crying as he descended into nonsensical opposite-talk: “I hate you. I don’t love you. I wish you weren’t my mom. I don’t speak English anymore. I’m never speaking English again. New rule: I have to talk to everyone we meet!” He thrust his jaw forward (that old trick again!), clenched his fists, and motioned as if to punch me, though he did not make contact. (He never does, thank heavens.)

I stood by him and let the meltdown run its course. When the opposite-talk subsided, I tested the waters. “Martin, were those the things you really wanted to say?”

Still not in control, he answered, “Sorry, Mommy. I didn’t mean it. I did mean it! I hate you!” He air-punched again, then hugged me, sobbing.

Mandy approached, accompanied by my sister and Julie. Mandy asked, “Why is Martin crying?” Her question pained me, for two reasons. First, the obvious reason: Especially in the moment, I have no effective means to convey to a nine-year-old that her cousin is crying because anxiety has been collecting inside him until a random, almost undetectable social pressure knocked him into a netherworld of confusion. Second, the less obvious, more painful reason: In visits past, Mandy tended to ask mequestions about Martin. “Does Martin like watermelon?” “What time does Martin get up?” I would have to remind her that she could ask Martin, even if he didn’t always answer immediately. This visit, until the meltdown, had been different. Mandy had been asking all her Martin questions—even questions about food allergies and what he can eat—to Martin, and he’d been answering. As he returned to meltdown mode, however, she stopped relying on his ability to speak for himself.

I said, “He’s having a tough time right now. Why don’t we walk to lunch?”

Cheerfully, my sister said, “Great idea! Let’s walk.”

We continued to the lunch joint, Mandy casting suspicious glances at Martin as he tried to get himself under control. By the time we sat at a picnic table, Martin had stopped crying enough to manipulate me. He said, “I think what would help me calm down is your iPhone.”

Adrian and I don’t usually allow screen-time at meals. Nevertheless, I gave in. I wanted to distract Martin from whatever was bothering him before Mandy witnessed any additional meltdown.

A day trip with his favorite cousin, to a beach he knows and enjoys, with the promise of lunch at a food stand he likes, and then, pow!, a meltdown. The frustration! Sometimes it feels like no much Martin’s health and behavior improve, the remnants of autism hide inside him, ready to interrupt paradise with their ugly ways.

My survival tactic is to remember to look for the silver lining. Sunday, allowing Martin to play with the iPhone did the trick. By the time our food arrived (25 long minutes later, pura vida), Martin was ready for limited participation in lunchtime discussion about the waves and fun we’d had in the ocean. On the drive home, strapped into the third row of our SUV, he beatboxed with Mandy. Almost as soon as we arrived back at our rental house, a brother and sister showed up for a play date (these arrangements were Mandy’s doing), and Martin participated decently. Mostly he followed the brother around spouting Minecraft strategies—but hey, that’s a form of socializing.

Martin melted down.

He bounced back.

I take what I can get.

Martin and Mandy, in the waves.

He Does Not Mean What He Says

In a Facebook discussion group today, an uncomfortable topic arose: when kids on the spectrum become fascinated with and/or talk inappropriately about race.

This happened to Martin. For about six months last year and this, Martin made race-based remarks that he knew were untrue or would displease others. He told me and Adrian that “Hispanic kids aren’t as smart.” (As long-time readers of this blog know, Martin is both Hispanic and Spanish-speaking.) He pointed out to his best school friend, repeatedly, that she was the only black student in their class. In the most disheartening incident, the details of which remain unclear, I think Martin cost me an emerging friendship. I had grown closer to a woman from church, who happens to be black. We were enjoying regular lunch dates and pedicures together, and one of her daughters, a middle-schooler, babysat Martin sometimes. One evening I drove the daughter home after she’d spent a few hours with Martin. She was unusually subdued but mentioned no particular troubles. The next Monday I texted her mom to confirm a lunch date and received a response that she was too busy to meet. I replied “no problem” and suggested moving the lunch to the following Monday. My friend did not respond to that text, nor to the next, nor to a request whether her daughter could watch Martin again, nor to several additional attempts at follow-up. Her family, before these events, had switched congregations to accommodate a work schedule, so I had no chance to see her in church. Several weeks later I was walking in town and saw my friend and her daughters across the busy main drag, heading the opposite direction. I waved. Whether they saw me, I do not know. They kept walking, briskly.

When I realized what was going on and asked Martin whether anything had transpired with the daughter, he said no. Tellingly, though, he also slid into partial shut-down mode—that place where he changes topics, or says, “I don’t want to talk about that,” or just becomes agitated. Once Martin begins to shut down, I rarely get any additional trustworthy information from him. To this day, I do not know what he said or did not say to my friend’s daughter. My suspicion is that he commented inappropriately on race or race-related issues, and that the girl assumed our family holds antiquated, wrongful opinions.

I alluded to this difficult time in a February post titled “Current Issues.” I wrote that Martin had been “impulsively calling out words he doesn’t mean, in a manner almost like Tourette Syndrome” and that:

After school last week, Martin confessed that he had hurt his friend Nicole’s feelings by calling her ‘racist’.” [Nicole is not the best friend mentioned above, and is Hispanic, not black.] . . . He added, ‘Sometimes words come into my head that I know I shouldn’t say, but I can’t stop them before they come out of my mouth’.”

After six months or so, Martin’s inappropriate race-based comments faded. (Thank heavens.) Martin tends to cycle through fascinations: the Beatles, trains, geography, world flags, skin color. His race comments fell within that pattern, and also within a larger habit with which we still struggle, i.e., opposite talking. When Martin becomes nervous or agitated, he blurts out something far away from what he really means, often precisely the opposite. If I tell him he’s done using his iPad for the day, he might exclaim, “No iPad, ever again! Throw it away!” Last weekend, we were zip-lining with a group that included three other kids, two girls and a very kind boy who spoke several times with Martin. Made nervous by the attention, Martin eventually blurted, “You should stop talking and go away.” Plainly Martin did not mean what he said; after the excursion was over, he sought the boy out to say he’d had a good time with him and was glad he came. As I wrote in February, sometimes words come into Martin’s head that he knows he shouldn’t say, but he can’t stop them before they come out of his mouth.

At least we have reached a point where Martin catches himself immediately. As soon as he says, “You’re the worst mommy in the world, and I don’t love you,” or, “Let’s not go out to dinner anymore, ever,” he covers by adding, “Kidding! I’m just kidding! I’m not serious.” I would, of course, prefer that Martin catch himself before issuing the offensive or nonsensical words instead of after. Maybe soon? As long as he is still covering with an immediate follow-up, I am trying to get him to switch from “just kidding” to a response more like, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. Sometimes the wrong words come out.” But because nothing can be easy in AutismLand, the problem with my proposed new response—“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that”—is that Martin already apologizes too much, habitually. When interactions come off foreign to him, he finds it most expedient to assume he’s made a mistake and to apologize. Helping Martin navigate social encounters, as he increasingly seeks them out, can be equally puzzling for me.

I am so thankful that Martin has closed the door on fascination with race and ethnicity. I hope the door stays closed for him. Unfortunately, I can’t put the chapter behind me, yet. I have let some months pass since my last attempt to speak with my church friend. This fall, when we return to the States, I will renew my efforts. It’s not about saving the friendship, or what she thinks of me and my family. Instead, in today’s USA, I think, racism and anti-Semitism and all sorts of hateful speech have been normalized. I can’t let the episode go if there is any suspicion that my son, however unwillingly, contributed to the atmosphere of pervasive racism. I want to explain. But what will I say? Even for parents of spectrum kids, it’s so hard to understand what would prompt a boy from an Hispanic household, whose parents speak out for equality and intentionally seek relationships outside their own community, to make seemingly racist comments that he doesn’t even mean. To explain that to a person with little experience with autism, to whose own child one of these comments may have been directed? I don’t even know where to begin.

Actualización I de Nicaragua: La Ansiedad

As consistent FindingMyKid readers may know, I believe Martin’s primary challenge, these days, to be anxiety. Before I dive back into anxiety, here’s an abbreviated rundown of other challenges and where they stand now:

  • We have the rare night when he’s giggly and detox-y, or too anxious to drift off. By and large, however, Martin falls asleep within 20 minutes and wakes ten (or so) hours later.
  • Martin’s difficulties with social/pragmatic language persist, and his language processing lags; he might transpose “you” and “I” in a complicated sentence, or need a multi-step direction repeated. Other than that, Martin can read, hear, and speak at an age-appropriate level.
  • Energy and “floppiness.” Martin does get tired faster than other kids (thank you, mitochondrial dysfunction!), and when the energy runs out, he becomes clumsy, clingy, and sensory-seeking. This condition is improving and can, I find, be managed by alternating exercise and down-time.
  • As may be clear from the series of school bullying posts, Martin’s interest in playing with other kids has increased—it still isn’t very high, and I suspect he may always tend toward introversion (like I do)—but he has trouble figuring out how to go about becoming involved.
    • Example: In the house next to ours in Nicaragua are twin boys, maybe six or seven years old. We hear them playing in their pool constantly. Martin will creep to the edge of the yard and observe without making any effort to engage them, and he scampers inside when I suggest talking to the brothers. I mentioned this to Samara, who said, “I know. He does not like to be told to play. But I have noticed him getting closer to a few kids from camp.” His interactions are cautious and time-consuming.
  • Martin continues to perseverate, in the sense of “talking endlessly about what interests only him.” The perseveration has lessened from the days when he simply could not stop speaking. Now it’s more like memorizing city skylines and assuming everyone else wants to talk about them, too.
  • Repetitive behavior. As for physically repetitive behavior, occasionally Martin still jumps, or hops three times and runs one direction, then hops three times and runs back the other direction. The difference is that now he recognizes the behavior, and makes explanations, like, “I’m getting my jumps out so I’ll be able to stay still for taekwondo.”

All of that is pretty good—not to mention everything that’s so far gone I no longer think to add it to the list, like echolalia or bolting or lack of proprioceptive awareness.

But then there’s anxiety, the mountain so insurmountable that it’s driving me and Adrian to consider medical marijuana. For months, Martin has been clenching his fists, forcing his lower jaw forward, shouting, crying, opposite-talking (“I’m never using my iPad again! Throw it away! No, Mommy, don’t throw it away!”), and generally controlling our family time with his meltdowns (or threats thereof).

I’ve been hoping that moving to Nicaragua for a few months would alleviate Martin’s anxiety.

Three weeks into our summer, I’m pleased to report that I see progress.

We’ve had two very-high anxiety (and crabbiness) events. The first was July 4. We’d been in Nicaragua only three days. Adrian suggested a trip to Granada, a two-hour drive. Martin hated everything about the journey, couldn’t stop asking what we were doing and when we were going home, whimpered and whined through a boat tour on Lake Nicaragua.

After that, Martin did comparatively well until last Sunday, when he and I and a visiting friend made a day trip to Ometepe Island. Sunday morning was nothing short of a disaster. Even before we boarded the ferry at San Jorge, Martin sank into meltdown mode. The situation worsened when we arrived in Moyogalpa and found the driver we’d pre-arranged for an island tour. In the back seat, Martin lost control. He clenched his fists and jaw, lashed out at me, and screamed in English, “We’re never leaving Ometepe! Now we live here! Now we’ll be here forever!”—to the bewilderment of our driver, who spoke only Spanish. With effort, I got Martin calm enough to proceed through a butterfly sanctuary and then take a hike in the adjacent woods. Thank goodness we took that short hike. Something about the muddy path relaxed Martin. He went ahead of me and my friend (which I didn’t love, because we could hear Congo monkeys barking in the trees, and I had no idea whether they were dangerous) until he reached a clearing with a view of the lake. There he stopped and waited for us, and even posed for a couple pictures before declaring himself the “leader” and heading onward. Although Martin never got comfortable, the day improved from that clearing onward, at least until an arduous and uncomfortably overcrowded ferry ride back, which made him sensory-seeking.

 

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Martin, still unhappy as we headed into out post-butterfly hike.

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The view of Lake Nicaragua that seemed to mark a turning point in Martin’s awful day.

Those two events—Granada and Ometepe—notwithstanding, Martin has relaxed in Nicaragua. Somewhat. He’s still thrusting his lower jaw forward (if I can get him to chew gum, that helps) but not clenching his fists or complaining quite as much. He’s been speaking well to adults, even introducing himself. Day camp seems to be going well. We haven’t had many tears this week.

I’m noodling what might explain the limited improvement:

Limited social pressure. Without school, and especially until day camp started earlier this week, Martin didn’t have the same pressure to socialize.

Relaxed mom. We all know that I’m usually half the problem (if not more) when it comes to anxiety. With less on my agenda (I’m trying to cut down on work for the summer), and plenty of rest, I’m pretty chill.

Environment. There is activity afoot in Southwestern Nicaragua. But it’s nothing like the crowds and traffic and bustle of the Tri-State Area, even in the suburbs where we live.

Health. I don’t love Martin’s diet here. With less variety, he’s eating too many carbs (rice) and other sugars (fruits). On the other hand, I’m pleased with his regular ocean romps and exercise, including day camp, taekwondo, trekking, and pool swimming.

Biomed protocol. We continue treating Lyme disease and babesiosis, and we are ramping up the protocol Martin’s doctor set in June, which includes MC-Bab-2, Sida, and pau d’arco. Often we see improvement as we head into a new protocol.

We saw some anxiety this morning, as today was Martin’s first day-camp field trip—back to Granada, of all places! Stay tuned to FindingMyKid for additional Nicaraguan dispatches, including a follow-up on anxiety.

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This was the happier kid on the second half of our Ometepe hike. Later we had lunch and went swimming in volcanic mineral waters.

Passing Storm

Last Wednesday, my brother Rudy and I took Martin to Disney in Anaheim. Rudy and I talked the day up: the characters we would see, the rides we would ride. Because one of Martin’s current interests is marching bands, and Martin always has enjoyed live music, Rudy mentioned that we might see a marching band too.

When Martin woke on Wednesday morning, at my brother’s home in Laguna Beach, he seemed—okay. Not great. Not particularly enthusiastic about the daytrip to Disney. Just okay. I fed him Treeline cashew cheese on flax-seed crackers for breakfast, and then we stopped for second breakfast at the Penguin Cafe, where Martin ordered a hamburger patty, fruit, and “bubbly water.” He ate slowly and seemed distracted. His voice modulation was subpar. “Indoor voice, bunny rabbit!” I reminded as he shouted his order at the waitress. “Use your indoor voice!”

The real trouble started in the parking lot when we got to Anaheim. “I don’t want to go to Disney,” Martin said when we exited the car. “I just want to go back to Uncle Rudy’s.” I wasn’t sure how seriously to take his words; Martin often reverses what he wants to do and doesn’t want to do, and his hesitations can be fleeting. I persuaded him to get on the shuttle from the parking lot to the park. On the shuttle Rudy engaged some kids who presented themselves as experienced Disneygoers and gave advice on rides and performances. Martin sat silently. He opened his mouth only to answer, with additional prompting, when someone asked him how old he was.

On the plaza outside the park, Rudy picked up a schedule of events and, trying to rouse excitement, told Martin that he would be able see a marching band (parade) at 4:30. Martin completely freaked. He did not want to see a marching band. He did not want to go to a park with a marching band. I took him to the restroom, had him sit on the plaza with Rudy, and finally negotiated an agreement that we would enter California Adventure, Disneyland Park’s companion. We would not see a marching band, I said. We would not enter Disneyland.

We made it inside California Adventure. I headed straight to the “Chamber of Commerce” to request a special-needs speed pass. The agent who helped us with the pass also put us on a list for the Monsters, Inc. ride ten minutes later. We didn’t make it, because Martin panicked at the idea of attending any attraction. He was full of anxiety. He walked aimlessly, crying and not crying and crying again. He couldn’t stop asking about the marching band, whether we would hear the band, whether we would go to the other Disney park. He fixated on 4:30, the time when Rudy had said the marching band would play (in the other theme park). He didn’t want this. He didn’t want that.

“Hey, I’m happy just to be here, walking around with you guys,” said Rudy, who had taken the day off work to accompany us. “Let’s go with it. Maybe he’ll find something he wants to do.”

Alas, Martin didn’t find anything he wanted to do, at least not then. I bought him a black coffee, hoping that might help. Nope. I bought him a box of organic apple juice as a treat, hoping that might help. Nope. Martin couldn’t bear to be still, couldn’t be held. He moved, whined, and panicked. As the situation became ever more challenging—“Mommy, will we see the marching band? Mommy, what time is it? Mommy, I don’t want to go to the Disney park. Mommy, can we hear the marching band? Mommy, is it 4:30?”—I considered throwing in the towel. I wondered if I should return to the “Chamber of Commerce,” explain that my usually stable son was having anxiety meltdowns that precluded our enjoyment of the park, and ask to return and use our $300 tickets the next day. Finally, when I ran out of ideas, Rudy saw openings at a nice in-park restaurant, asked about special-diet options, and guided us inside.

Martin managed to listen to the food options and order, interspersed with getting up to run around. Then he sat long enough to eat an entire order of boiled calamari, followed by a plate of gluten-free pasta with clams. (It was barely noon. Remember, he’d had two full breakfasts before we left Laguna Beach.) Rudy and I drank wine with our lunches. By then, alcohol was necessary.

By the end of lunch, Martin seemed a little better. He still was having trouble sitting still, but the crying eased. He went to the men’s room by himself. He didn’t get upset when I couldn’t find a dessert that he could eat.

After lunch he asked to enter one of the eight million stores. Thinking that something to clutch would ease the anxiety, I told him he could pick out a stuffed animal, and he chose an eight-inch Donald Duck. When we exited the store, Martin seemed calmer. He looked at a ride, a kiddie attraction with jellyfish that rise into the air. I asked if he’d like to go on the ride, and to my surprise, he agreed.

From then on, the situation turned. The anxiety didn’t disappear completely, but Martin asked about the marching band only every 10 or 20 minutes. The restlessness decreased. He tried half a dozen rides, including the Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster, despite his professed dislike of roller coasters. He asked to enter a courtyard and listen to a Raggae-style band. Rudy and I exchanged what-on-earth-is-happening? glances, and when Martin was out of earshot, verbalized those glances. In the end, we stayed at California Adventure until nearly 7:00 pm, and finished off the day waiting patiently in a long line, at Martin’s request, to meet Minnie Mouse. Once we were headed back to Laguna Beach, Martin skillfully introduced Donald Duck to his friend Chicago Bear, who had spent the afternoon guarding Rudy’s car.

We had one kind of morning, and a different kind of afternoon.

I’ve asked myself repeatedly what could have caused Martin to have such a disastrous morning. The full moon? Traveling? Lack of sleep because of jet lag? A nasty insect bite on his foot that’s had me worried? A healing reaction?

I suppose I will never know, which is unnerving. I’m glad it didn’t last.

When Martin, feeling better, said he doesn’t want to go back to Disney anymore, I decided to honor his wishes.

Understanding

“Martin’s progress has slipped a little.”

That’s a euphemism for reality. It means Martin is having a crap week.

I write a lot about this topic, I know. When Martin suddenly looks less like a kid on the path to recovery, and more like a kid with autism, when he tanks, when it all goes to pot, when dinner and bedtime just are not going to happen without a glass of wine (for me, not for Martin), I blog. I blog because I owe you the whole story, because it’s cathartic, and because misery loves company. (These posts tend to generate more messages than any others. Need to talk? Have at it: findingmykid@yahoo.com. Or use the comments section.)

Martin had been doing so well lately, right up till this weekend. Saturday we invited a local family over to swim. They have two kids, age four and almost-six. I’ve known this family for about a year, from church. I know the mother better than the father. Halfway through the afternoon, the father apologized to me for not realizing that Martin has autism. He was surprised when his wife mentioned, on their way to our house, that Martin follows a special diet to alleviate autism. He’s seen me helping Martin around the other kids at church. He always just assumed that my son was shy, or nervous because he doesn’t know the other kids well.

Apologizing? Because you see Martin every week and didn’t realize he has autism? Thank you, but really, no apology necessary.

Sunday afternoon we went to a birthday party. Martin willingly joined a game of tag with the birthday boy and a few other friends. Sunday evening Martin was disappointed that Adrian couldn’t come out to dinner with us because he had a conference call. The call finished earlier than expected, and Adrian surprised us by showing up during the entrée course. Martin, visibly excited, exclaimed, “Oh, you came! I’m so happy!” A friend, visiting for the weekend, who hasn’t seen us in several months, remarked on Martin’s uptick in verbal skills.

We rocked the weekend. Then all hell broke loose.

Sunday night Martin had trouble getting to sleep. Monday morning he slipped into unfocussed silliness. Monday afternoon, at a playdate, he cried and stomped for 20 minutes when I refused to say we could get a chalkboard at home. (I’m scared of chalkboards. Better just to leave that one alone.) Tuesday we received a note from school that Martin was acting defiant and attention-seeking, and that he had hit a teacher. (We jumped all over that one. Martin spent Tuesday evening writing an apology to his teachers.) The highlight of my Wednesday was Martin throwing himself onto the Stop-N-Shop floor and screaming, “I don’t want to buy any fooooooooood!” (As a sign of how far I’ve come regarding public embarrassment: I spent that minute or so, while he was screaming on the floor, searching my purse for my grocery list. Where is that list? How could I have misplaced it so quickly? Wait, is that my kid terrorizing aisle 24?) Through all these incidents, Martin’s language skills, so strong this summer, failed him. He repeated himself, went rote, even babbled. And yet, except for sleeping, he hasn’t stop talking since Monday morning. Just talking and talking and talking and talking. Point, or no point. Accentuated here and there with loud, forced laughing.

Why? What transforms a close-to-typical-child weekend into a thought-we-were-past-these-symptoms week?

After three-and-a-half years of biomed, I’m finally getting the hang of recognizing the likely causes of backsliding. This week, it seems, we’re dealing with yeast die-off. Several weeks ago I began seeing the harbinger of yet another yeast flare. I’ll spare you the details of that harbinger; suffice to say, it’s poop-related. Candex, an enzymatic formulation, has been controlling Martin’s yeast. Last week, Martin’s biomed doctor and I decided to increase the daily Candex dose, and I started that process Thursday evening.

Increased Candex leads to decreased yeast. Decreased yeast means yeast die-off. That’s a toxin in the system, almost like alcohol. It can make a kid silly, or angry, or irritable. That’s happening to Martin now. In tandem with these behaviors, the aforementioned yeast-flare harbinger (okay, fine: the unusual poop) is fading.

Yesterday morning I signed on to one of my autism-recovery groups and saw this post from a fellow mom:

We’re on week three of nystatin for yeast. These past five days I’m pretty sure we’ve been dealing with die-off. Behavior has been super hyper, nonstop talking/making noise, fake laughing a lot, not listening at all, emotional outbursts, no attention to tasks AT ALL, itching??

Yes. Yes! I cyber-shouted. That’s yeast die-off. I’m right there with you, sister.

Understanding the physical cause of Martin’s, ahem, “slip in progress” helps me see that the behaviors are not within his control, and indeed that my little boy probably feels as agitated, flummoxed, and eager to alleviate this situation as I do. Understanding the physical cause also helps me see that darling, recovering Martin will return.

Soon.

On Monday's playdate, Martin behaving. Didn't last long.

On Monday’s playdate, Martin behaving. Didn’t last long.