ASD Recovery Recipe: Anything Taquitos

It’s been a million years since my last recipe post. I vaguely remember that post being titled “Anything Pasta.” Its point was that, pretty much whatever is in my refrigerator, I can make (GFCF, lentil-based) pasta with those ingredients, and Martin eats. (Exception: mushrooms. The kid can sniff out a mushroom like a truffle hog.)

Today I reveal another secret, the taquito miracle. Martin can tolerate almond flour, and he does well with Siete brand almond-flour tortillas. Occasionally I make tacos at home, with spicy beans, tomato-walnut filling, spinach, tomatoes, onions, salsa. For me, I use corn hard shells. Adrian and Martin prefer gluten-free tortillas. One day I took leftover taco beans, added Miyoko’s cashew mozzarella, rolled them tightly into a Siete tortilla, and pan-fried the concoction, which sealed the tortilla shut and also made an externally crunchy finger food.

Martin acted like he’d found paradise. That first time, he ate four taquitos in a row.

I thought, why stop at leftover taco beans?

Since then I’ve realized I can roll a whole variety of ingredients into a taquito and watch Martin enjoy the creation. Last week, I made gallo pinto. Unfortunately, I rushed the job, and the beans didn’t end up as soft as Martin likes them. Although my brother Eddie, who is here with us in Costa Rica, enjoyed the meal, Martin refused to finish his portion.

Fast forward to the next day, lunchtime. I scooped leftover gallo pinto into a Siete tortilla, rolled, fried. Presto! Martin snarfed the first taquito and requested a second, no hint evident of the previous day’s fussiness. Other leftovers I’ve snuck into taquitos include rice pilaf, lentils, mixed vegetables. In a pinch I’ve combined organic pizza sauce and Miyoko’s mozzarella to blend two cuisines into the “pizza-quito,” a Martin favorite.

I also use the tortillas to make “quesadillas,” i.e., two tortillas like sandwich bread around filling, pan-fried into something resembling an edible frisbee. I make varieties of “breakfast quesadilla,” such as peanut butter and coconut, or cashew butter with banana. (Yes, I also make breakfast taquitos.) Martin currently dislikes leafy green vegetables. Usually I hide them in smoothies. One morning I happened upon another minor miracle. I finely chopped fresh spinach, then tucked it with Kite Hill almond cream cheese and Himalayan salt between two tortillas, and fried. If Martin was concerned about the spinach—which, by the way, was not hidden in the final product—he failed to mention the concern when he asked if he could eat the same quesadilla again later.

We’ve been in Costa Rica a couple weeks already, where (despite a remarkable variety of organic and GFCF products, compared to Nicaragua) items like Siete almond-flour tortillas aren’t so easy to find. The first week, Adrian was with us. He stepped onto the porch one afternoon to find Martin munching contentedly on a peanut-butter-and-strawberry taquito.

“Martin!” Adrian teased. “Did your mother travel to Central America with almond-flour tortillas in her luggage just so you can eat taquitos? Are you that spoiled?”

Yes, I did. Because yes, he is.

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.

He Belongs

Martin asked, “Why is this school year going so much faster than last year?”

I answered, “It can seem like time goes faster when you’re having fun. Do you think you’re having more fun at school this year?”

He said, “This year is way better than last year. The kids are so much nicer, because everyone knows me better now.”

I don’t consider myself a superstitious person. Yet I hesitate to post good news on Finding My Kid. I ask myself, What if tomorrow things go bad again? If I say today that Martin is doing well, do my readers assume that will always be true? Isn’t it easier to admit when we’re going through a tough time, and thus to set a lower bar that subsequently I can exceed? Am I going to jinx his whole recovery?

Martin has a handful of friends now—friends he made himself instead of in social-skills group or otherwise organized by me. Despite April’s unsuccessful play date, I think the friend situation continues to improve. What follows is a series of texts from last week with Martin’s school behaviorist, Debbie. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that I affectionately refer to the behaviorist as Debbie Downer, because she never seems to hesitate in giving bad news, which makes these texts all the more precious:

He’s totally part of the class now. Today was another [happy] tear-filled day. I just watched him interacting with his peers and them calling his name across the room to share in a private joke or ask each other questions.

I wish this year wouldn’t end for him.

We have so many kids that we can choose from now to request to be in his class next year.

You know, you probably could invite the whole class to his birthday party if it’s not too late. If you’re concerned about a lot of rejections you wouldn’t even have to tell him that you invited everyone. You would just be happy with whoever showed up.

You guys should be very proud of your little boy.

When I pick Martin up after school now, we cross the parking lot to the sound of “’Bye, Martin! ’Bye!” The other kids are talking to him.

Last week Adrian and I attended Martin’s IEP meeting, where this progress was confirmed. The speech teacher recommended switching from a mix of one-on-one and small-group instruction to small-group only, on the grounds that Martin progresses better when he has other kids to talk to, instead of being just with a grown-up. The resource teacher said the same thing she said at our last check-in: that Martin does not need resource room. The classroom teacher echoed what Debbie had said. We all decided that Martin no longer requires a one-on-one aide. Next year, he will share the aide with another student. The idea is to pair Martin with a special-education student who needs more academic support and less social support. Martin, who apparently no longer needs much academic support, won’t have someone looking over his shoulder in the classroom but will retain the benefit of the aide in the wild west that is gym class, lunch, and playground.

Friday before last, Martin was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. (The mom had invited every boy in the class, but still, Martin was invited!) The party was at an indoor track-and-field center, and chaos reigned. (The mom had also invited every boy in the twin brother’s class, plus friends from outside school.) Martin was hardly leading the pack; sports aren’t his forte. Still, he did fine and did not freak out or melt down—even when a boy who bullied him last year but has since switched schools showed up unexpectedly. Martin kept his distance from that boy and just did his thing. At one point, I saw Martin and the birthday boy from his class walking with their arms around each other’s shoulders.

Sorry about all the italics. How can I help it?

I left Martin’s IEP meeting feeling like a million bucks. Last school year was so difficult, and I constantly questioned whether we had made a bad decision when we pulled Martin from his self-contained special-education school and placed him in our local public elementary. Here was a team of professionals agreeing that Martin, finally, is bridging the gap and becoming more like a regular kid.

The same day as the IEP meeting, I attended an allergy-awareness presentation at the school. On the way out I ran into a church acquaintance, a mom I barely know but whose kids attend both school and Kids’ Klub with Martin. She looked confused and asked me what I was doing there. I said I’d also been at the allergy-awareness presentation. She still looked confused, so I asked, “Did you know Martin goes to school here?” She replied, “No. I had no idea,” and then added, “Martin goes to this school?”

As a special-needs parent, I have a tendency to perceive slights against Martin. I could have interpreted this mom’s question as geographic, i.e., surprise because she didn’t realize we live near each other; our district has several elementary schools. But of course I didn’t interpret her question as geographic. I assumed that what she’s seen of Martin at church has convinced her that he doesn’t belong in mainstream school with her kids.

I said, “Yes, Martin goes to this school. Did you think he isn’t good enough? Why would you suggest that to me? I have news—your kids are hardly brilliant.”

Just kidding.

I said, “Yes, Martin is in Mrs. B—’s class.”

And I thought, “That’s just where he belongs.”

Exit Door. Not Always Available

This is a photo of Martin’s right foot, taken this morning:

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See that red spot, on the top of his foot toward his ankle? Martin has had this mark, which I assume originated as an insect bite or other irritation, for months.

If you can, revisit the post I wrote in July 2015 titled, “Want to Know What Terrifies Biomed Parents?” That post includes two photos of Martin’s left foot, the first showing an apparent bull’s-eye rash and the second showing the faded rash.

Yesterday it occurred to me that the spot on Martin’s foot now might be a reemergence of the bull’s eye. I returned to the July 2015 post, only to find that I was mistaken: The bull’s eye appeared on his left foot, and the mark he has now is mirror image on his right foot.

But I would not have been surprised to find the two spots in the same place. Martin carries so much on his skin, or just below. His legs last week looked like this:

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They were already significantly improved from the week before, when he left blood spots on his pajamas and in his bed. (Based on a comment received from the Recovering Kids Regarding Caroline site, I tried CBD balm on his skin, and it seems to be working! His skin looks better every day, which is important with shorts season upon us.)

Martin’s arms today look like this:

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They too are significantly improved from last week, when the school nurse called me to say Martin was scratching his arms so much that she was hesitating to return him to class.

Much of what needs to leave Martin—toxins, parasites, even viruses—exits through his skin.

And yet, much also stays behind.

The back of Martin’s left hand has a bruise, right in the middle. He’s had this bruise

since the day he was born, when he was placed in the NICU and unnecessarily administered an antibiotic drip. That mark is where they stuck the IV line that I believe contributed significantly to Martin’s gut dysbiosis (and hence his autism), and he’s carried it ten years down, despite laser therapy and massage to fade the bruise.

If one day we are done with autism and ADD and ADHD and anxiety and social-pragmatic language delay, that bruise will probably still remain, to remind us what happened to our child.

Dropping Him off, Into the Unknown

Tough few days here, in the process of Finding My Kid.

In his life, Martin has had three “drop-off” play dates. The first was more than a year ago, when I left him with one of my friends who has a typically developing son Martin’s age. Though my friend generously spared me the details of the 90-minute play date, I could tell at pick-up that Martin had played alone (and fussily) and ignored her son, who ended up resenting Martin and teasing him at school. The second drop-off play date was a couple months ago, when I left Martin at his friend Jonathan’s house. Jonathan, who has some special needs, is the oldest of four boys (I mentioned them last year), and two of his younger brothers had friends over also. I’m not sure how many kids were in the house. Maybe eight or nine. A bunch of adults were there, too, watching the Winter Olympics. Martin disappeared immediately upstairs with Jonathan. I had no trouble leaving; Jonathan’s mom knows Martin well, and with her houseful of boys, I think she could handle just about anything short of a nuclear explosion. Whatever Martin did while there, he was happy when I returned, and Jonathan was happy, and all was well.

Last Friday was the third drop-off play date. Martin was invited to go after school to the home of Manuel, his school chum who, despite some challenges, is more or less typically developing. Manuel’s grandmother and mother both urged me to let Martin stay alone. I did so, albeit with reservations that they might not understand the extent of Martin’s challenges. I left and texted my friend Stacey:

I just let Martin go to a drop-off play date and now I’m too nervous to do anything.

I don’t want to get back and find out that he freaked or had a meltdown or something, ugh.

I’m seriously hovering a few blocks away in my car in case I get a text.

As it turned out, my reservations were well-founded. Although the grandmother (who supervised) was kind and generous with her words, Manuel began complaining as soon as I returned to retrieve Martin. Manuel said Martin hadn’t listened. Martin had hit him with the sword. Martin was running into the street. Martin didn’t want to play his games. And so on. And so forth. I could see for myself that Martin was hyperactive and agitated. I thanked Manuel and his grandmother for the play date and hustled Martin to the car. How did he think the play date went? I asked. So-so, he responded. Some good and some bad.

From Manuel’s perspective, I have to believe, the play date was more bad than good. We didn’t see Manuel again until Monday at school pick-up, when he rejected Martin’s overtures to play, for which his grandmother was apologetic. Tuesday, Martin appeared sad when I picked him up from school. (At that time, Manuel was trying to play handball with the rowdier boys, an activity in which Martin shows no interest.) Martin refused to disclose anything that might be making him sad. More than an hour later, when I was dropping him at church for Kids’ Klub, he said, “Why didn’t anyone want to play with me at recess?” I asked a few questions and learned that Manuel, Lucas, and the two classmates who usually talk Minecraft with him all said no when Martin asked them to play.

Manuel liked playing with Martin before Friday afternoon. Thereafter, not so much.

If I want to appease myself, I have plenty reasons why the Friday play date went poorly. For example:

>    Manuel’s grandmother had invited Martin specifically to play video games. Martin was so much looking forward to the video games; Manuel has a gaming system that Martin thinks he might want for his birthday, and video games are one arena in which Martin feels comfortable with—equal to?—other kids. As it turns out, the family is half-packed to move, and some cable required for the video gaming system had gone missing. No video gaming occurred.

>    Martin expected to play with just Manuel. When he arrived, Manuel suggested that they follow his usual practice of meeting two other friends as they got off the school bus. Martin knows the other two boys and agreed readily to include them, and in the end they stayed only 15 minutes. Still, their presence created another change in plans.

>    Martin’s palate expander was falling out again. The darned thing was hanging, detached, on one side. Martin kept trying to reattach that side, and he could barely speak. The entire device finally detached during the play date.

>    Manuel is moving next month. Martin is full of anxiety about this. Anxiety, in Martin, can manifest as anything from confusion to silliness to defiance.

In the end, my excuses don’t matter much. The Friday event went poorly because Martin couldn’t manage to play well with others. We still have work to do on social skills.

Or do my excuses matter? How much mischief did the anxiety cause? Last night I met with Martin’s psychologist. I mentioned the play date debacle, and why I thought Martin might have had more trouble than usual. The psychologist said, “That explains these pictures he’s been creating.” She showed my two sheets. On the first, Martin had drawn a car driving away, with Manuel inside and Martin outside yelling, “Manuel!!!!!!!” On the second sheet, Martin had drawn the outline of Florida (where Manuel is moving), a car packed and ready to depart, and Martin and Manuel saying goodbye to each other.

I wish something could be easy for my kid. Anything at all.

Hurray for the Detox

Three months ago, I wrote a post titled, “Take Heart. There Is Also More Than I Can Manage,” in which I described (1) believing that Martin needed a better detox protocol, and (2) feeling certain that we could not manage a protocol I found on the Recovering Kids/Regarding Caroline blog. I concluded by compiling an abbreviated—and still “aspirational”—plan for Martin:

  1. A foot bath during iPad time at least four days per week.
  2. Dry brushing Saturday (or Sunday), Wednesday, and Friday.
  3. Herx water before breakfast and after school.

I’m here to report that the abbreviated detox plan has been so successful for Martin that we now exceed the aspirations. He gets the foot bath four days per week. With limited exceptions, we are dry brushing every day, and Martin drinks herx water before breakfast, after school, and again before bed. Depending on how the day is going, I might even slip in a fourth herx water.

As to the dry brushing, the nightly routine arose through his own initiative. The first time we undertook the brushing, I expected him to get bored or frustrated. Instead, he stood patiently and asked to help me count the brush strokes: “one, two, three, four, five, six, one, two, three, four, five six.” I took a break the next two nights, not wanting to “overdo” the new routine. On the third day, Martin remarked, “Remember the brushing thing? We should do that again.” So we dry-brushed that evening, and Martin said, “We should do this every night.” Since then, he becomes agitated if I’m home and we miss a night.

As to the foot baths (which he tolerates) and the herx water (which he despises), the proof has been in the pudding. I wanted a new detox routine because of Martin’s constant silliness, which was impeding his social progress. When Martin is detox-y, he cannot control his laughing and his calling out, even when he knows the behavior is inappropriate. (This happens also when he’s yeasty, which I could tell was not the primary issue in January.) The silliness decreased almost as soon as we started daily dry brushing and, as of today I would estimate that the decrease is about 90%. Martin’s increased self-control has even led to a couple social breakthroughs. He’s made a few friends at school. The school behaviorist, whom I like to call Debbie Downer because she shares so much negative news, sent me these texts yesterday:

Hi. All good reports. Minimal silliness this week. More peers going to Martin and interacting with him.

Data are looking good, and consistent. Will be picking new targets but need to think about them, as he’s doing well. Pace of unpacking and packing [his backpack] up.

Remember when I told you that you know when a kid makes it when everybody else starts to copy them? Well they’re starting to copy some of the things that Martin does.

All good news! What are they copying?

Some of the silly behavior. Blurting out “Mister Poopy Pants” or something like that from Captain Underpants, or calling out “ice cream” just out of the blue.

They think it’s funny so they do it as well.

            Oh . . . fab . . . .

Yes. Teacher loves it, lol.

Of course, despite these advances, life is no bed of roses. It never is. Those his self-control has improved in almost every other area, Martin remains fixated on a girl from his taekwondo class, Abby. He can’s seem to stop bothering poor Abby, alternately calling her cute and ugly, pushing her, running into her. When I confront him, he cries and says, “I don’t know why I do it! I just can’t control myself around Abby!”

Also, Martin’s skin is a mess, even worse than before we started the detox protocol. I think clearing pores and stimulating the lymphatic system, which dry brushing is designed to do, makes something I wrote six years ago just as true today: “[Martin’s] digestive tract isn’t as good as it should be at spitting out bad stuff, so his skin overcompensates.” He picks at the scratches, sores, and tiny bumps covering his limbs. I avoid the spots carefully when dry brushing. The weather has remained chilly this spring, so I have him wear long sleeves to school, but that won’t last forever. The school nurse already phoned me once to say Martin couldn’t stop scratching his arms. I attributed the behavior to dry skin, because really, how am I supposed to explain to a traditional school nurse that antimicrobial killing of bartonella and babesia can produce a lot of toxins, which we are managing through an extensive daily protocol? It’s hard enough to explain the whole thing to you, dear readers, and I know you are educated sorts.

A New Era

Today, Martin got braces on his teeth. He’s nine years old, almost 10. His permanent teeth haven’t all arrived, yet. We’ve known for years that braces would be in his future. His teeth are all over the place. They started with gaps and have pushed farther outward with his habit of pressing the front teeth against stainless-steel straws and drinking-glass rims.

Still, the decision to get braces now did not come easy. (As if any decision came easily, in Autismrecoveryland.) Some parents in my circles have complained of regressions and/or adverse reaction to the materials when their children started orthodontics. Martin is still growing. On the other hand, we understand that corrective orthodontics may help with Martin’s lingering pronunciation difficulties. (From Martin, “three” emerges as “free.”) We’d also like to have as much treatment accomplished as possible before he enters middle school.

I myself work bulky braces—those horrendous old-fashioned brackets attached to metal bands that wrapped around the teeth, including the front teeth—from age nine to age 13.

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Sorry for the poor resolution of this photo. I had to search the internet to find evidence that these types of braces existed, once upon a time. This is how my mouth looked for four-and-a-half years.

I am relieved that orthodontics have evolved at least enough to spare Martin that ordeal. After some research, Adrian and I decided on orthodontics with the Advanced Light Force (ALF) appliance, which apparently utilizes the jaw’s own growth patterns. Martin’s had the ALF palate expander for several months already. Several troublesome months. At first his fingers constantly found their way into his mouth, and the delicate device popped out. One was damaged in the process and required an expensive replacement. We forged ahead nevertheless. The palate expander is back in his mouth, and now brackets are attached.

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Also not the best photo! Martin was in no mood for a photo session after getting his brackets. Still, it is plain to see that he’s going to have a more comfortable time of orthodontics than I did.

Starting orthodontics reminds me that, physically, my little boy is verging on pre-teen. Though he’s still nine, his size-medium (“US 10-12”) pants are revealing glimpses of his ankles. I’m getting rid of t-shirts weekly because they no longer reach his waistband. The daily grind of autism recovery can make the days feel long and slow; the realization that childhood won’t last forever comes upon me quickly.