On Working Whilst Biomed-ing, and Yes, I Just Made a Verb Out of Biomed

Last month, in response an earlier post titled “Current Issues,” I received this comment from a reader:

Long due note:

I’m a regular here. We are sailing the same long road with my daughter who is three-and-a-half. Your overwhelm me and encourage at the same time. I feel like you are a super mom to be doing all that you do. I’m shattered most of the time and come back to you for hope and guidance. I’m very curious to know where you started. I have gone back and searched the blog and couldn’t find a journey type of blog. Can you write about this when you can? When did you get diagnosed, what were your earliest challenges? Where did he stand verbally when he was diagnosed? I know every kid with autism is different, but I see Martin as hope and would like to get some perspective on where he started to ensure I’m keeping my recovery stories aligned.

One another point of interest is how has going back to work been? I took a brief break immediately after diagnosis and came back. I absolutely love my job and the benefits that come with it to enable us in this journey but guilty nevertheless for not making the choice to stay back.

Once again, to me you are the perfect mom I wish my daughter had. Some day I will get there.

I responded:

“You . . . encourage me at the same time.” Thank you so much for this note. I write this blog to encourage others, as well as to provide the truth about when recovery isn’t going the way I envisioned it should. If at any point I’ve come off as “the perfect mom,” I apologize. I am far from that. Like you, I’m struggling to find my way along this path. I have written from time to time about where Martin started, but for you I will put together a post about exactly where we were when he was diagnosed. Just last week, I happened to be cleaning my office and ended up reviewing his heart-wrenching initial neurodevelopmental report, so I will start from there.

This kind reader is getting two posts in response to her comment. The description of where Martin started requires more time, because in order to make sure I get it right, I want to review not only my contemporaneous notes of Martin’s behavior around diagnosis, but also those first neurodevelopmental evaluations. In this post, I will answer her easier question, “How has going back to work been?”

When Martin was born, I was not working in paid employment; I was on a break from my job with a large law firm in order to complete my MFA in fiction writing. I finished that degree and then returned to the large law firm, albeit part-time, in late summer 2009, when Martin was 14 months old. Primarily, I was able to work from home. (Despite the bad reputation of large, competitive law firms, mine was, and remained, accommodating to my scheduling needs and desire to work remotely. For that, I am grateful.)

By the following summer, when Martin turned two, Adrian and I realized that his behavior was “off” and trending farther from the norm. We received a tentative autism diagnosis in September 2010. The diagnosis was made official in April 2011, after two months of neuropsych evaluation. By that time, we had already started biomed. I continued working for the large law firm, frequently exhausted, until January 2012, when I finally quit in order to focus on Martin’s recovery.

I stayed away from paid employment until October 2014, when I switched direction entirely and took a part-time gig litigating for an upstart, boutique law firm. That’s still where I’m working today. The scrappy new venture suits me (current me) much better than the white-shoe firm where I spent 13 years defending large corporations. Our little collection of lawyers represents non-profit organizations and consumers, in the areas of food safety (including pesticide residue), protection of farmed animals, greenwashing, and keeping toxins out of household products. My hours are, generally, flexible, and most of my work can be done from home; I commute only once or twice per week to our offices in Brooklyn. On those days, a caregiver picks Martin up from school and handles after-school activities, dinner, supplements/antimicrobials/etc., and bedtime. Also, Adrian and I employ a housekeeper, who comes for a couple hours each weekday morning to take care of laundry, the kitchen, and cleaning.

Despite those facts, I regret to inform you—here, I neither request nor think I deserve sympathy—that I have reached the depressing conclusion that it is not possible to do complete biomed and also work full-time, or half-time, or any more than minimal part-time. At least it is not possible for me, at 45 years old and needing the sleep that I lacked for the first years of Martin’s recovery. Although I have household help and childcare assistance, the tasks that still fall upon me include sourcing (in some cases, growing) clean food, cooking, baking snacks and desserts, trial-and-error with Martin’s diet, ordering and tracking and administering supplements and antimicrobials, coordinating doctor appointments and recovery-focused activities, research, and (this I consider important) facilitating quality time for Adrian and Martin. Regarding Adrian and Martin, I like them to be able to go to the movies or go shopping or visit a restaurant together and feel as typical as possible. Preparation for these activities entails a lot of checking menus on-line and packing snacks and sending activities like books, etc. (No, Adrian does not help with these tasks. Read this post.)

On a school day, I get up at 5:40 to heat and package lunches, prepare breakfast, organize and administer pills and drops, and shepherd Martin’s snail-pace preparation for school. Martin’s after-school activities—which include taekwondo, chess club, music lessons, psychologist visits, social-skills play group, and neurofeedback—can feel all-consuming, even before adding homework, with which he needs guidance. I keep Martin busy, because he still doesn’t have enough friends for regular play dates, and when his hands are idle he’s mostly whining for his iPad. Martin’s schedule means that, unless someone else is handling after-school activities, I have time only for finishing up the last parts of dinner preparation. Any minutes remaining after Martin is in bed I dedicate to cleaning the kitchen and prepping for breakfast, baking snacks if we are running low, putting together Adrian’s lunch for the next day, and if I’m lucky, watching a show or the news with Adrian.

Given all that, unless someone else is on duty after school, I have exactly six hours “free” per day, the time between when I drop Martin off at school and when I pick him up. During that time I go to the gym (often, this is aspirational), shower, grocery/food/farm shop, get dinner mostly prepared, set appointments, research treatments and diet, blog, volunteer time for the special-education PTA and church, and—work. Many days, not much time gets left for work. Many weeks, I try to cram all the lawyering into the one or two days I’m able to go to the office. Furthermore, when work, by necessity (lawyers don’t always have control over their schedules), spills into “Martin” time—say, when I have to take a conference call from a playground, or an emergency project precludes me from completing reading exercises—the guilt becomes oppressive. Why, I ask myself, do I even bother working? Why, when I am within the very lucky minority of biomed parents whose spouses earn enough to cover expenses, do I sacrifice any of Martin’s due for my own selfish craving for a life apart from autism recovery?

Around Christmastime, I sat down with the chairman of our little law firm and told him I need to reduce my work even more and, to the extent possible, restrict my activities to writing projects that can be anticipated in advance, in order to keep my schedule regular. The conversation followed upon a difficult November and December, during which I oversaw document discovery, dealt with witnesses and clients, prepared our office for a contentious mediation, and traveled. I began the conversation, “I think you know I’m done for.” I’ve been mostly successful, since then, at reducing the workload and increasing predictability, but it remains a struggle. The chairman wants more from me; I enjoy the intellectual challenge and the opportunity to think about something other than, say, Lyme disease and vision therapy. Still, I have been given the tremendous opportunity to let Martin’s recovery take precedence. That gift must be honored.

So there you have my ugly truth. Despite a supportive husband, a housekeeper, competent assistance with childcare, and an employer that understands my need for flexibility, I have trouble working even part-time.

Dear reader, you think I am the perfect mom? I look at my church friend G—, who fully recovered the oldest of her five children while also working part-time, by necessity, to supplement the salary of her husband, a public servant. I look at G— and think, That’s the mother my son deserves, for I fall short in so many ways.

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Martin following his cousin up the mountain (no path required), Triberg im Schwarzwald, Germany.

Quick Improvement

That last post left you hanging!

I actually wrote the post while sitting in the waiting room of Martin’s biomed doctor, three weeks ago. I described symptoms Martin was experiencing; most problematic among them was Martin making disastrously inappropriate utterances that he knew to be provocative. I described the behavior as “almost like Tourette Syndrome (Martin does not have Tourette)”: In addition to calling his classmate a “racist,” Martin was saying odd things like, “I think schools should be segregated again,” or, “Hispanic kids who speak Spanish aren’t as smart as other kids.” (Martin is Hispanic, and speaks Spanish, and our family does not hold views anything like he was expressing.) When asked, Martin seemed unable to provide any explanation for the statements. He said, “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 examining Martin and hearing about these and other symptoms, the doctor surmised that parasites were at work. Martin’s doctor in New York had made the same guess, and actually had already prescribed an anti-parasitical drug, Alinia®. Given my hesitation to administer any pharmaceutical to Martin (side effects, unintended consequences, wanting to avoid synthetics for whatever we can address naturally), I held out for a second opinion from his biomed doctor. She agreed that we should consider Alinia, and she added natural measures to Martin’s protocol to keep the parasites at bay, long-term, including diatomaceous earth.

Alinia is administered in a three-day course, followed by a two-week break and another three-day course. We started the first course two days after returning from our visit to the California biomed doctor.

Remarkably, just his second day on the Alinia, Martin’s inappropriate comments virtually ceased.

Within a week of completing the first three-day course, the skin rashes and itching also eased.

Rarely do we hit the nail square on the head when it comes to Martin’s periodic symptoms, but this time I think both doctors were spot-on: Parasites were at work, and Martin needed a strong remedy.

He’s on the second course of Alinia now, after the two-week pause, and he’s also using diatomaceous earth. His reading tutor texted me this evening to say that his focus seemed improved. I’m optimistic.

Now for the tough part: Martin’s biomed doctor recommended that Martin stop eating sushi, at least the kind with raw fish, which can contribute to parasite activity. Martin adores sushi. We eat sushi at least twice per week when we’re not traveling (I get the vegan version), and it’s a go-to food when we are. Martin likes to order six pieces of octopus sushi, one salmon avocado roll, and one steamed shrimp roll. (If that seems like a lot of food, let me mention that he consumes the entire tray in about five minutes and then, often, flags down the waiter to request more octopus sushi.) I did some research and discovered that octopus is virtually always poached when used in sushi (though the animal may be raw in thinly sliced sashimi). So the octopus is cooked, as is the steamed shrimp. So far I haven’t had much luck determining whether poaching or steaming is sufficient to kill all parasites (investigation continues!); still, I get comfort from the fact that the octopus and shrimp are, at least, not raw.

As to the salmon, which really seems to pose significant risk when raw, Adrian and I, after much consternation, have reached rapprochement with Martin: He can still eat his salmon avocado roll, but we request that the salmon be cooked. Last Sunday, on their usual weekend “boys’ afternoon,” Adrian and Martin went for sushi, and Adrian insisted that the salmon be cooked. Adrian came home and reported that the wait staff were initially befuddled by the request but then, upon discovering that their kitchen had the magic capability to cook salmon, complied. Martin, for his part, arrived home and announced, “Actually my sushi with cooked salmon was pretty good!”

Additional positive news: “[Freezing fish] to an internal temperature of -4°F for at least seven days [kills] any parasites that may be present,” although “[h]ome freezers are usually between 0°F and 10°F and may not be cold enough to kill the parasites.” Immediately upon reading this news, I checked the deep freezer in my basement and found -10°F. The $250 (or so) of cold-smoked salmon—a breakfast favorite of Martin—in that freezer should be safe for him to consume.

This vegan never thought she’d find herself checking freezer temperatures to determine parasite risk in seafood.

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One piece of octopus sushi already gone, but here are the remaining five, plus his salmon avocado roll and steamed shrimp roll.

Current Issues

We are off to visit Martin’s biomed doctor. I made a list of issues to discuss, which includes the following:

  • skin rashes, in the form of blemishes that Martin scratches and picks at until they bleed;
  • itchy skin overall;
  • impulsively calling out words he doesn’t mean, in a manner almost like Tourette Syndrome (Martin does not have Tourette);
  • obsession with foods, allergies, which foods he can or cannot eat, which are treats, and so forth;
  • trying to understand tough situations by putting Minions into those situations, like, “Bob [a Minion] was on the playground and another kid said he couldn’t use the swings. Is that nice?”;
  • constantly apologizing, which has been an ongoing habit.

(There were other issues on the list, too personal for sharing on the blog.)

What are your guesses, readers? Parasites? Metals? Lyme activity because we started using cryptolepis to treat babesia? A different form of the yeast beast? Dry winter air? Noticing differences between himself and other kids?

I’ll fill you in after our appointment with the biomed doctor.

And before you worry that Martin’s recovery is off the rails, I will add the following:

First, Martin’s self-awareness is blossoming. Even his teachers have noticed. After school last week, Martin confessed that he had hurt his friend Nicole’s feelings by calling her “racist.” (In light of Black History Month and Martin’s classroom unit on civil rights, our family has been doing a lot of talking about racism and our country’s legacy of segregation. I think he was angry at Nicole, and “racist” was the first insult he happened upon.) 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.”

Second, this morning, by phone, Adrian said, “This past month or so, I’ve been having these awesome moments with him, where he’s just acting like a regular kid, and I can finally think, ‘This is it. This is the way it’s supposed to be. This is the reward’.”

We Feel Terrible That We’ve Done What We’ve Been Told Not To

This morning I lost my temper with Martin. I’m not pleased about losing by temper, but it happened.

We were in the last stages of getting ready to leave for school—which for us, 90% of the mornings, means getting ready to be late for school. I had executed the morning routine well, and despite extreme dawdling during breakfast, we managed to reserve 20 minutes to get Martin dressed, hair-combed, teeth-brushed, and jacket-clad. He took eight minutes of that time to sit on the toilet and yell, “Privacy please!” every time I knocked. Five minutes or so were devoted to dodging my attempts to get him dressed and instead asking senseless “What if?” and “Would you want?” questions: What if you’re in a restaurant and the host takes your drink order but then the waiter brings you the drink? Would you want to eat at a restaurant like that? What if two hockey teams are playing each other and wearing the same uniform so you can’t tell them apart? Would you want to watch a game like that? More time was wasted as Martin grabbed his freshly cleaned glasses by the lenses, so that I had to return to the kitchen for another lens-cleaning wipe. When I asked him to brush his teeth, he was chit-chatting instead of paying attention, so he went to the sink and washed his hands. Then he insisted on another trip to the toilet, after which he returned to the sink with his pants around his ankles. When I told him, “Pull up your pants so we can leave,” he heard only “pants” and so, without further thought, used his feet to take off the pants.

That’s when I lost it.

“Martin!” I barked. “You have got to pay attention! Sometimes you must listen! We cannot be late to school every single day!”

He laughed, which he does when he’s nervous, or overwhelmed.

I grabbed the pants off the floor and thrust them into his arms. “Put on these pants! We have got to leave!”

He clutched the pants and averted his eyes. We had passed the point of meaningful communication.

Realizing that I needed to cool down, I left Martin in the bathroom and returned to the kitchen.

Now I was the one overwhelmed.

I felt agitation. A lot of agitation.

I’ve written before that, when we are late, the problem is me. That’s true. But on this occasion—if I may plead my case—I had done everything right. I got up on time, 5:40 a.m. Adrian’s bento boxes were prepared last night; all I needed to do this morning was heat his lentils. Martin’s veggie-meatballs (turkey) were ready last night, too; all I needed to do this morning was pop them in the oven. Beans were in the coffee maker, for Adrian’s coffee; all I needed to do was add water. My Bodum pot stood ready, with Hobee’s tea already in the steel basket (I’m off coffee, stupid heartburn!); all I needed to do was add boiling water. Even Martin’s breakfast was half-prepared; I cleaned and grated the sweet potatoes for his fritters last night, and packed them in ice water. Martin was done with breakfast and in the bathroom at 7:50 a.m., 20 minutes before our scheduled 8:10 a.m. departure.

Despite all that preparation, we were going to be late for school. Again.

It took only a few deep breaths before my agitation gave way to disappointment, in myself, for having lost my temper.

Two memories came to mind.

First, a passage from Naoki Higashida’s wonderful book The Reason I Jump. The teenage author, who is mostly non-verbal and uses a keypad to communicate, writes (of himself and others with autism):

Me, I’m always being told off for doing the same old things. It may look as if we’re being bad out of naughtiness, but honestly, we’re not. When we’re being told off, we feel terrible that we’ve done what we’ve been told not to. But when the chance comes once more, we’ve pretty much forgotten about the last time and we just get carried away yet again. . . . But please, whatever you do, don’t give up on us. We need your help.

Second, an experience on a New York City subway. One night, after a theater date with friends, Adrian and I were on the subway after midnight, seated across from a women and a toddler. This story is not meant to judge the adult (mother?) for traveling after midnight with a toddler. She may well have left a second-shift job and retrieved the girl from a sitter, or tended to a family emergency without notice. The little girl was obviously exhausted. She held herself together for two or three stops, then started to cry. The woman said, “Cut it out!” Her tone was menacing. The toddler stopped the tears momentarily, whimpered, and started crying again. The woman grabbed and shook the girl’s chin and yelled, “You ain’t got nothing to cry about.” Finally she threatened to slap the girl. Without saying anything, I stood up. I don’t know what I meant by standing up, maybe just to suggest that other adults were present and were prepared to intervene. The woman scowled and fell silent. Somehow, the little girl stopped crying, and the moment passed.

My heart went out to the girl. “She can’t help it!” I wanted to say. I should have said. What toddler could be awake after midnight and control her behavior?

That’s Naoki Higashida’s point, too, I gather: What child with autism (or in our case now, ADHD) can conform his behavior to neurotypical specifications?

The fault that we are late is Martin’s, I thought, but it isn’t his fault that he’s at fault.

Does that even make sense?

I returned to the bathroom and apologized for raising my voice. I was frustrated at being late, I said. I wasn’t angry at him. I knew he was trying. I was glad his pants were on again. How about if I helped him tie his sneakers?

Martin sought two or three assurances that I wasn’t angry. I gave the assurances.

We were late to school again. The world didn’t end.

Searching the Storm for Silver Linings

It’s 6:53 a.m. I’m sitting on the commuter train to Manhattan, where I will transfer to a subway to my office. The train, which was scheduled to depart at 6:45 a.m., has not left the station (our community is the train’s origin), because a door is stuck open. Here we sit, waiting.

This morning, the train feels like a metaphor about Martin’s recovery: All ready to go, everything operational, until something unexpected jams the trip.

Martin talks a lot these days, and he has no filter, and it’s getting him into hot water with children and adults alike. Here are the texts I received yesterday from the behaviorist at Martin’s school (edited for length and clarity):

Problem this week was really filtering. I did take Martin out of class today. He was telling some boys on the carpet they were dead. Boys said stop. Teacher told Martin not to say that, it is not funny. He said yes it is and repeated laughing. She then asked him to move his seat and come sit by her (class was on the carpet). He told her no and continued to laugh and repeat.

At that point I stood up and told him to come with me to the hallway. He said please no. I just gestured and he came. I spoke to him sternly outside.

I told him no more trying to be funny. He is saying hurtful things. I typed up the “hurtful things” he said this past week and went over them with him. The speech teacher will do that as well.

[Here she forwarded me a photo of the write-up of “hurtful things” Martin has said. The worst was telling a girl she should not be in the school because of the color of her skin. Martin doesn’t believe that (I hope). He’s been perseverating all month on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his accomplishments. I’m guessing that he interpreted his comment as funny based on the absurdity of past discrimination. Still, hearing that Martin had utter such a remark sent my emotional state tail-spinning.]

The aide who covers specials also made a very good observation. She said some of the boys who play sports together are very friendly and in gym they purposely bump into each other, play footsies, etc. Martin sees this behavior and then of course when he tries to execute it does so in an inappropriate fashion or at an inappropriate time.

So the boys are joking around. Martin observes this and then doesn’t understand why when he does it it’s not right.

Yesterday, at church Kids’ Club, I heard Martin yelling, during kickball or some other game in the gym, “Raise your hand if you’re native!” He meant Native American. The term came up this week, when Martin asked me why Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon are Canadian territories instead of provinces, and I tried to discuss former European colonies versus territories with more First Nation and Inuit influence. On some level, I know that Martin is genuinely curious about the relationship between native and colonizing populations. On a more immediate level, I am horrified that the expression of his curiosity is demanding to know who among his church peers has native heritage.

I’m at my office now. That commuter train I was sitting on—it got cancelled. The maintenance crew couldn’t fix the door. All passengers, including me, had to gather their belongings and catch the next train, scheduled 34 minutes later. The business call I was planning to take form my office at 8:00 a.m. had to be rescheduled. The later train, of course, was crowded and uncomfortable.

But at least I had a seat; by the second stop, onboarding passengers were standing in the aisles. At least I waited the extra half hour inside a train; passengers at all subsequent stops were standing outside, in the cold, on the platforms.

At least I had a home to come from, and a job to go to.

At least Martin is talking, and attending school.

Take Heart. There Is Also More Than I Can Manage

It’s been seven years since we began biomedical interventions aimed at recovering Martin from autism, and though I always wish wellness would hurry up and get here, overall I am pleased with our success. Last semester we had a CSE meeting with our school district and, at our request, reduced the special-education services Martin receives. With newfound social awareness, Martin has grown resistant to being pulled so often from his mainstream classroom. We decided that we can still meet his needs even without physical therapy (taekwondo helps) or resource room (we’ve hired a reading tutor instead), and we’re cutting speech therapy from three sessions per week to two. Outside of school, Martin recently had a successful play date with typically developing twins, albeit 17 months younger than he is. Progress, progress.

How have we reached this point? Through utter, over-the-top lunacy. By my leaving my law-firm job to work on Martin’s recovery. By moving out of New York City, and into a house adjusted to meet his needs, from electromagnetic-shielding to environmentally sensitive paint. Through a variety of specialty and highly restricted diets, all home-prepared and as organic as possible. With homeopathy and, early on, homotoxicology. Through large medical bills (on top of pushing the limits of our insurance) for a team of MAPS(-ish) practitioners, an LLMD, geneticists, traditional and nontraditional allergists, developmental optometrist, neurofeedback practitioner, HBOT therapist. By insulating Martin from the commonplace, like fluoride, chlorine, harsh cleaning agents. On the non-biomed side, through special-education settings, hippotherapy, social-skills playgroups, a psychologist. And of course, by summer relocation to Nicaragua.

From the beginning, I have had to acknowledge the privilege inherent in what I can do for Martin. We are a two-parent family with one child. Adrian’s income as a law-firm partner made it possible for me to stop working and focus on Martin, and for us nevertheless to cover the expense of biomed. We live in an area rich with resources. Adrian himself believes in the biomedical approach. While he may select restaurants without enough regard for Martin’s restrictions, or plan trips that make it difficult to adhere to our supplementation routine &c., he never questions my research or seeks to undermine.

What we do for Martin appears extreme, to a good many folks, and that’s okay. It is extreme. I’ve always said I would do anything necessary for Martin’s recovery.

Yet, more and more often, I encounter parents who do more than I do.

Example: Parents who homeschool. That’s not happening for us. I love Martin and cherish our time together, enough so that—other than cooking—I get nothing done when we’re together. I need the six-hour break when he’s in school. I need the time to work, to shop, to research, to order supplements, to breathe.

Example: Parents who truly master the science behind medical challenges and recovery. When my family makes a big decision like medical marijuana, I try to do a lot of research. I read summaries and abstracts and, where necessary, delve into scholarly articles—which is tough. I’m no good at the science component. I’m forever amazed by parents who seem able to answer extremely complicated questions of physiology or neurology at the drop of a hat. Perhaps they were doctors in their pre-autism lives. Or perhaps they just managed to complete something more impressive than “Chemistry for Non-Science Majors,” which was the class through which I fulfilled my core science requirement in college.

Caveat: One could argue that anything biomedical we do with Martin is a “big decision,” because anything has the potential to affect his health short- or long-term. True. On the other hand, my anxiety is satisfied with comparatively less investigation when it comes to, say, Vitamin C supplementation than when it comes to, say, chelation.

Caveat: There are also plenty of parents in my on-line groups who, even to my weak eye, get science and even basic facts wrong. I wasted time one evening explaining why the statement “All soy contains GMO estrogen” was untrue (in varying ways). Another occasion, I spent hours trying to track down the source of a statistic about MTHFR mutation and autism that was being thrown around as gospel. I failed, even after looking through all eight articles in the medical journal to which the statistic was vaguely attributed.

The core point is this: In the event anyone feels disheartened because s/he can’t manage what we do for Martin, know that I too become disheartened by what others manage that I cannot.

Martin needs more detox support. For detox support, he takes a few herbal remedies, does a detox bath (two cups Epsom salt, half a cup baking soda, and essential oils) several times per week, and when we have time, sweats in our infrared sauna. But he needs more. I can tell because he becomes silly and inattentive (behavior I associate with detoxing) at certain times each day, usually when his antimicrobials are taking effect. So I went searching for a supplemental detox protocol and found a post, from the excellent blog Regarding Caroline, titled, “DETOX the Die-off and feel amazing again! [our roadmap to success].”

Call up the post, if you have a minute. Read through, past the various strategies of castor oil packs, dry brushing, &c., down to that part subtitled Our Daily Detox Routine. It’s amazing! Herx water and lymph drainage massage before breakfast, cytokine and lymphatic supplements mid-morning and early afternoon, foot bath during dinner, dry brushing before shower, more lymph drainage massage in bed, so on, so forth. Martin would undoubtedly benefit from that type of detox routine. So much detox might eliminate silliness altogether, which would help so much with social skills; just this afternoon, Martin said to me, “I know I shouldn’t laugh at jokes from inside my head when I’m with friends. I can’t calm my body and control the laughing!”

So Martin needs a routine like that.

But—

But I—

I came away from this post feeling, I imagine, the way an autism-recovery newbie might feel after some time on Finding My Kid: What? How? How could I possibly do all that—do anything close to that—on top of the day-to-day grind I already endure? Martin attends school; we’ve established that. He has at least two activities after school every day, which include taekwondo practice, music lessons, psychologist appointments, social-skills playgroup, reading tutor. Then there’s homework (which still takes inordinately long, given his attention issues), trombone and drum practice, (now) chess practice, half an hour of iPad time (as a reward for completing everything else I just mentioned), dinner, two snacks, and school-mandated 20 minutes of reading before bedtime. We do his pills and drops at wake-up, breakfast, immediately after school, before dinner, during dinner, and at bedtime. When the dry brushing? When the detox supplements, which must be separated from everything else?

You may be thinking, hey, why not drop a few activities? I would love to. Here are examples of my excuses and counter-proposals:

  • The most cumbersome activity is taekwondo, which Martin does five times per week. He would attend seven times per week if the lessons were available. Most kids attend two or maybe three times per week. We indulge Martin’s habit because (1) taekwondo is one of the few activities that excite him, and (2) even coming twice as much as other kids, he still has trouble keeping up with them, and every time classmates have the opportunity to pass a belt and Martin doesn’t, the experience pains him.
  • His music lesson is a combined once-weekly trombone and drum lesson. He wants to join the school band next year, in fourth grade. He’s been at the trombone lessons for two years, and he isn’t very good. Last fall he asked to change to percussion. We don’t like him hopping around on a whim, so we allowed percussion only if he also stuck with trombone. Then he showed a knack for drums and immediately became a better percussionist than trombonist. If he’s going to succeed in band, drums are probably the key.
  • Chess is a new activity, at my urging. Our community has an active chess program for elementary kids, and I’d like to have Martin involved in at least one quiet, thoughtful activity with peers. The participants, however, have by and large been playing for a while, and Martin needs to catch up, so I have him taking a lesson once a week and practicing the other days. If I can’t have a hockey player, darn it, I will have a chess player.

The truth is, I would rather keep Martin busy. We still don’t have many play dates to speak of, and when he’s not busy, he’s whining for an iPad or for me to entertain him. Of course he needs to develop the skill of entertaining himself, but at least until he can read for pleasure, we probably aren’t there yet.

So there you have it. There are, indeed, parents who do more for their kids than I do for Martin. Far more—even excluding the subset of parents who must do more because their children are extremely high-need. I, too, become overwhelmed at the thought of all I should be doing.

I hope that a parent who reads Finding My Kid and thinks, “No way!” might nonetheless think also, “Okay, part way. I can do some of that.” So that’s the course I took. I analyzed the Regarding Caroline suggestions, took what seems do-able for us, and came up with a Martinized protocol:

  1. We will do a foot bath during iPad time at least four days per week. I prefer Martin to be seated at a table for iPad time in any event, because otherwise he hunches and puts his face too close to the screen.
  1. We will attempt dry brushing Saturday (or Sunday), Wednesday, and Friday. Those are the evenings when we tend to be less rushed.
  1. I will add herx water before breakfast and after school.

That’s it. Those are the suggestions I think I can manage.

And, mind you, the list is aspirational.

One Strike, Almost a Second Strike, and a Continuation

We had the talk with Martin.

Or at least we attempted the talk.

I’m talking about the talk described in my last post.

That talk. The one in which we discuss with Martin how he really is different from other kids.

When Adrian and I met with Martin’s psychologist, she didn’t advocate for revealing Martin’s diagnosis (“ADHD with social-pragmatic language delay”). Instead, the said the better approach might be to talk with Martin in terms of what he’s good at (say, memorizing facts, or learning geography), what he’s pretty good at (say, math), and what still gives him trouble (say, paying attention, or knowing what people mean when they interact). Then we could point out how everyone has a third category: Everyone has trouble here and there.

Adrian and I, strategizing, decided to raise the topic when we went out to dinner Sunday evening. That was my idea. Martin gets nervous when we ask to speak with him at home, because he thinks he’s in trouble. We eat Sunday dinner in a restaurant nearly every week, Martin feels comfortable in that setting, and we make him talk with us anyway, in order to practice manners and to reduce time looking at an iPad or iPhone screen, which is what he’d prefer to be doing. Sunday afternoon, I made paper charts with three columns:

  1. “Things I’m not so good at.”
  2. “Things I’m pretty good at.”
  3. “Things I’m very good at.”

There was a chart for each of us. I thought we could take the focus off Martin by discussing, first, my and Adrian’s weaknesses. After we ordered, I distributed the charts, presenting them as a “fun family activity.” Into column 1, on my chart, I put music, not being anxious, being on time, and paying attention. Into column 2, I put talking to friends, meeting new people, sports, and cooking. Into column 3, I put math, taking written tests, and writing. (Feel free to dispute whether “writing” belonged in my “very good” column.) Adrian admitted that he stinks at soccer, cooking, and being patient, said that he’s pretty good at speaking English (not his native language) and singing, and claimed to be very good at reading and being on time. I struggled to make out most of what Adrian wrote, so I grabbed his chart and added “writing legibly” to the “not so good” column.

Martin went straight for column 3, “very good at”: taekwondo (debatable), skiing (getting there), drums (still figuring out), and spelling (no doubt). In column 2, he included reading (I agree, if we mean straight-up reading, and not reading comprehension) and being patient. Then he stopped, before getting to column 1, “not so good at.” He asked me what he’s not so good at. I replied based directly on something he’d previously told me. “Remember how you told me other kids have better handwriting? So maybe something you’re not that good at is coordination.” “What’s ‘coordination’?” “Coordination is being able to write neatly, or move without bumping into things, and stuff like that. Daddy also doesn’t have much coordination.” “How do you spell ‘coordination’?” “What do you think?” “C-O-O-R-D-I-N-A-T-I-O-N.” (Because, spelling.) He wrote “coordination,” then added “basketball.”

I thanked Adrian and Martin for filling out their charts and began the soliloquy I’d rehearsed, about how everyone has skills that come easy and tasks that make them struggle. I completed less than a sentence before Martin interrupted me to ask, “Is anyone going to see these lists?” I said no, the lists were just for our family to see. Martin flipped his chart face-down and said, “I think we should put these away in case a waiter sees.” I gathered the charts and tucked them into my purse, then resumed speaking. Martin interrupted again, “I think maybe the waiters can hear you.” I promised to speak more quietly. He said, “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Adrian spoke up. “I think maybe Martin would rather have this conversation at home. Is that right, Martin?”

“Yes. At home.”

Strike one.

We got home late (by nine-year-old standards). I did Martin’s supplement routine and got him into bed. Adrian joined, and we restarted the discussion. As soon as I got to the part about everyone having struggles, Martin declared, with finality, “I’m not good at coordination,” then tried to change the subject. I, ever tenacious, suggested other struggles, again from his own prior statements, like his eyes wandering from the page or understanding what peers mean when they speak. Martin said, “I don’t want to talk about this.” I tried to convince him to have the conversation, that discussing strengths and weaknesses helps us understand ourselves. He rolled over and buried his face in a pillow.

It looked like we were headed for strike two, so I threw a Hail Mary. (Apologies for switching sports in my metaphors. I was going to say that I swung blindly, but that’s hardly a way to avoid a strike.) I said, “Do you remember when you said that you’re not a normal kid? Well, no one is a normal kid. There’s no such thing as a normal kid. Every kid has strengths and weaknesses.”

Martin turned his head enough to look at me from the pillow. “No one is normal?” he asked.

“Nope, no one. Even if you can’t see other kids’ weaknesses, they still have them.”

Martin shoved his face back into the pillow, but I could see him nodding in agreement. Good enough. Adrian and I said our goodnights and left.

This is destined to be an ongoing conversation, we decided. We must continue encouraging Martin to discuss his differences and how they affect him. I’m also questioning the wisdom of not revealing his diagnosis. In my head, I’m pursuing a conversation with Martin that opens this way: “Martin, have you ever heard of ADD? It’s a condition that affects a person’s ability to concentrate and pay attention. It’s not the person’s fault. If a person has ADD, her or she can treat the condition and make it better. You have ADD. It’s not your fault. You take all these pills to help make the ADD better.” I’m not sure where that will go, and I have yet to run the idea by Adrian.

The deep, meaningful conversation I hoped to be describing in this post hasn’t happened. So, alas, I need to end this post the same way as the last:

Stay tuned.