Autism One Take-Away II

In my last post, I enumerated my “for discussion” points from Autism One, the ideas that caught my interest but that I need to discuss with Martin’s doctor before I take any action.

In this post, I address two plans for immediate implementation: composting and EMR control.

I’ve had composting on my mind since we moved to the suburbs two years ago. Composting never made it past the good-intentions stage because I wasn’t planting. Composting may be generally beneficial, from an environmental standpoint. From a realism standpoint, I’m not going to do it unless I have a use for the compost. I mean, I’m not going to compost and donate the result. At least, not while I’m in the thick of fighting autism. Maybe someday, when Martin has recovered.

This spring, for the first time, I planted. I assembled an elevated, cedar garden box, in which my arugula, kale, and marigolds (co-planted for natural pest control) are thriving. I also started three “Grow Boxes,” which I’ve had since before we moved from the City and never used. (Trepidation. I haven’t been able to discover exactly what goes into the grow-boxes’ built-in fertilizer, and I have a bias against the boxes being plastic. So far, in any event, the crops in the cedar box are doing much better than those in the plastic grow-boxes.) All the seeds were organic, of course, and I also purchased (not cheap) organic soil.

In one of his A1 presentations, Dr. Zach Bush talked about the introduction of nitrogen fertilizer after World War II, the more recent introduction of glyphosate and other pesticides and herbicides, and the resulting loss of soil biome. I think a lot about human biome, especially since Martin was born by unplanned Caesarian-section and then given antibiotics. I’ve never really thought before now about the soil biome. During his presentation on The TDOS Syndrome, Peter Greenlaw argued that food, as we have altered it, is not longer “enough” to nourish us. Tomatoes have less lycopene, spinach has less iron, carrots have fewer vitamins, and so forth. We eat all the calories and then, still missing nutrients, we crave more, leading to obesity. These ideas clicked. Since I’m growing vegetables on the homefront now—I’m about to step outside and harvest a salad for dinner—I ought to insert as much nutrition into them as possible. Won’t my organic vegetable waste make ideal compost for that purpose? Plus, the very cool plumber who came recently to fix a burst pipe told me that my township offers outdoor composting kits to residents for just $50. Composting, here I come.

As to EMR, we have taken precautions already. EMR, or EMF’s, were a primary concern when we decided to move out of New York City. In our old apartment, in the city, when I ordered my computer to search for wi-fi, it routinely found two or three dozen networks. Two or three dozen! That means Martin, at home, playing, or sleeping, was bombarded by wireless frequencies. And when you live in a building with seven other families, surrounded by more buildings with more families, those signals come through pretty strong. We resorted to draping a tent of EMF-blocking fabric around Martin’s bed, with yards of the same fabric under his bed. Also, his bedroom was so tiny that his bed fit only against a wall with electrical outlets near his head and feet, or else alongside a floor-level window through which came the room’s highest EMF levels. We covered the window with clear EMF-shielding film and put the bed there. That was the best we could do.

In our new (not so new anymore) suburban homestead, we are less constrained. We have more than an acre, on a shoreline. As a result, when my computer searches for wi-fi, it finds only two networks, ours and the weak signal of one neighbor. Before we moved in, our contractor—who is the husband of Martin’s nanny, Samara, and knows why we do the things we do—applied grounded, EMF-shielding paint underneath the regular paint and even the floorboards (basement modem) in Martin’s bedroom. That bedroom is large enough that we can situate his bed away from wall outlets. We bought this house, instead of another we considered, after an environmental review of each showed the winning house to harbor lower EMR. (The other house was near a water tower; EMR travels along water pipes, and higher pressure means more EMR. Also, the main water line into that house ran diagonally under most of the main floor, creating an unavoidable field.) Along with those precautions, we don’t have cordless phones at home. So we’re off to a good start.

Here’s what more I can do:

* I never had Martin’s current bedroom windows coated with clear EMF-blocking film, even though we still have a supply of the product. I suppose I haven’t wanted to mess with his room’s view of our yard. Well, tough. For the time being, recovery trumps view.

* We have one basement water main that our consultant recommended wrapping to offset EMR transmission. With the other renovations and general chaos of moving, that never happened. It’s time.

* Adrian loves giant televisions. He is, after all, a guy. In our family room is a 65” LED television that gets turned on, maybe, twice a week, for Adrian to watch news or historical documentaries. (With my hockey and soccer and tennis and football, I am the bigger TV-watcher. I watch mainly in the kitchen, while I cook.) Once upon a time, back in the City, I turned off the power strip that fed our TV, cable, and stereo system, trying to cut ambient radiation when the devices weren’t in use. Then I discovered that if you cut power to a cable box, it takes five minutes or more to reset when you reconnect the power. On those rare occasions when Adrian wanted to watch TV, he faced a frustrating delay. So I devised a system by which everything except the cable box was fed by one power strip, and cut that power strip unless we were using the TV or stereo. Now we have “Smart TV” in our family room. I need to experiment and find the best way to cut power when not in use, without much delay upon restarting. Bonus: Savings on our electric bill.

* That stupid microwave. Years ago I stopped microwaving. Since then I’ve read conflicting information on whether microwaving really affects food properties. But nutritional value notwithstanding, microwaves emit EMR’s. I’ve still got one in my kitchen. It’s a built-in model that will leave a hole if removed. Mostly, I use it as a timer, because its timer feature is more convenient than my oven’s. Occasionally, I give in to temptation and nuke food: lentil stew for Adrian to take to the office, a vegetarian sausage for me to when the others are eating fish, even Martin’s broth when he’s let it go cold and the fat has coagulated. Why? No good reason. I’m going to find a way to unplug the thing. I will leave it in the custom cabinet, or ask our handyman if he could convert the space to something useful and attractive.

Ÿ* Get this: More often than not, I leave my computer on overnight. At some point in the evening, I abandon my laptop in order to attend to something else, like preparing meatballs or Adrian’s lunch, or driving home from the pub where I blog. (Ahem.) I think, I’m not going to shut down. Maybe I will want to use my computer later and accomplish many amazing feats. Which I never do. I go to bed, and my laptop sits unmolested, shooting and receiving EMF’s. Nice.

Ÿ* Did you think that was bad? My computer? Wait for it: Adrian leaves his iPhone—charging—powered on—next to his pillow. Just like that, he earns infamy as worst household EMF offender. He likes to use the iPhone as an alarm. He likes to be completely up-to-date on work email if he checks during the night or first thing in the morning. He likes to melt our brains. This doesn’t affect Martin, at least not as much as other household wi-fi crimes. But still. I’ve got some needling to do.

Ÿ* Overall, I may be able to make the biggest difference in Martin’s classroom. As luck would have it, two other mothers from Martin’s class—he attends a school for children with speech and language delays, many of whom also have autism—were with me at A1 and share this sentiment: We need to convince the school to do better with wi-fi. The entire school is wi-fi enabled, and every classroom has a SMART board. We probably can’t change either of those facts. Maybe we could fundraise and get EMF filters into the classrooms, or implement a policy for teachers and assistants to shut off mobile phones while inside.

We also considered trying to get the school to do better with food, but that seems more challenging. Because so many kids have food allergies, students may eat only what they bring from home, except during parties and special events. During parties and special events, no home-baked goods or even fruits are allowed. The choices are plain pizza (which I like to call “one dish with everything an ASD kid shouldn’t eat, plus almost no nutrition whatsoever”) or items from the “Snack Safely Guide” (“sugar-laden processed crap”). Ergo, during parties and special events, Martin and the other boys whose moms were at A1 have to bring their own snacks. We would love to convince the school to let us bring healthy treats for all the students. We’ve tried before. Regrettably (in my opinion), paranoia over food allergies wins the day.

Referring to “paranoia” over food allergies is in no way meant to minimize the challenges faced by our friends in that community. I know that we need to take precautions to ensure the safety of those who risk anaphylactic shock from accidental ingestion of allergens. On the other hand, it appears sometimes that, rather than doing the hard work of tailoring policies, schools prefer to blanket the food supply. Not one student in Martin’s class has an allergy to peanuts or nuts, and because of the lunchroom’s small size, his class eats together with only one other class. Yet I cannot send sprouted almonds as a snack, because the entire school is nut-free. I would much rather work with the school to devise a plan that meets the students’ actual needs, and addresses the non-nut allergies that some of them do have.

How about turning our own wi-fi system off at night? That’s usually the first step holistic doctors and EMF consultants suggest. Yet it would be the hardest for me to take. Adrian works long hours. Now that we live outside the City, we wanted to make provision for Adrian to work some days from home. He hired a network expert to enable his home office, complete with phone tied to his Manhattan office line, cable phone, and wi-fi portals. The system is so complex that it doesn’t lend itself to being shut off without significant warm-up time upon restarting, along with the chance for snafus. It’s becoming a pick-your-battles issue for me. The EMF-blocking paint in Martin’s bedroom helps. What trace EMF’s still hit him at night are offset by Adrian’s ability to work conveniently from home.

Gotta go. Lots to do.

Martin doing his thing at a playground. I look at this big, big kid and think, "Is he really mine?"

Martin doing his thing at a playground. I look at this big, big kid and think, “Is he really mine?”