Boom! Booh-Yah!

I got around to posting “Eureka!,” about Martin’s potential salicylate intolerance, only yesterday. I try to keep Finding My Kid as current as possible. Alas, in this case, I’m behind schedule; we’ve already been doing the low-salicylate diet for a week-and-a-half, since Tuesday afternoon, January 3.

Last week, the first week, Martin seemed better than when we were skiing. The difference was mostly ephemeral, so I wasn’t sure if I might be imagining a change, to fit my own salicylate narrative. He had fewer meltdowns, I thought. He seemed more connected. But he was still perseverating plenty, so I wasn’t sure. The weekend went well. My brother Eddie came for a visit, with the express purpose of taking Martin to the City to do whatever he wanted. The two of them were gone all day, Saturday. Eddie reported no problems.

Then came Monday, the seventh day of a low-salicylate diet for Martin. To my surprise, Martin came home from school with a special note from his teacher, which read, “Mrs. N— is so proud of my amazing day! Martin worked so hard and had a wonderful day!” The note was accompanied by a math test—all word problems—on which Martin had scored 100%, and because that night’s homework was “correct the math problems you missed,” Martin had no homework. Monday afternoon, Martin went to his taekwondo class and performed—not “well,” per se, but better than usual.

Tuesday, I accompanied Martin’s class on a field trip. Martin was clingy, from the unusual circumstance of having me near him during a school event. I wouldn’t say he had a fabulous day. He melted down during a presentation by a museum administrator, who summoned several children as volunteers but refused to call upon not the over-enthusiastic Martin.

Wednesday I received a text from Martin’s behaviorist, who was in the classroom: “Another great day again. More independence, better attention, quicker work completion, better staying on task, increase in social initiation.” Wednesday afternoon came another note in Martin’s backpack, from his teacher. This one, which was on his daily evaluation sheet (the Monday note was on a regular blank page) read: “Martin had an amazing day today! So proud of him J —Mrs. N—.” In the row for “Partner Work” was an additional note: “worked really well with his math partner!”fullsizerender-4

Thursday brought another victory. The note, on Martin’s daily evaluation sheet, read: “Super day today, again! Mrs. N— is so proud of Martin! J” In the row for “Partner Work” was written “Great partner work today,” with a smiley face formed from two exclamation points.fullsizerender-6

Thursday evening, after work, I spent an evening on the town with a group of fellow special-needs moms, and Adrian was in South America on business, so Martin’s babysitter Samara stayed with him. Samara was preparing dinner when Martin took snuck into the kitchen and stole an organic mango Samara had peeled and sliced for herself. Samara texted me immediately to say Martin had eaten the mango while she was distracted and she hoped it wouldn’t interfere with his new diet. After a flurry of iPhone research, I replied, “Good news! I just looked mango up, and it’s ‘moderate’ salicylate—so not good but not as bad as it could be.”

Apparently, however, it was enough. At 9:13 pm, Samara texted me, “He is still awake but in bed already. He’s laughing for no reason. Sí. I guess it was the mango.” Martin was still awake when I arrived home after 10:00 pm. I went to check on him and found him in the laundry bin in his bathroom. I asked, “What on earth are you doing?” He replied, “Well, I’m sitting here in this laundry bin.”

Given Thursday night’s post-mango escapades—as far as I can tell, Martin fell asleep around 10:40 pm, some three hours after bedtime—I feared that Friday might be rough. No indeed. This daily evaluation sheet came home:fullsizerender-5

Please, examine that sheet carefully. The daily evaluation sheet that Martin’s behaviorist devised rates him in various categories—“followed routine directions,” “raised hand and waited to be called on,” &c.—on a scale from 1 to 5. A 1 means “heavily prompted.” A 5 represents “excellent independence,” or as the behaviorist described it to me, a 5 means that Martin performed on an independence level similar to any other kid in his (mainstream) class. Friday’s evaluation sheet rated Martin a 5 in every category, both morning and afternoon. That means, on Friday, according to Martin’s teacher, Martin performed at a level similar to any other kid in his mainstream class. A level similar to every other kid. The evaluation was accompanied by yet another handwritten note: “Another amazing day today! ❤ So proud of you!!”

Let me add, if I may, that I do not usually receive handwritten notes from Martin’s teacher. Each of these was special, and unique.

Now, there are caveats. First, I have not been seeing the same kind of super-improvement at home, or in Martin’s after-school activities. His meltdowns have decreased, homework is going well, and he seems less irritable. But I would not affix an “amazing” label to his home behavior. Maybe he’s taking advantage of me. Second, Martin has been having trouble falling asleep. This week he was up until 9:40 pm, 10:30 pm, even near midnight once. As a result, he’s been tired and lacking some focus. So I can’t say everything is fabulous. In any event, at school the trajectory is upward. Dramatically upward, apparently.

Here’s a funny addendum. At least it’s funny to me, and probably to other biomed parents. Wednesday, Martin’s behaviorist, who knows we do biomed, texted me from his classroom, which she visits once per week. She wrote: “Another great day again. More independence, better attention, quicker work completion, better staying on task, increase in social initiation. Supplements kicking in? Only difference here is aide is out again.” With that last sentence, she meant Martin’s one-on-one aide, who was absent all week with flu.

I wrote back: “No—believe it or not, over Christmas break, I think I discovered that Martin is salicylate-intolerant. I’ve been cutting all salicylates from his diet—and now these results.”

The behaviorist responded: “I can’t keep up with all his allergies and intolerances anymore. What can this poor kid eat?”

I explained what salicylates are and assured her that Martin is still finding plenty to eat (more on that later). Then I expressed my enthusiasm for how much this new dietary tweak seemed to be helping.

The behaviorist, evidently skeptical, went in a different direction: “The other variable is the teacher and I are really trying to pull Martin’s aide back further. She goes through periods of hovering. And I think it stresses him out. The substitute aide isn’t being utilized very much. I think the more freedom relaxes him and that could be the factor as well.”

Aha! Martin’s school performance just bumped not because we discovered a salicylate intolerance and took action, but because he has a substitute aide. Cue the eye roll.

Exasperation. For a Change, His, Not Mine

Martin’s gaining independence delights me for my own sake as much as his. When he could finally be trusted not to leave the house alone or endanger himself climbing the outside of the staircase railing, I could finally shower even when he and I were home alone. When he learned to swim, I could let him play on the swingset without constant fear of the pool 10 yards away. And when Martin finally started getting himself into our SUV—climbing into his booster chair, putting his drink into the cup holder, buckling his seatbelt—that meant no more straining my back to lift him aboard, no more standing in rain or snow waiting for him to arrange himself so I could push his seatbelt across, no more bypassing coffee shops that didn’t have a drive-thru because getting him in and out was such a PITA. Now he even precedes me into the garage, so that when I finally come out, coffee in hand, he’s already settled.

Last month Martin and I were twenty minutes into a car trip when, stopped at a red light, I turned around to speak to him and realized his seatbelt wasn’t buckled. “Martin!” I said. “What’s going on with your seatbelt? Why aren’t you buckled?”

“I forgot!” Martin sounded alarmed as he seized the seatbelt and buckled himself. “Oh, I forgot to put in on.”

“Be careful, buddy. We’re about to get on the highway. That would have really dangerous.”

I’m pretty sure that was a one-time occurrence. Still, since then, I’ve taken to confirming before we leave home, or asking once we’re underway, whether he’s wearing his seatbelt. I rarely remember to confirm before we leave home, which means I’m doing a lot of asking once we’re underway. “Martin, are you buckled?” “Yes.” “Martin, are you buckled?” “Yes.”

Monday I got a different answer. “Martin, are you buckled?” “Yaaaaaa-esssss!”

Exasperation! Martin, the king of repetition and perseveration, was exasperated with my question. As a bonus, his exasperated, “Yaaaaaa-esssss!” had a determinately snippy tone, almost like a pre-teen might utter.

That’s not the place I’ve heard exasperation. We’re on an airplane, and Martin just asked me whether he could order an orange juice. I said no, because he had a juice box earlier today at BareBurger. When Martin was younger, his response to that disappointment would have been a meltdown. His more common response, these days, is a burst of nonsense: “I’m never going to have juice again, ever! Throw all of the juice away! Mommy, we’re going to give the juice to another family!” His response just now was one that’s emerged within the last week or so: “Awwwww!”, that whining protest that children use when they feel they’ve been unjustly denied a privilege. I also got an “Awwwww!” when he wasn’t allowed to watch television at breakfast and when he couldn’t watch Wheel of Fortune because I had the Rangers game on.

I’m not sure I’m ready for all this neurotypicality.

Praise Him in the Morning

I have to tell you about church this weekend. I’ve got to tell you about church this weekend.

The children were scheduled to sing “Praise Him in the Morning” during the service. When the children sing, so does Martin. He attends the church’s Tuesday-afternoon Kids’ Klub each week, where the children practice with their music minister. This weekend was already the third or fourth time Martin has sang at church since December. Even in that short space of time, I’ve seen the level of assistance he needs decrease rapidly. Initially, he stood in the nave with the other children but really didn’t sing, and sort of wandered. Now—

Actually, let me start with something else. The children were asked to arrive 20 minutes before the service, for a final rehearsal. We were late and made it to the narthex only five minutes before the service. I told Martin to hurry and shooed him toward the rehearsal room downstairs. He turned back and started to ask me to come. Just at that moment, one of the women who helps with Sunday school was passing. She said, “Oh, are you going to rehearse? Come on. You can come with me.” Martin hesitated only a second before heading downstairs with her. Until recently, Martin never would have done that. He would have insisted that I come, or staged a meltdown if I didn’t.

I entered the sanctuary with my father, who was visiting for the weekend, and chose two seats on the aisle near the back.* Soon the children, about 20 in total, appeared and headed together down the aisle. Martin left the group and came to me with a happy “Mommy!”

“Hi, Sweetie,” I said. “Do you want to sit with me, or with the other children?”

I don’t think Martin had realized the children would be sitting together near the pulpit (they do that only on “performance” Sundays), because when he saw them filling the front pews, he scampered up the aisle to join them. By then most spaces were filled, and I feared Martin might get frustrated and return to me. He didn’t. He bopped around a little and finally made space for himself amongst the older boys.

The service began. I watched Martin, fearful that, out of my reach, he might do something disruptive. Not my Martin! I can’t say he paid any attention to the service—let’s reiterate: he’s six—but he did sit quietly. Only once did he start talking, whereupon the fifth-grader next to him promptly and effectively shushed him. And once he quasi-snuggled the boy to his other side. (We’re having some issues right now with respecting personal space.) That boy was patient, and the incident passed. Through the opening hymn, the prayer, the Kyrie, the first reading, the responsive psalm, the second reading, and the Gospel, Martin behaved.

Finally the children shuffled onto the chancel. First they sat and heard a three-minute lesson from the director of the mission committee. Then they stood to sing. Martin knocked it out of the park. Not only did he stand almost still; for at least 80% of “Praise Him in the Morning,” he sang along.

(Yes, I recorded the performance on my iPhone. Yes, even before the sermon ended, I had sent the file to relatives and friends.)

After their big performance, the children sang a short goodbye song and headed off to Sunday school. There was a substitute teacher, which in the past might have worried Martin. Not this week. He participated fine. When I reclaimed him for the Eucharist, he was wearing his art project around his neck, a medallion on which he’d written, “I am a child of God.”

After the Eucharist, the pastor asked everyone to sit down, because he had many announcements and business matters to review. By then Martin was antsy, so I let him take his snacks from my purse and walk to the gymnasium, where coffee hour is held. That exercise makes me nervous, because coffee hour invariably includes an open table offering goodies not allowed on Martin’s restricted diet. Furthermore, the pastor really did have a lot to talk about, so ten minutes or more passed before I left the sanctuary and found Martin in the gymnasium.

He was sitting at a small table for children, eating a bowl of fruit. We had this conversation:

“Mommy! I went to the food and got myself a bowl and filled it with fruit.”

“You did? All by yourself?”

“Yes, and then I got this spoon and this napkin, and now I’m eating. I did it all by myself.”

“Martin, that’s terrific. And where are the snacks that we brought from home?”

“Here, look! I made my almond bar into a ball and put it with the fruit!”

I was absolutely tickled by Martin’s independence, and by his wise choice: With the food was a cream-filled chocolate cake, which Martin had walked right by to serve himself fresh fruit. I decided to celebrate by offering him a little orange juice. “Sure!” he exclaimed, and then asked if he could pour it by himself, which he did, without spilling a drop.

Who is this boy? Who is this kid who sits with the other children instead of with me, who sings with the chorus, who makes good choices and takes initiative to serve himself? He’s Mr. Independence.

He capped the performance Sunday evening, when we went out to eat. At the particular restaurant, Martin can eat the burger (grass-fed beef, with no additives) or the fish cooked in olive oil. He refused to reveal his choice until the waitress came. After I ordered, Martin asked me, “Is it my turn?” Then he looked directly at the waitress and said, “Um, I would like to order a burger, please.” I was about to begin reciting the additional directions when Martin stopped me and said, by himself, “No bread, no bun, please.” The waitress asked, “Would you like cheese?” Martin replied, “No. I can’t have that.” My job was limited to whispering, to the waitress, “Could you substitute steamed broccoli for the French fries?” And we were done.

I don’t use this term much: It was one heck of an FUA day.

*Informative note: In the suburban church we attend (new since we moved), the younger kids don’t stay for the sermon. After the Gospel reading and a short children’s lesson with the pastor, they proceed to the basement for Sunday school and don’t return until the Eucharist. Until last December, I didn’t stay for the sermon, either. I accompanied Martin to Sunday school, to help him participate and make sure he didn’t monopolize attention. One Sunday in December, the Sunday-school teacher, whose own son is recovered from autism, told me, “You don’t need to be down here anymore. We’re fine.” I expressed skepticism, and she said, “Really. Go upstairs. Sit near the back. I’ll send one of the older kids up if we need you.” I made it about ten minutes before I snuck back down and peeked in the door. They were fine. Martin was playing. No chaos.

Since that Sunday, I walk downstairs with Martin if he wants me to—which happens less and less—and then I return to the sermon. Still, I choose a seat on an aisle, near the back, in case the teacher needs me. Once, an older child came upstairs to ask me whether Martin could eat the gummy snacks they were having. He couldn’t, so I whipped a GAPS-compatible brownie out of my purse. That’s the only time I’ve been needed.