Sensory differences are a common symptom of autism. Often kids on the spectrum can become overwhelmed by these differences. A1 tells me that a public toilet flushing sounds like a bomb going off and for several years he avoided public restrooms. A2 flaps his arms and locks out his knees whenever he is filled with anxiety….kind of his virtual rocking chair….or else he is just hoping to fly away from the dentist/barking dog/hand dryer. As autism-folk we try to build awareness by creating overwhelming scenarios to get NTs (neurotypicals…yes, we have a name for you) to sympathize the plight of the kid flicking his fingers in front of his face as a way to stop having his eyes taking a million pictures at once or the kid who is pacing because he can’t tell where his body is in space. But sometimes, I am fairly certain that some of those sensory integration differences are not experienced in a negative way and sometimes there are common things that just look, sound or feel like something not of this world…..if I could only take an x-ray of A2s little mind and see what he could for 10 seconds….. (…and feel free to smile at this picture….)
U is for Ubiquinol
(originally posted 4/2015)
If you have heard this word before it is likely that you are either are a biologist or have a child with a mitochondrial disorder. In our case, to be sure….I am not a biologist. There is mounting evidence that autism and mitochondrial disorders at least co-exist in many cases. Mitochondria are organelles in almost every cell in the body and are considered the powerhouse of the cell. The mitochondria break down chemical compounds into energy and put it back into the cell for use. When there is a breakdown in the mitochondria factory, it cannot produce enough energy for the cell which can result in cell damage or death. This damage tends to affect larger organ systems such as the brain, heart, endocrine system, gastrointestinal system, kidneys and respiratory system. (As I mentioned….I am not a biologist..that’s about the best I can explain). The first time after 9th grade biology I heard about ATP or mitochondria was sitting in a neurologists office with A2 when she cocked her head and said “I need to send him to the Cleveland Clinic….I think he has mitochondrial disease…I am so sorry….”. I was confused–“Ok”, I said and left the office feeling optimistic that maybe we figured out why my baby completely stopped physically growing or gaining weight and developing. If we know what it is….we can treat it, why was she apologizing? But as it turns out, there is no cure and no real treatment for mitochondrial disorders. These disorders also tend to be progressive in nature so we must try to protect the mitochondria to the best of our ability using supplementation (thus the Ubiquinol CoQ-10) and body system balance. Under a microscope, A2’s mitochondria are oddly shaped..and there are a whole lot of them…and this hastened the question did some disease process or environmental assault cause this problem….or did he inherit it from me (mito are maternally inherited)? If something happened, what was it? Did I eat too many pesticides on my produce while nursing? Was his immune system down when he got a vaccination? Was the rated “F” water in Las Vegas where he was born full of toxins that damaged my baby? I am rational enough to know that there was nothing I could have done about my own mitochondria nor could I guess exactly what environmental assault would have caused such a huge problem…but it is here. And I now know why the neurologist apologized to me on that warm, blue skied summer day back in 2006…..
T is for Teachers and Therapists
112. A2 has had a total of 112 different teachers and therapists in his short 11 years. Some were hand- picked….some chosen by fate and luck of the draw. Some were published…lauded recognizable names….some were quiet presences of whom I cannot remember their names. Some have been with us for the majority of his life. Some have only jumped in for a blip of time in his almost 105,000 hours on this planet. Some were stellar….life alterers….some just showed up because they had to. Some interpreted my coolness or seeming indifference to them as being non-caring. Some recognized that I always had my child’s best interest in mind all the time and understood it was important for me not to be too attached for fear of losing perspective and not holding them accountable should his learning derail. All have had a permanent impact on my entire family’s lives and for all of them, I am grateful. When reading this post today–please help me help a few whose lives are difficult right now–Debbie Jo Pierce (pictured above) was one of the first paraprofessionals to work with A2. She has given most of her life to helping others and is ill with cancer leaving her unable to work and without income. Please consider today to donate to a Gofundme account started for her to help ease her burdens. Also, if you are of the praying sort, please like the FB page for Pray for Rachel. Lauren Sullivan, a favorite home team therapist of A2 15 year old sister Rachel is in Nationwide Children’s Hospital being treated for cancer. Rachel is her heart and soul –a child of strength and character. I am only one person–Christmas gifts and thank yous always seem so trite in the face of what we ask of the professionals who help us. Can you help make an impact for 2 of them today?
**This post has been updated since the original post in April 2015, Debbie Jo passed away..taken too early in this world, yet someone must have felt her job here was done….and what a job she did in a quiet world where her time impacted so many. Rachel Sullivan has made a full recovery and is enjoying school, family, sports and her community.
S is for Skeletons
(edited and reposted from 4/2015)
In a way we are luckier than many in that when you meet A2, it is clear he is generally sweet and happy. It is also clear that he is a 10 year old with limited language and an intense fascination with things like dangling light bulbs and garage doors. This combination is like a free pass since it would be weirder to not acknowledge it, I get to talk about it.
But just a little bit.
It’s not exactly like airing dirty laundry. It’s more like airing dry cleaning–the-sort-of-dirty-nicest-silk-dress-in-my-closet kind of laundry. Let’s face it, there are socks and skivvies in all of our hampers we wouldn’t dare let hang out on the line in the backyard. For us, in the best of our worst case scenario of autism, A2 can make autism seem almost ethereal. And he IS inspirational. Despite his challenges he plows through life with a joy and wonder as if even the slightest thing is something he has seen for the first time. When we hire aides to work in our home, I warn them in advance that their work space is located in the darker cubicle of my life. While it can be a place full of love and ideas and fun, it is also the space where anxiety, anger and compulsiveness roll up like dust bunnies in the corner. They are invited into that laundry room to watch me fold those things we can’t hang outside to dry. They get to see the worst of the best case scenario and of course are free to form opinions or quietly judge. These young women know more than my “inner circle” of friends and it is not a comfortable place to be, but I let it happen for the benefit of my child for whom alone I could not be successful.
Why would I focus on this today when I have shared more about what it’s like on social media than I ever intended? Because we are “out” and wholly connected with the special needs community. There are revolutionaries who have adult children and walked with a yoke of all the things autism brings around their shoulders before anyone knew what autism was and never got the help they needed, so they created it for us. There are families you may know who can’t take their children in public for fear they won’t be safe to themselves or others. There are those who walk among us invisible–who closely protect their tangled criss-cross of laundry lines for fear of being judged, or worse yet, for their child being judged over something beyond their control. These are the people who might need to be seen and understood the most because they are not likely connected to a community who will understand. This is also autism.
Awareness is not just about what we do see, it’s also about what we don’t. If you are a revolutionary or an invisible family, reach out to me…tell me you are here….and if you are feeling brave, let me tag you on this post.
“Are you sure he has Autism? He’s so friendly…”
While there are more nuanced aspects now to the criteria, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level is one of the defining and most obvious diagnostic identification for children with autism.
Interest in people in general, desire for friendships and loving behavior can muddy the diagnostic waters and confuse people about what autism is and what autism isn’t.
Disconnectedness, aloofness and lack of desire to be touched does not always translate as a lack of desire for relationships. The desire is there, the understanding for how that happens is not. It can just be easier to be by yourself. A1 can tell you that.
Indiscriminate friendliness, hugs and kisses to those he loves and the compulsive desire to be around a lot of people doesn’t always coexist with developmentally appropriate social skills. A2 probably would tell you that part…if he could. He is just as likely to enthusiastically greet a stranger in a public bathroom as he would a child at school he knows well.
A2’s splintered play skills had to be taught like you would teach a typically developing child how to read. And he has missed many steps in this such as building with blocks and representational play. This spectrum of deficit in social interactions makes it much like I am raising 2 only children.
A2 wants nothing more than to play with A1, but has no idea how to engage in some of the more rigid independent activities he is playing.
A1 wants nothing more than to play by himself because he has no idea how to model the back and forth necessary for that interaction to work if it is not an activity of high interest.
I believe they love each other…but much of the time it is like they are drifting in separate rafts in a tumultuous sea of desire for one another’s companionship without oars the to paddle over to each other. Sometimes their boats coincidentally bump. It is those moments as a mom I see a glimmer of typical sibling antagonism, tattling and sometimes even a game of Connect 4 and hope that they both hold on to each other’s rafts and paddle to shore together one day.
In the month of our 15 year anniversary, I can confidently say we have embarked on a journey neither of us could have expected.
In some ways I wonder if our trek is easier than others since we never had musings of what our unborn children would be like or what kind of parents we would be.
…or if we would be parents at all….
I believe in a judicious balance between predestination and free will. Sort of like walking into a movie complex. You can pick the movie you will see, but once you choose it, the plot and ending remain the same. It is up to you if you decide to leave the theater to get popcorn or simply decide that movie is not for you and you should have never listened to Siskel and Ebert’s reviews to begin with.
All marriages require a gentle balance between cohesiveness and independence….and especially with families like ours. Stress is a constant, sleep deprivation a given, and child rearing? Well, throw out everything you ever thought you knew about that. Not everyone can do that. Usually, the stronger is left holding the bag on their own. I know too many families like that and watch in awe as the parent left behind carries the weight of her world.
Through thick and thin we give each other the space we need, recognizing we are in for the long haul. Our children are who they are supposed to be. We make the same mistakes as every other parent in every other union, but with the knowledge we must be united as forever parents, even long after we are gone. And for that, perhaps we are luckier than most.