Tag Archives: autism and parenting

Halloween in New York

(Something odd happened in almost every photograph taken – either Emma’s or my eyes look creepy.  I figured since I was dressed as a “Fallen Angel” I should post the one with my weird eyes.)

In New York City, a great many people, adults and children alike get dressed up for Halloween.  And not just those who walk in the epic Halloween Parade that begins in the village and winds its way north until it ends just a block from where we live.   (This is in explanation to those of you who might think we’re peculiar – though we probably are.)  We live in Chelsea where at least eight blocks of brownstones go all out for Halloween.  New Yorkers take their Halloween very seriously.  The brownstones don’t just have a couple of fabulous pumpkins on their stoops, the building’s facades are covered in cobwebs, enormous black hairy spiders hang from windows and doors, strobe lights blink, Halloween themed music blares from speakers rigged outside (Michael Jackson’s Thriller is a big hit), a coffin with a corpse that suddenly comes alive decorates a front garden, dismembered limbs hang from trees, a couple of the brownstones even used dry ice to create a fog that meandered down the block. People travel from all five boroughs to trick or treat on these eight blocks, they have become so renowned.

We usually try to get an early start as the streets become so crowded it’s almost impossible to squeeze through the crowds by 8:00PM. What with Richard’s broad shoulders from his executioner’s costume and my tattered wings, we were like a double-wide, the Hummer of costumes, taking up most of the sidewalk, requiring us to walk single file.  I clocked half a dozen people inadvertently with my wings, though everyone was forgiving – one man even said in a reverential whisper – “I’ve been touched by an angel.”

Richard upstaged all of us though.  Every now and again I would turn to find him nowhere in sight.  Ten minutes later he would catch up, having been grabbed by someone who insisted on having their photo taken with him.

One of many Chelsea brownstones transformed for Halloween

Emma laughs with her scary dad

One of the dozens of shops open late for Halloween – This unicorn was one of my favorite costumes – look at the pose!

Luckily, Emma has never eaten the Halloween candy given to her, much to her brother Nic’s delight.  She did say at one point, while holding a lollipop, “Just taste it!”

“No, that’s okay, Em.  You don’t need to taste it.”  I smiled at her.

“Just lick it!”  She began unwrapping the lollipop.

“Oh that’s okay, Em.  You don’t have to lick it.”

“It’ll make you sick,” she said, putting it back in her halloween basket.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’sHopeBook.com

Week Three

I spoke to a woman this morning who put her child with autism on a gluten free/ casein free/ phenol free rotation diet over a year ago.  About two minutes into the conversation she asked, “Have you seen any changes?”

“Maybe an increase in eye contact, but I’m not sure.”  I paused.  “She seems a bit more affectionate.  Not sure if that’s wishful thinking, but it seems like it’s true.”

“You have to give it at least three months,”  she said.

“Three months?  Please tell me you’re joking!”

She laughed.  “I know.  It’s so hard.”

Then she gave me a couple of tips, like making meatballs, then steaming vegetables and pureeing them to hide in the meatballs and serving them with hummus.  I’ll give it a try, though the idea that Emma would even taste such a concoction seems far-fetched.  Then she told me about some rice tortillas from Trader Joe’s that I can make a quesadilla with, again, I’ll try it.  Who knows?  Maybe Emma will like them.

At a certain point in our conversation, she was asking whether Emma liked any number of things to which I was answering no, no, no, she started to laugh.  “You have to laugh, it’s so awful.”  And we did.  We both just began laughing, because what else can you do?  When I told her Emma won’t drink anything other than apple juice, which she can no longer have because they don’t skin the apples before they juice them and she cannot have any red skinned fruits or vegetables, she asked about water.

“Emma will only drink water that comes from a water fountain,” I told her.  “I guess I’ll have to install a water fountain in our home.”

“Maybe you could hook up a hose or something,” she suggested.  And then we both began laughing again.  For some reason the image of me attaching a hose to our sink faucet and having Emma drink from it, struck both of us as hilarious. All the more so because we aren’t talking about a house in the suburbs, but an apartment in New York City.  Hoses and apartments are not things that go together.  I was grateful for the laughter.

Then my sister called to discuss menopause and how and when that might occur – she’s older and I look to her to advise me on such things, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Last night I had Emma help me make a rice milk/almond butter smoothie.  She loved making it, helped me pour the rice milk in, added ice cubes and then when it was all blended and frothy I said, “Here Em!  Look how yummy it looks!”

Em took one look at it and said, “No thank you!”   She sped away on her scooter, before I could get her to try it.

“Wait Em!  Come back!  Just taste it.”

“No thank you, Mommy.  I don’t like that.”

I put the smoothie down on the dining room table.  “Em just take a sip.”

She came over, peered into the glass, smelled it, then delicately dipped an index finger into it and licked her finger.  “That’s it, now it’s all done.  Mommy have it.”

“You don’t like it?”

“No thank you.  I don’t like that,” she said handing me the glass.

At least she’s polite.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Day 13

Today is the thirteenth day of putting Emma on the modified gluten free/casein free diet.  She has found a few things she likes to eat, is slowly expanding her choices, but there are only a couple of things she seems happy to eat and many more that she eats begrudgingly.  Most of the things I offer, she’ll taste, but will then say, “Now it’s all done.  Please Mommy I don’t like that.”

Meanwhile we continue with her studies.  I have not seen any noticeable change there.

Parenting a child with autism is like going on a trek in the Himalayas.  There are moments when you feel you’re not going to make it, your pack is too heavy, your muscles are tired and sore.  You wonder how you’ll take another step, the terrain is too steep and unforgiving.  But there are other moments of untold beauty.  Moments when you look around and see the mountains stretched out before you, the view so majestic it takes your breath away.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Day 12

I’m feeling discouraged.  I know.  It hasn’t even been two weeks.  I know.

If a friend of mine told me they were discouraged after less than two weeks, I would say – No!  Are you kidding?  You have to be patient!  You can’t expect her to neurologically change because of her diet in two weeks!  And anyway this is about other things too.  Helping her chronic constipation, improving her focus and ability to attend to her studies, expanding her food choices, making it possible to one day go out as a family to a restaurant or travel places without bringing an extra suitcase of “Emma’s Foods” or worrying about where we’ll find Stonyfield chocolate yogurt or Wheat Bread, the one with the red label from Whole Foods because she won’t eat any other brand or flavor.  This is about not panicking when Whole Foods is out of one of the six things she’ll eat.

This diet requires a tremendous amount of work.  And I’m up for the task.  But every now and again I just want to complain and maybe cry.

A friend of mine sent me the following story:

An old donkey fell into an abandoned well.  The owner of the donkey, ambivalent about how hard he would have to work to try and get his old, and now useless donkey out of the well, decided to fill in the well, a danger to the community and now with the donkey having fallen into it, a way of doing away with the donkey too.  So he called his neighbors to help him shovel dirt into the well and as the dirt fell on top of the donkey, the donkey began to bray.  Horrible sounds, which did nothing to slow the falling dirt.   After a few minutes the donkey decided to shake off each shovelful of dirt and stomped on it with his hooves, while rising to a new level.  Soon the donkey was at the top of the well and able to walk out, much to everyone’s astonishment.

I feel much better now and if you’re having a tough morning, perhaps you are too.

The end of the story is that the donkey then trotted over to the farmer and kicked him as hard as he could.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Day 11

Last night I offered Emma a chicken dish I’d prepared with butternut squash and golden raisins on coconut rice.  “Just taste it Em.”   I placed it in front of her and then walked away.

As I was washing dishes I heard Emma say, “It’s okay.  You have to eat it.  Take another bite.”  I continued to wash dishes and pretended to ignore her.  When I peeked over at her she was eating another forkful of the chicken and rice!  Even though I continued to say nothing, she said in her stern voice, “Okay take one more bite and then it’s all finished.”  By the time I came over to her she’d eaten all the chicken and four forkfuls of the rice.  I was ecstatic.

This morning after Emma had her breakfast of two pieces of gluten free toast with almond butter, I began packing up some things to take to my studio.  After about five minutes I looked up and didn’t see Emma anywhere.  “Hey Em!  Where are you?” I heard some rustling noises near the refrigerator and went to see what she was doing.

And there she was, scooter next to her, her beloved string in her lap, furtively eating some green grapes – her newest favorite fruit.

“Hey Em.  Why not sit at the dining room table?”

“No table.  Sitting on the floor,” she said, popping another grape into her mouth.

When it was time to put her coat on to go downstairs, Emma ran to the coat closet.  “Scarf!  Let’s see, how about this one?”  She pulled down one of her scarves.

“Not too tight or we have to take it away,”  she said in her stern voice.  Carefully she tied her scarf around her neck so that it hung down outside of her coat.

“I like your scarf, Em.”  I smiled at her.

“It’s cold outside.”  Emma tightened the scarf slightly and fiddled with it until the snowman’s head lay next to his body.  “There,” she said.

We’re taking this new diet one day at a time.  Emma is making steady progress!

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Day 10

Riding the wave of my previous day’s success, I fully expected to come home last night to find Emma agreeable to whatever was placed on her plate.  With visions of cheerful family dinners in my mind I set about making Hollandaise Sauce (with those duck eggs and Ghee).  Making hollandaise is a meditative endeavor, I’ve learned.  I cannot carry on a conversation with someone else while preparing it.  I must be focused, attentive with a certain amount of serenity or the whole thing curdles or separates.  I didn’t have any lemons, so I used a lime instead and all went fairly well, though it wasn’t as thick as the hollandaise I usually am able to whip up.  I steamed the asparagus, cooked the salmon steaks, drizzled everything with hollandaise and called everyone to the table where upon Emma took one look at her miniscule serving and said, “No!  I don’t want to taste it.  It’s okay.  It’s okay.  Just lick it.  You have to put your finger in it to taste.  Just one bite.  Taste it.  I don’t want to taste it!  I don’t like this.”  And then she began to whimper.

It was one of those Sybil moments, with Emma scripting using her “stern” voice, then mimicking a TA at her school to take one bite, just one bite, then Emma’s own sad voice pleading and on it went.  Finally I said, “Em you have to taste it, then you can have some grapes and apple (skinned).

“Okay, okay, okay,” she said, dipping her finger into the hollandaise.  “Taste it!”  She smelled the hollandaise, then tentatively licked her finger before looking at me with an expression of pure misery.  “I don’t like it, Mommy.  I don’t like this.”

My family dinner a la Norman Rockwell fantasy fizzled and I felt an overwhelming desire for someone to come and feed her for a month or two – get her eating a whole variety of lovely, nutritional foods before disappearing again.

Later Nic came over to me and put his arms around me.  “Hey Mom?”

“Yeah Nic?”

“I don’t mind this diet so much.  I still get to eat all my favorite things.”  He smiled at me.

“Oh, Nic.  That’s so nice of you.  You’ve been such a trooper with all of this.”  I gave him a hug.  “Thanks for being such a good sport.  It means a lot to me.”

“It’s no problem, Mom.”

This morning as I made my way to my studio I thought about when we tackled Emma’s bedwetting.  We did our homework, found an alarm to alert us to when she’d peed, whereupon we rushed her to the bathroom and eventually she was out of diapers, sleeping through the night with no accidents.  All of that seems like ages ago, but in fact it was just over a year now.  It took three solid months before she learned to use the toilet without incident during the night.  I expect it will take that much time or longer for her to become accustomed to eating new and different foods.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Day 6

Call me crazy… BUT I think we’re seeing some changes.  Okay, I know, I said this after each of the three stem cell treatments.  Though there really did seem to be a slight shift – a change in her speech, better eye contact, longer more complex sentences, a more grounded presence in the world and I don’t think we were wrong about any of that.  I’m pretty sure Emma really did make some progress.  However, here’s my latest theory  (Richard, please refrain from rolling your eyes) – what if the stem cell treatments were helped by the fact that she also wasn’t eating all the dairy she normally ate.  What if in addition to giving her a little boost, the fact that she ate very little and therefore almost no dairy and hardly any wheat contributed to the progress we saw?   What if these food intolerances really are making it difficult for her to concentrate, focus, stay on task, carry on a conversation, maintain eye contact?

Today is the 6th day on Emma’s modified gluten free/casein free diet.  I use the word modified because, according to Dr. D she can tolerate dairy products from sheep and goats.  However she is not allowed to eat anything containing soy, corn or potato.  Which pretty much eliminates all pre-made foods, no matter how organic and gluten free they are, they all, every single one of them, contain either soy, corn or potato and often all three.  In addition she cannot eat anything with chicken eggs as she cannot have the whites, yolks are okay, but not the whites.

I’ve been doing a great deal of baking.  Which is a bit ironic considering how little Emma is actually consuming, but I keep trying to find things she might like.  I also love a challenge.  My mother told me about one of those cooking shows she likes called Chopped or a name like that. I’ve never watched it, but she described how the chefs are given bizarre items such as (I can’t remember what the actual ingredients were on the episode she told me about, so I’m making this up) – sweetbreads, licorice and coca-cola – and told to create something edible.  The chef then whips up some amazing concoction using those ingredients as their base, which looks delicious and the judges proclaim it a work of art.

The list of Emma’s “CANNOT EAT” foods sits on our kitchen counter, where I refer to it, reminding myself that if someone can prepare a fabulous dish with lifesavers and sweetbreads (or whatever it was they were given) then surely I can create something Emma will eat with all the foods she CAN have.  Still it does seem daunting.  And I’ll bet Emma wouldn’t touch any of those dishes prepared by those fabulous chefs, no matter how talented they may be.  Emma is one discerning customer.  Or as my son Nic said in answer to my question as to why he didn’t like the girl who keeps texting him at all hours of the day and night, “I’ve got very high standards, Mom.”  He then went back to playing his video game, involving lots of blood, various weapons no one has ever heard of and screams of agony.

When I first told Richard about taking Emma to Dr. D, he asked, “So what’s the science behind this?”

And the truth is I cannot answer that.  Though the following non-biased paragraph from the website, about.com is a pretty good description of the theory behind foods, intolerances, GI issues and autism:

“Why Does GFCF Seem to Work?

GFCF diets are difficult and expensive to administer. They require a lot of dedication and knowlege, and most professionals suggest that the diet be implemented over at least three months. Given all of this, it’s possible that parents who desperately want to see improvement could report improvement that may or may not actually be present. In addition, many children do gain new skills over the course of three months, with or without special diets.But there’s more to the story than just wishful thinking. Allergies to gluten and cassein are not uncommon, and those allergies often manifest themselves in diarrhea, constipation, bloating and other symptoms. About 19 to 20 percent of autistic children seem to have significant gastrointestinal issues.

If these issues are caused by gluten and/or cassein, then they would certainly be significantly improved by the diet. By removing a source of constant discomfort and anxiety, parents may well be opening the door to improved behaviors, better focus, and even lowered anxiety.”

It may be that I am trying to find improvements that have nothing to do with the change in her diet.  It may be wishful thinking on my part.  It may be that what I’m seeing may have happened had we not started her on this radical new diet. But I began this blog as an honest documentation of Emma, the progress, the lack of progress and everything in between.  Since we began the diet I have seen the following:

Greater sustained eye contact.  Less spaciness and a more solid grounded presence.  An interest in her Dad and a desire to include him beyond what she normally displays.  This morning, when I told her we didn’t have time to finish her study room and that we’d finish it tonight, she said, “Study room later.  We get to show Daddy.”  Now this may seem insignificant to most, but I can tell you, to Richard this sort of acknowledgement is a long time coming.

Emma – last night – October 20th, 2011

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Day 5

Today begins day 5 of Emma’s modified gluten free/casein free diet.  It also marks the second full day of Emma starting on her various supplements and tinctures from the natureopath/physician we saw last Friday.  I was referred to Dr. D through a friend of mine whose daughter also has autism.  When we met, Emma had just been diagnosed.  We got together, S with her daughter AF and me with Emma.  At that time AF was non-verbal, had learned some sign language and had massive sensory issues causing her to scream and cover her ears if there was a loud noise outside.  (We live across the street from a fire station, so it is often quite noisy here.)  She also screamed and cried for reasons not apparent to any of us.

We had been told Emma was on the mild end of the spectrum and at the time, both Richard and I fully expected her to be mainstreamed by Kindergarten, just as so many specialists and therapists assured us she would be.  AF, on the other hand, seemed miles behind Emma and I remember thinking we were so fortunate that Emma was as mild as she was.

Cut ahead to the present – AF is now at or near grade level, was accepted into a school Emma couldn’t get past the first interview of, she talks circles around Emma and though she still displays her autism in a variety of ways and behaviors, she has progressed in ways that are way, way beyond what I would have expected upon first meeting her.   Today AF would be considered “high functioning” or at the very least on the “mild” end of the spectrum while Emma is considered to be “moderately” autistic.

A few weeks ago I called S to speak to her about an upcoming lecture I was thinking of going to.  We began talking about different therapies and she mentioned her doctor/natureopath, Dr. D.  I told her about Emma’s limited diet and my concerns with it.  S urged me to give Dr. D a call and described how he’d helped AF.  It was in this way that I found Dr. D.  We will see what transpires.

Emma last night requested that I pull her around our loft while she lay inside my old sleeping bag that I bought several decades ago for a three week trek I took in Nepal – just me and a sherpa I hired.  But that’s another story.

After her sleeping bag ride, she and Joe made cupcakes.

Emma’s Gluten Free Cupcakes (Emma doesn’t like icing- go figure- this is the way she likes it. Bald. She ate two of these, after putting a candle in and singing Happy Birthday to herself.)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees   –   Line muffin tin with cupcake liners

Mix together:   1 C. organic sugar, ½ C. rice flour, ¼ C. coconut flour, ⅓ C. garbanzo and fava bean flour, ¾ C. arrowroot, 1½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon xanthan gum, ½ t. sea salt, ₁⁄₈ teaspoon baking soda.

Add, mixing well:   ⅓ C. melted Ghee, ⅓ C. Organic Applesauce, 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract, ½ C. hot almond milk

Pour well combined mix into each tin until they are ¾ full.  Bake for 8 minutes, rotate and bake for another 9 to 10 minutes.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.emmashopebook.com

Day 4

Today begins day 4.  It appears that Emma has a cold – red sore throat, cough, runny nose, slight fever in the morning.  I do not believe her cold has anything to do with going on this new diet.  We began various tinctures last night as well as omega supplements & cod liver oil.  Amazingly she took all of these things with little protest, even swallowed two capsules.  Her spirits are good and while she still isn’t eating much, she is active and cheerful.  As I write this she is singing and doing a dance in the living room.

Last night I took a break and met a friend for a few hours. Just as I was leaving Emma became extremely upset because her carousel book was missing and she couldn’t find it.  Richard pushed me out the door.  “I got this honey.  Go.”

Later Richard texted me this photo.

Evidently Emma came over to Richard and asked if she could play with her math blocks.  (The following conversation is one that Richard texted to me.) “Emma, do you want to play with your pattern blocks or look for your carousel book?”

“Play with pattern box!”

As she played, making patterns, adding and subtracting and making equations, Richard found her much coveted Carousel Book.  He proudly held it up to show her and she barely glanced at it, so absorbed in her math.

“Emma, it’s the carousel book!  I found it!”  Richard was so pleased with himself he could barely stand it, but Emma continued playing with the blocks.  Not one easily deterred, he said, “Emma!  Do you want to read the book or keep playing with the blocks?”

“Keep playing with the blocks.”

“Okay, Emma.  I’ll put it in your bedroom okay?”  He headed to her bedroom.

“Okay.”

Richard turned and said, “Aren’t you going to say thank you Daddy for finding your book?”

“Thank you Daddy.”  Upon which she returned to playing with the blocks for awhile and then very neatly packed them all up in their box again.

When I arrived home Richard told me that when it was time for her to go to sleep, he asked if Emma wanted him to read to her.  But she told him she wanted him to turn off the lights.  Richard asked her if she wanted him to leave or stay with her.  She asked him to stay with her.  Then she snuggled down under the covers and said, “Lie with me.”

This was the first time Emma has asked Richard to stay with her while she fell asleep.

And stay he did.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.emmashopebook.com

Day 3

I didn’t have time yesterday to go into Emma’s response to being told she could no longer have her usual breakfast of the past six years – cheerios with milk and 2 slices of whole wheat toast with butter and raspberry jam or her weekend breakfast of pancakes (mix from William’s & Sonoma) with chocolate chips.  Did I mention she cannot eat chocolate?

I had the foresight to put everything that she can no longer eat into bags, which I then hid or, if it was perishable, threw away.  Except that I forgot about her whole wheat bread.  Sunday morning – Day 1 – there it sat on the kitchen counter like a beacon calling lost ships to shore.  She figured out pretty quickly that things were not going to be “breakfast as usual” and went for the bread before I could grab it or her.  I then had to wrestle her to the ground, as she screamed and tore at my clothing like a rabid beast.  It’s tough to maintain ones composure in such circumstances.  When she realized I intended to throw the bread away, she screamed and clawed at it, eventually crumpling into a heap on the floor, sobbing.  “Nooooooooooo!  Please Mommy.  I want toast with raspberry jam!”

I offered her the granola, then some oatmeal, all of which she refused and finally sat with her as she wept.  I tried to hold her, but she pushed me away.  I know not to take Emma’s rejection of me personally, it’s one of the many things about her autism that has always baffled.  She has never derived any comfort or pleasure from being physically soothed when she was upset.  As a baby it seemed as though she were missing that most basic human instinct, seeking contact from another human being.  It was as though self preservation was not part of her makeup.

Yesterday there was no weeping, but she had a fever and runny nose.

“Classic junkie symptoms,” a recovered addict I know informed me, after I told him what we were doing.

“What do you mean?”

“When I was a junkie, I told my dealer, heroin was great for curing the common cold.  She laughed at me and said – no you idiot.  You’re jonesing.  That was my moment of realization.  I was hooked and I hadn’t known it until then.”

“So what are you saying?  You think this fever is withdrawal?”  I sat down, incredulous.

“Maybe.  Hey I’m just thinking out loud.  What do I know?”

Still his words have stuck with me.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.  Maybe she has a cold.  Her throat is red and I don’t see how that can be from any kind of withdrawal.  Still it’s weird.  This morning she had a fever again and her “cold” or whatever this is doesn’t seem to be better.

She continues to refuse almost everything offered.  Making whimpering noises whenever I ask her to sit at the dining room table to eat with us.  Today she finally had a slice of ham, some green grapes and some sheep’s milk cheese.  It’s the most she’s eaten in two days!

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.emmashopebook.com

Day 2

Last Friday, I took Emma to see a doctor who has seen over a thousand children with autism and is also a Natureopath.

“What the hell is a natureopath?” My husband, Richard, asked when I told him.

“I’m hoping he can help me with getting Emma to eat different things.  It’s more of a holistic approach, he uses homeopathy and things like that.”

“Circle gets the square,” Richard muttered.

“What?”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?”

“Yeah, okay.  I don’t know exactly what a natureopath is, but he’s worked with a number of children on the spectrum and I need help getting her to eat more than just a miniscule amount of something.  Also, I don’t know that what I’m giving her is any better than what she was eating before.”

Later, I looked up Natureopath and this doctor in particular and came across this quote from his web site:  “…practice focuses on autistic spectral disorders with special emphasis on chronic immune dysfunction, including allergies, asthma, recurrent or persistent infections and other genetic or acquired immune problems.  He uses diet, nutrients, herbs, homeopathy and immunotherapy to help his children achieve better health.”

On Friday afternoon we went to see the doctor.  Upon our arrival I went over Emma’s history and discussed all the other doctors and various therapies we’ve tried.  We were there for a very long time.

As I spoke, Emma leapt about the room, racing from one chair to the next.  At one point she ran over to the doctor and ran her fingers through his hair.

“Hair!” Emma intoned as though discovering the contents of King Tut’s tomb.

I glanced at the doctor with an apologetic smile.  He seemed at ease and continued making notes.

“You like my hair?”  He asked, while I said a silent prayer that she would say yes and not any number of inappropriate remarks she was just as likely to utter.

“Yeah!”  She said before jumping into yet another chair.

Eventually he had Emma sit opposite him and handed her a copper bar which she grasped in her right hand while he ran another device along the inside of a finger on her left hand.  In this way he tested Emma for over 200 different foods.  Every single food she currently eats was a food that showed up on the “Avoid” list.  But since she only eats about six things, the list was actually not that long.  Each time the machine made a weird beep, signifying a food she couldn’t eat, I groaned.

“Corn,” he said.

“Not a problem.  She doesn’t eat corn.”

To which he replied, “That means anything that has any form of corn – corn syrup, corn starch, corn’s in almost every processed food.”

By the time the testing was finished I was left with a list of “Must avoid” foods ranging from egg whites (from a chicken), corn (and any food with anything derived from corn), potatoes (and all foods containing anything derived from potatoes), all night shade vegetables, any dairy coming from a cow, all soy products, all red skinned fruits and vegetables and of course, wheat.  The only thing NOT on the list that Emma enjoys is maple syrup, raw cane sugar and honey.  I was told we could expect to see some “significant change” within a month.

I’m up for pretty much any challenge given to me, but I must admit to feeling a certain degree of anxiety as I left his office and began thinking about how I was going to implement this list.

“Cold turkey,” he advised.  “Otherwise it’s like ripping off a bandaid very, very slowly.

When he said that, I thought immediately of Nic who much prefers the slow peeling off of a bandaid than the – here-let-me-rip-it-off-for-you approach.

I spent most of Saturday scouring New York City for foods she can eat.  Specifically flours to make a non gluten bread and duck eggs, since Emma can’t eat the whites of chicken eggs.  Duck eggs are a great deal harder to find than one might think.  I finally gave up and have ordered a dozen from a woman in Michigan, who told me all about her ducks, how the older ones aren’t laying much any longer, the eggs she’s sending me are from one year olds and so the eggs might be missing yolks, etc.  She also told me she will send them to me with the dirt “brushed” off, but not clean the way one expects to see eggs in the grocery store.  Having grown up with a brother who had (for a number of years) about 24 hens and a single fierce rooster, he named Digby, I’m not particular about the dirt on my eggs.

“It’s okay, she won’t be eating the shells,” I reassured her.

The woman laughed.  “I’m just warning you.  Duck eggs are much dirtier than other eggs.”

Who knew?  I’m glad for the warning.

Yesterday, Sunday was Day 1.  It was tough.  Emma was not pleased and though I tried to explain to her that she was going to feel much better when she began eating foods that were better for her, she remained unconvinced.  However, she did end up eating a slice of ham, a tiny, imperceptible “taste” of lamb burger as well as a tiny bite of carrot, which she promptly spit out accompanied by “yeach!”  The granola I made, remained untouched, though everyone else in the family thought it amazing.  Nic had a friend over Friday afternoon who brought his 5 year old sister.  All of them sat at the dining room table happily munching on the granola and even asked for seconds, while Emma stared morosely at her serving and refused to eat more than a tiny piece of a dried apricot.

Ariane’s Granola

Preheat Oven to 325°

1 Cup Organic Oats, ½ C. unsweetened shredded coconut, ½ C. unsweetened coconut flakes or chips, ½ C. pumpkin seeds, ½ C. sunflower seeds, ½ C. chopped walnuts, ½ C. pecans (or sliced almonds)

Heat together and then pour ½ C. maple syrup, ¼ C. honey & 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract onto dry mixture.  Mix with wooden spoon until everything is coated.  May need to add a little more honey or maple syrup.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, spread granola in a layer.  Bake in oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to make sure it is uniformly brown.

Add 1 Cup chopped dried fruit.  I used dried apricots and yellow raisins, but any dried fruit would work.  Mix into granola after it’s cooled for 10 minutes or so.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

A Comment

A follower of this blog wrote the following response to yesterday’s post.  I posted it here as it beautifully sums up exactly what my husband, Richard and I also feel and why we work as hard as we do with Emma.

“I think maybe this is what most parents or carers of children with autism aspire to.  Not to extinguish quirks and unique personality traits, rather to help our children function in this world, to cope, to survive, to find happiness. It is not as simple as just accepting someone as being unique when they can’t go out in public without dropping to the ground and self harming over some issue or they can’t even attend to their own most basic needs when they  become distressed, when there is an unavoidable change in routine, when they cannot even travel safely in a car or bus ( we’ve been there believe me), when they have no way to communicate their needs or to even tell a parent they are in pain or scared or hungry, when they want to reach out to a friend, but don’t know how and so are left friendless, when they struggle to eat because the food repulses them, struggle to even hold a fork or use a knife. That is not something I will accept for my children. I want more for them than that. As a mother I have had to watch my children cry in pain and be unable to hold them in my arms and give them this most basic of comfort, rather being forced to witness their anguish and left helpless. These are things that need to be changed and worked on. If that is a “cure” bring it on I say.”

I have never met the woman who wrote this comment, but we have been corresponding now for awhile.  She has two children on the spectrum, each utterly unique.  Her comments are always thoughtful and insightful.  Though we live on separate continents with several oceans between us, we have a great deal in common.  So, to you Liz – thank you for blazing a trail and sharing about it.  You have helped me more than you can know.

For more on autism and my daughter, Emma’s journey through it, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com

On the Spectrum

I was asked recently why I am trying so desperately to overcome autism.  It’s a valid question and it made me think about the challenge of writing about one’s child in a way that honestly captures that child with all their complexities.  A week or so ago I wrote in my post entitled A Cure – “Emma cannot function in our world, she is not mainstreamed, she cannot take a shower, wash her hair and dry herself off without support.  We are not discussing nuances here.  We are talking about a child who is more than “quirky”.  My husband, Richard and I love quirky.  Quirky is GREAT!  We’ll take quirky.  But that’s not what Emma is.”

To me, that summed up why we continue to search, why we continue to try various things, but it does not adequately describe Emma.  Emma cannot function in our world without hands on support.  We cannot have a conversation with her or ask her questions.  I am still trying to capture Emma on video and post some clips on here, but haven’t had the time to do that yet.  The question I began this post with, made me realize that for someone reading this blog they cannot know her through my writing.  Perhaps one gets a sense of her, but there’s too much left out, too much I don’t think to mention, the cadence and inflections of her speech, the words, which I can understand, but which may not be understood by someone else.  I try to give an accurate portrait of her, but in the end, it is just that, an interpretation and not representative of the whole.

When we first received Emma’s diagnosis I was determined to find a “cure”.  I felt sure that I would find one too.  (Hubris?   Arrogance?  Ignorance?  Stupidity? Denial?  All of the above?)

After those first few years I realized I might not find a cure for what ailed Emma.  And after another few years and three trips to Central America for stem cell treatments under our belt, a “cure” seemed more and more elusive.  I have come to accept that.  Perhaps more importantly, I am less focused on the miracle of a cure and more focused on pushing Emma to expand her world.  There’s a balance we have tried to achieve with Emma.  We try to follow her lead whenever possible, but we also encourage her to stretch and do things beyond her comfort zone.  Our most recent attempts to expand her diet is a case in point, her literacy and math program are another.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t continue to research and do everything in my power to find treatments to help her.  I am convinced Emma’s digestive issues are exacerbated by her environment – the foods she ingests, the air she breathes, the water she drinks.  This Friday I am taking Emma to a doctor who has worked with hundreds of children on the spectrum.  He and I spoke on the phone yesterday for over an hour, going over her history, her GI issues (inflammations and ulcerations), chronic constipation, recurring strep throat, porous teeth, cracked heels and limited diet.  While a few years ago, I would have eagerly anticipated this appointment with the same degree of excitement the devoted view a visit from the Pope, I no longer do.  I have come to see all of these people, no matter what letters may follow their name, with tempered interest.

Last week Emma’s school bus matron told us Emma refused to buckle her seat belt and when the bus matron tried to help her, Emma kicked her hard in the chest.  We immediately went over with Emma the behavior we expected from her.  We rehearsed buckling her seat belt and made sure she had her ipod and ear buds with her so she could amuse herself once she was seated.  We went over the importance of not hurting another person.  We tried to consider what sort of support she might need to help her control herself.  We are lucky in that Emma seems to have understood and has not struck nor tried to get up from her seat while on the bus since.

As we waited for her bus this morning, I coached Emma, “Emma, it’s nice to say good morning to people.  She’s a nice lady and saying – Good Morning – will make her smile.

When Emma boarded the bus this morning she said, “Good morning, nice lady.”

The bus matron beamed.

There are many people with an autism diagnosis who are on the “mild” end of the spectrum or fall in the “gifted” category of Aspergers or are considered “high functioning”.  These children are often mainstreamed or learning at grade level or above.  And while they have tremendous hurdles, often requiring support into their adult lives, they occupy a different level of hurdles from those who, like Emma are moderately autistic.

I had a friend whose child was unable to walk or even lift his head.  He, too, was diagnosed with autism, though severely so.  That child faced developmental and physical problems far beyond anything Emma has had to deal with.  For me to compare the two would have been ludicrous.  At this point my goal is to get Emma to a higher level on the spectrum.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Emma and Food

I have been keeping a chart of the new foods Emma has tried these past six days.  To date she has sampled:  pear, banana, apple, blueberry, raspberry, watermelon, honeydew melon, papaya, raisin, dried apricot, homemade granola, oatmeal with banana and raisins, chicken, (catfish, kale – totally pushing my luck last night with those two)  and the piece de resistance – vegetable frittata!  To date her favorites are watermelon, pear, banana, apple, raisin, chicken and the frittata.

I am also reading the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) by Natasha Campbell-McBride.  It is a diet created by Dr.Campbell-McBride who “healed” her own son diagnosed with autism.  It is a daunting proposition, which requires one to forego almost all foods (saving a meat broth which one is suppose to consume every 30 minutes or so) for a few days to several weeks in order to allow the gut to heal before slowly introducing easily digested foods until eventually the child is able to eat a wide range of foods.   This diet is so draconian in the beginning, it makes going gluten and casein free look like a picnic.   Still I continue to do my research.  I guess you either have to laugh or cry.  I’m going with laughter at the moment.  Tears to follow, I’m sure.

Over the long weekend we took the children to the New York Botanical Gardens.  It was in the 80’s and gorgeous.

The Haunted Pumpkin Garden

The “Herb” Garden

As delightful and creative as these pumpkins were, Emma was much more concerned with getting on the tram that runs through the grounds of the Botanical Gardens.

“She loves various modes of transportation,” Richard observed when we finally secured four seats on the tram.

Yup.  That’s our Emma.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Em

Emma holds an uncanny resemblance to a fictitious children’s book character.

Okay, so we haven’t gotten the whole handstand-on-the-handlebars thing down yet, but I’m sure that’ll be next.

Merlin watches and waits.

He just cannot help himself.

Food update:  Emma ate a blueberry last night.  This morning – one blueberry, (not her favorite) a slice of apple, a slice of pear and a piece of banana!

After eating all of that she said, “No more medicine.”

I’ve got my work cut out for me.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and our attempts to help her, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com