Sunday, October 14, 2018

Peaceful Plateau

Lately, we’ve found ourselves in one of those phases for which we’ve prayed fervently: the peaceful plateau, where life is rolling along blissfully and smoothly. Times like this occasionally make me wonder whether we should try something new to push toward more progress. However, most of the time, we think of this phase of relative ease as a Jenga tower in which we don’t want to make any sudden moves that might topple a potentially precarious stack of blocks.

During these times when Alex is healthy and content, Ed and I compare notes in hushed tones, somehow fearful that saying aloud how well Alex is doing might disturb the delicate balance. We add to our superstition by adding the comment, “Knock on wood!” as we both seek a table or chair to rap our knuckles upon, hoping to ensure our good luck will continue.

Certainly, we have reason to be leery. For a year, Alex took antifungal medication to battle an unusually virulent case of thrush that invaded his mouth and throat and did not want to leave. When he finished taking Diflucan in June, we hoped and prayed that the thrush had been eradicated, but we continued to look for the symptoms: tiny blisters on the inside of his lower lip, a white coating on his tongue, and difficulty swallowing his morning pills. Thankfully, Alex has remained thrush-free for the past few months, and we have breathed a sigh of relief that he has been healthy. Knock on wood.

Although we have been working for over a year with Alex’s psychiatric nurse practitioner to reduce the medications he takes for anxiety, every time we reduce or remove a medication, we worry about how he will respond. Since August, two of his medication doses have been cut in half, and he has done remarkably well. Fortunately, with each medication reduction, we have seen Alex respond favorably, improving instead of regressing. Knock on wood.

After over a year of dealing with Alex’s food aversion that changed him from a hearty and healthy eater to a reluctant and picky eater, we enlisted the help of a speech therapist this summer. In just a few sessions, he made great gains and expanded his diet to include a wider variety, rediscovering the foods he formerly enjoyed. While we were delighted with his progress, we were a bit apprehensive when his speech therapist told us that Alex had made a breakthrough and no longer needed her help. However, he continues to look forward to mealtime and makes suggestions about what he’d like to eat. He’s even been able to eat at restaurants, despite all the sensory issues of sound, smell, and taste, while showing no anxiety about food. Knock on wood.

As part of behavioral therapy, his therapist has worked on Alex’s social and language skills by teaching him how to say hello and goodbye to people. One would think this would be a simple task, but autism makes this interaction difficult for him. To reinforce these skills, Ed and I often cue Alex to remind him to exchange these social niceties when he’s out in public. Sometimes, we directly tell him, “Say hello,” or we physically nudge him to speak to others because he doesn’t usually initiate greetings on his own. The other evening when we went grocery shopping, the gentleman who often greets us at the door was treated to an enthusiastic, “Hello!” from Alex. Ed and I exchanged surprised looks, wondering if the other had cued Alex, but he had done it on his own. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he said, “Goodbye!” to the same gentleman as we were leaving. Maybe Alex is finally catching on to the social skills we’ve worked so hard to teach him. Knock on wood.

Since Alex’s quarterly meeting with his support team is coming up this week, I have been thinking about how to summarize the past three months, something we routinely do at every meeting. He’s healthy, sleeping and eating well, and willing to go places and interact with others. More importantly, he just seems content. We catch him skipping through the house, grinning in the back seat as he rides in the car, and generally amused as he observes life. In short, he’s happy and healthy. Knock on wood.

When we’re in the midst of difficulty, I find myself searching for God’s goodness and praying earnestly for progress. However, when things are going well, I vacillate between enjoying the comfort of ease and fretting when the next proverbial shoe might drop. However, we know that faith is greater than any silly superstition. Moreover, we know that God is in control, and we are truly thankful for His goodness in our lives. He has been with us every step of this journey and has plans for Alex’s life that are greater than we can imagine.

Alex is healthy. Praise God.

Alex is getting off medications. Praise God.

Alex is eating better. Praise God.

Alex is getting out and interacting with people. Praise God.

Alex is happy. Praise God.

Life is good. God is good. Praise God, indeed!

“Come let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together.” Psalm 34:3

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Book Review: Aching Joy

What do we do when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected, planned, or hoped? As Christians, how do we follow the Apostle Paul’s advice to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer” when our prayers seem to go unanswered? Writer, pastor, and autism dad Jason Hague skillfully addresses these questions in his recently released book, Aching Joy. [The author and Tyndall House Publishers, Inc. provided me with an advance reader copy; the book is now available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.]

After his son Jack was diagnosed with severe autism, Jason Hague thought he had two options: to live with constant sorrow or to lower his expectations of what the future may hold. With neither choice offering a satisfying life, he instead embraces the path of “aching joy,” where “treasures hidden in the darkness” can be found.

For those who are in despair and frustrated with God, the author offers reassurance: it’s okay to be angry with God. Citing Biblical examples of men of faith who felt abandoned by God—David, Job, Jeremiah, and even Jesus—the author advocates being honest with God about our feelings. In fact, he notes, “Honesty with God is the beginning of healing.” Later, he goes on to explain that as children of God, we are allowed to admit hurt, feel fear, confront God, cry, and accept a situation that is less than ideal. However, he also cautions, “But as a child of God and a follower of Jesus, you are forbidden one thing: You are not allowed to give up hope.”

In a conscious effort to seek joy, Jason Hague began focusing upon developing his relationship with his son Jack and trying to understand his behaviors, such as flapping his arms. He tells a humorous anecdote regarding Jack’s “living-room shrine to Bush’s Baked Beans,” a pyramid of various types of cans Jack had carefully constructed and selected as a reward at the grocery store. What made this unusual interest more curious, the author explains, “He never opened any of those cans. He doesn’t even like beans.” Even though his family did not know why Jack thought these cans were so fascinating, they found his interest amusing and tried to figure out their appeal.

Since progress in autism is often slow, waiting for major breakthroughs can prove frustrating and tiring. Instead, the author suggests taking a break from waiting for a miracle and seeking “smaller graces day by day.” He explains, “God works in big ways and small ways. We must learn to see and receive his subtler miracles—his daily blessings—because that is where he does most of his best work.” Moreover, the author notes that seeking these smaller graces offers rewards: “When we actively look for his [God’s] hand in our circumstances, a funny thing happens. We start to see it.”

Along with trying to understand his son’s behaviors, help him learn to communicate, and develop a relationship with him, Jason Hague candidly describes one of the most difficult aspects of parenting a child with autism—dealing with meltdowns. Explaining how something seemingly small would upset his son profoundly, even to the point of Jack punching himself and banging his head against a wall, Jason Hague earnestly shares how helpless he felt during this “sheer, panicked agony.” He notes, “If we knew what was causing the meltdowns, we could have dealt with them. But he couldn’t tell us.”

Not knowing what specifically triggered the meltdowns, Jack’s parents desperately tried to comfort their son, holding his arms for safety while reassuring him of their love and reminding him that he was not alone. From that experience, the author draws the parallel of God as the father who promises in Scriptures to be with us always to give comfort and strength. As Jason Hague wisely notes, “‘I am with you’ means we never have to walk alone. That is reason enough for joy.”

Another aspect of life with autism that can cause grief, the author explains, is the tendency to compare our lives with others. Seeing typical family photos on social media or hearing about other children’s accomplishments can cause us to feel resentment and envy. Instead, the author urges us to celebrate others’ achievements while waiting for our prayers to be answered because they are evidence of “the goodness of God in the land of the living.” Moreover, he emphasizes the value of testimonies: “The stories of hope, big or small, from our neighbors or from our own histories, are evidence of the hand of God. Without them, we might despair.”

Nonetheless, human nature tends to look for fairness in life, and we may lament that it’s not fair for our children to suffer from autism. However, Jason Hague points out that we also need to look for the gifts our children have been given, recognizing that they may have been compensated in special ways. Specifically, he describes his son’s kindness, patience, and willingness to forgive others. Additionally, the author notes, “Despite the paralyzing effects of his condition, he finds more delight in the simple things of this world than anyone I have ever met.” Indeed, Jack’s ability to find joy in small things offers a testimony that out of suffering can come unabashed delight others can share.

In Aching Joy, Jason Hague openly shares his thoughts and feelings about the frustrations and joys in raising a child with autism. After struggling with uncertainty, he offers the wisdom he has gained from his experiences so that others may know that they, too, are not alone as they wait on the Lord. Moreover, this heartfelt memoir and testimony of faith reminds readers to seek God’s comfort: “Courage and healing are in his hands, and he waits for you to call.”

“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7

Sunday, September 30, 2018

"In Thy Light"

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”~“Thy Word” by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

Last week, a sudden storm knocked out the electricity to our home briefly, sending the three of us into darkness. Although Alex tends to be unnerved by thunderstorms, he has learned over the years that we will quickly assemble flashlights and candles so that he can see. After a recent power outage that lasted hours, we bought him a pair of “Super Bright Switches”: battery-operated LED lights that look like light switches and give off bright light, as advertised and recommended by my mom. As soon as the power flickered, I took a flashlight and ran and got his Super Bright Switch so that he could carry around light easily and feel secure. Alex seemed content to have the ability to flip a switch to gain light quickly, and fortunately, the electricity came back on shortly afterward.

In dealing with autism, we often find ourselves stumbling in the darkness, searching for a light that can easily be turned on with the flick of a switch. After dealing with Alex’s sudden and uncharacteristic food aversion for over a year, we found the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” when we began working with a speech therapist last month. Although I thought helping him overcome his issues with the tastes, textures, and temperatures of food would take months, his speech therapist felt confident Alex could conquer his anxiety about eating more quickly. She was right.

In our session last week, she declared that Alex had graduated from therapy with her and would no longer need speech therapy for food aversion. After only five sessions in less than two months, she had taught Alex how to enjoy food again. In that last session, he was able to tell her that he had tried more than a dozen varied foods in the two weeks since he had last seen her, and he liked almost all of them. Suddenly, he was suggesting foods he’d like to eat, something that we had not seen in more than a year. Another sign of a breakthrough was his telling us that he was hungry––a sharp contrast to his more recent behavior of protesting that he didn’t want to eat because he was already full.

Although we were delighted that Alex made such rapid progress in overcoming a problem that had plagued him for several months, we were also a bit sad to say goodbye to his therapist. However, she assured us that if Alex ever needs her, she will always be happy to help. In the brief time we worked with her, she had endeared herself to us through her patience, kindness, and enthusiasm. Most of all, she genuinely cared about Alex and celebrated each step of progress with us. When we couldn’t find a way, she enlightened us.

On Friday evening, we took Alex to see a Homecoming celebration fireworks display at Valparaiso University, where Ed teaches and I received my college degrees. Even though fireworks should cause sensory overload for Alex with the loud noises and flashing lights, going to the Homecoming fireworks is an annual event he eagerly anticipates. This year was no exception. Moreover, these fireworks seemed to be an appropriate way to celebrate all the progress Alex has made recently.

As the three of us watched the exploding multicolored lights in the sky, I thought of the motto of my alma mater: “In Luce Tua Videmus Lucem/In Thy Light We See Light.” Despite all the times we have trouble seeing the path for Alex, God has illuminated His purpose and shown us the way. Not only has He helped us find strategies and methods to help Alex, but He has also led us to other people whose expertise and support we needed to make Alex better. When we were in the dark, God provided the light so that we could see and have hope for the future.

While I thanked God for the progress Alex has made in overcoming his fear of storms and regaining his appetite and being willing to go places so that he can enjoy life, Alex was just mesmerized by the fireworks. With a smile on his face, he counted the flashes in the sky and proclaimed that he liked the fireworks “one hundred percent.” While his faith may be less analytic than mine, Alex’s faith is purer than mine. He trusts God implicitly, knowing that just beyond the darkness, the light will always shine brightly.

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Looking for Links in Autism

As if dealing with autism were not difficult enough, most children with autism also have at least two other medical conditions. A recent article, “Some conditions tend to accompany autism in pairs,” written by Hannah Furfaro and published online on the Spectrum website on September 12, 2018, describes research regarding this phenomenon. [To read this article, please click here.] This article summarizes research published on July 24, 2018, in the journal Academic Pediatrics under the title “Identifying Associations among Co-occurring Medical Conditions in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.”

Under the leadership of neurologist Ann Neumeyer, the medical director at the Lurie Center for Autism at MassGen Hospital for Children in Boston, this study examined data from a network of autism clinics between 2010 and 2016. The research focused upon 3335 children with autism: 2114 who were seventeen months to five years old and 1221 who were six to seventeen years old.

For this study, researchers identified twelve medical conditions that commonly affect people with autism. These conditions included anxiety, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), developmental delay, and seizures. In addition, issues related to eating and digestion often found in autism, such as feeding difficulties, pica (eating nonfood substances), and constipation, were also included. Rounding out the list were various conditions: eczema, hypotonia (low muscle tone), disruptive behavior, sleep difficulties, and speech issues.

As they examined the data, researchers looked for conditions that were often found together and calculated the prevalence of these pairs in the two age groups of children with autism. In the group of children under six years old, the most commonly linked conditions were speech issues and developmental delay, occurring in 18.54% of the children. Next, 16.46% of the children had both speech issues and sleep difficulties. The third most common pair of conditions was speech issues and feeding difficulties (9.74%), followed by speech issues and constipation in 8.09% of the children. Closely following at 7.99% was the pair of sleep difficulties and developmental delay, then speech and hyponia at 7.28%, and finally, sleep difficulties and constipation, with 6.24% of children affected by both conditions.

In the group of children with autism who were six to seventeen years old, some of the same pairs of conditions occurred, but other new ones also arose in this data. The most commonly observed pair was sleep difficulties and ADHD seen in 11.22% of the older children. In approximately one tenth of those children, speech issues and sleep difficulties (10.89%) and speech issues and ADHD (10.65%) were paired. In addition, 8.68% of these children had speech issues with developmental delay. Also, these children suffered from constipation: 6.39% of the children with speech issues had constipation, and 5.65% of the children with sleep problems had constipation. Finally, 5.16% of the children had both speech issues and hypotonia.

Obviously, the common denominator in many of these paired conditions is speech issues, which occur in the vast majority of these pairings. Dr. Neumeyer notes that speech issues are linked with other conditions because speech difficulties are common in autism. She also notes that the link between some conditions proves more obvious. For example, children who have oral motor issues may likely have problems with speech and feeding. By examining the linked conditions, researchers hope to discover possible genetic origins and potential treatments for these conditions.

Clearly, the overall prevalence of speech issues highlights the importance of speech therapy for children with autism. However, finding a speech therapist is not always easy, especially with the increasing numbers of children with autism, which often means being on waiting lists before speech therapy can begin. Speech therapists in school districts are often overwhelmed by ridiculously large caseloads of children and cannot always provide the individual therapy time needed to help children with autism.

Another issue repeatedly found in this research is the problem of sleep difficulties. Many children with autism struggle with sleeping, which impacts their families, as well. To keep their children with autism and insomnia safe, many parents stay awake with their children all night. For some children with autism, the supplement melatonin offers a natural way to increase drowsiness, helping them fall asleep and stay asleep so that everyone in the home can get a good night’s sleep.

In addition, doctors need to find the cause of constipation in children with autism so that they don’t have to suffer needlessly. Children with speech issues may not be able to communicate abdominal distress associated with constipation, and abdominal pain may be responsible for sleep problems linked to constipation. Since many children with autism also have food allergies and digestive issues, perhaps identifying and addressing these conditions could prevent constipation and any related issues.

Most importantly, this research demonstrates the wide range of medical conditions associated with autism. Parents must advocate to make sure their children get the best medical care possible, and doctors must recognize that these problems go beyond the scope of autism and need to be addressed. After these common conditions found in autism are diagnosed, proper treatment must begin to help children overcome issues that affect their health and well-being. Awareness of the links between autism and various conditions is just the beginning; seeking the true connections and finding ways to make children with autism happier and healthier should be the ultimate goal.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Perspective and Potential in Autism

To gain greater understanding of their children with autism, parents may seek the first-hand accounts from high functioning adults with autism. In “What It’s Like Growing Up Autistic,” published online in Folks last week on September 12th, Alyssa Gonzales shares her experiences and explains her perspectives. [To read this article, please click here.] While she offers clear explanations for common behaviors in autism, she also candidly and rather harshly condemns her parents.

First, she explains why she has trouble with eye contact. Although she admits, “I have never liked making eye contact,” she notes that she was never aware of her lack of eye contact until high school. Once others commented on her lack of eye contact, she practiced during classes by looking across the room at people, only to find them angry or uncomfortable that she was staring at them. She further explains that making eye contact with people up close is “overwhelming” and “intense,” creating “alarm and discomfort.” Consequently, she has learned to look at people’s faces without looking at their eyes. However, she finds eyes appealing, even if eye contact proves difficult, admitting, “I love eyes. But they are too much for me to deal with when they are looking back.”

Another problem for her is dealing with loud noises. To cope with sounds that overwhelm her, she only goes to outdoor concerts and sits far from the stage, plugs her ears when she hears loud noises, and wears earplugs at times. She notes, “My family has always felt the need to push me to accept louder environments…And to a certain extent, it worked.” To illustrate, she explains, “Practicing being in loud rooms gave me the fortitude to survive some parties long enough to collect some cherished memories.” However, she admits that she did not enjoy dealing with the noise associated with these special times.

To cope with anxiety, she finds touch soothing, such as holding a smooth rock or wringing her hands or holding onto a banister. In addition, she likes to lean on furniture when she talks to other people. By touching objects, she feels “grounded” and “connected to this space, instead of wafting through it like a ghostly breeze.”

After explaining aspects of life that prove difficult, the author describes the things she loves best—her fixations and passions. For example, she enjoyed reading dictionaries and encyclopedias, memorizing scientific information, and making lists of the countries of the world. She notes, “I brim with enthusiasm I don’t know how to share.” However, she has learned to contain her enthusiasm, which she believes people use as “a weapon” against her. Specifically, she says that people may see her as “weird” or “a mutant,” even blaming her for recommending a movie they don’t like. By keeping these passions to herself, people now perceive her as “withdrawn.”

In her attempts to adapt to the world, the author seems to harbor bitterness toward those who apparently tried to help her cope, namely her family, friends, and teachers. She blames them for trying to change her and states that “they should have known I could never shed or suppress or unlearn” the aspects that make her untypical. Furthermore, she asserts, “If only they’d just let me go ahead and be autistic instead of pressing me into this world’s joyless mold, perhaps I would have been happier. How could they not tell?” Continuing her criticism of those who apparently ruined her life, she proclaims, “If only I had been supported in who I was, just imagine who I would have been allowed to become.”

While I appreciate Alyssa Gonzales’ willingness to share her experiences with autism candidly, I think she may have perceived intentions to help as intrusions on her life. Certainly, life with autism is difficult, but raising a child with autism is also difficult. In trying to help a child with autism cope in a world that overwhelms at times, parents may make mistakes, but I would venture those mistakes are made out of love. Knowing that others may not view certain autistic behaviors as acceptable, parents and teachers may teach the child alternative ways to cope with anxiety and to interact with others positively, hoping to prevent them from being victims of bullying, which is all too common.

Most of all, I’m sorry that Alyssa Gonzales sees the world as “joyless” and believes that her potential and happiness were quashed by the actions of those around her. Perhaps, she could instead look at what she has been able to accomplish, such as her ability to express herself clearly through writing, and find joy and a sense of pride in her achievements. As we continue to work with Alex on his social skills, we know that he needs to learn how to speak and act in such a way that others find him likeable. As we see him interact with others, we realize that he is developing a charm that engages people, and we are thankful for this progress. Certainly, we hope that he will not look back resentfully on our heartfelt efforts to make his life better. However, with the joyous approach Alex takes to life, I believe he understands that our unconditional love for him motivates our drive to help him reach his full potential as he overcomes the obstacles autism has presented.

“…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” I John 5:4

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Seeking Small Miracles

“Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me I know of nothing else but miracles…”~ Walt Whitman

For over a year, we have been trying to help Alex regain his healthy and hearty appetite. Although many people with autism have issues with eating, we were blessed with a child who would happily devour nearly any food placed before him. After a nasty bout of thrush last summer made Alex’s mouth and throat sore and made food taste bad, he has had difficulty overcoming the loss of appetite, even months after medications eradicated the thrush.

For more than a year, his self-imposed diet consists almost exclusively of cool and smooth foods: applesauce, dairy-free yogurt, a few fruits, lemon pudding, Jello, and smoothies. We have tried various approaches to increase both the variety and volume of what Alex eats on a daily basis. However, we must always be careful that our encouragement to eat doesn’t become pressure to perform that may trigger anxiety.

After months of prayer and gently persuading Alex to try different foods, we decided to take him to a speech therapist his primary care doctor had recommended for food aversion. Immediately impressed by her understanding of why Alex’s appetite suddenly changed as well as by her warmth and kindness toward Alex and us, we felt hopeful that she could help him. Moreover, we were relieved to discover nothing was physically wrong with Alex’s ability to eat; he simply has sensory issues and anxiety about eating.

Last week, I found an excellent article on the Child Mind Institute website that explains food aversion clearly and offers helpful tips. [To read this article, please click here.] In “More Than Picky Eating,” Rachel Ehmke notes, “Kids with a serious aversion to many foods may need help with food habits and overcoming avoidance.” She goes on to say, “Their aversion goes beyond normal choosiness and into an area where parents find they need to call for backup.” Clearly, this reinforced our decision to seek the expertise of a speech therapist regarding Alex’s new aversion to food.

In the article, she explains potential reasons why children limit their diets, namely, anxiety issues and/or heightened senses of smell and taste. Specifically, she describes fears of trying new things, worries about choking, and issues with textures. With Alex, he seems to be more driven by sensory issues––taste, texture, and temperature. However, he also seems to have anxiety about the act of eating, and he is trying to deal with his fears by reading medical books. For him, knowledge is power. Of course, we have tried to reassure him, as well.

The article goes on to explain using exposure therapy, working with foods that have been avoided “in a carefully controlled, therapeutic way.” Children are encouraged to try new foods and rate them, eating foods that don’t make them gag, and allowing them time to get used to the taste of new foods through repeated exposure to them. The results of this approach, which usually takes 8-10 sessions, are encouraging: “…with treatment, picky eaters can make great strides.”

Although we have only met with Alex’s speech therapist three times, we have seen her use a similar approach with him. After noting the foods that he will eat, she has offered suggestions about foods he can try at home that are similar to the ones he is currently eating. For example, since he likes applesauce, she suggested that he try different flavors of applesauce, and he discovered that he also likes cinnamon-flavored and strawberry-flavored applesauce. This way, he is expanding his palate to accept new flavors with familiar textures and temperatures. In addition, since he likes orange juice, she recommended that he try Mandarin oranges, which have a similar flavor to his favorite beverage but a different texture. In his most recent session, she asked him to try warm apple pie filling, which is similar to applesauce in taste but offers a different texture and temperature.

Thankfully, Alex has been willing to follow her suggestions, and we have been able to expand his limited menu with some new fruits. However, he has definite ideas about things he refuses to eat, even angrily telling us in his last session that he didn’t want to eat the Honey Nut Cheerios we’d offered him. Despite Alex’s rare yelling outburst, his therapist assured us that she loves working with him and considers our family “a blessing” to her. Moreover, she reassured Alex by telling him most crunchy foods aren’t that nutritious anyway, so he doesn’t have to eat them. If we had any doubts, God was reminding us what a blessing he’d given us in Alex’s speech therapist.

In the month since beginning food aversion therapy, the progress has been slow, but we are grateful that Alex has been willing to try new foods. The other day, however, we were surprised when out of the blue, Alex requested chili dogs for dinner. Neither cold nor smooth, they didn’t fit his preferred diet, and the spiciness of the chili seemed out of the ordinary for him. Since Alex had not given me advance notice, I had to improvise and make him a hot dog with leftover taco meat. To my surprise he ate every bit and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Not wanting to get my hopes up, I dismissed this chili dog incident as a fluke. The next day, he again asked for chili dogs. Had my faith been stronger, I would have made chili in preparation for this new food request. Instead, I could only offer taco meat dogs on the spur of the moment. Again, Alex ate this second-rate chili dog happily. Still not quite believing this small miracle God had given, I was taken aback when Alex again asked for a chili dog the next day yet seemed satisfied with the substitute taco dog. Every day, I thanked God for this breakthrough and prayed that this was a sign we were making headway on Alex overcoming his food aversion.

Yesterday, I decided to test how strong Alex’s breakthrough was by suggesting that we take him to a hot dog stand and get him a real chili dog. Since we had not been to this restaurant in over a year, Alex was eager to go because it was “special.” After ordering his hot dog with no bun and chili on the side, I had doubts that he would eat the chili dog, especially away from home. However, God provided another small miracle as Alex devoured the chili dog and proclaimed he liked it “one hundred percent.” For most people, this simple act would be rather meaningless; for us, it was an answer to many daily prayers.

Even though we don’t know how long before or even if Alex will totally regain his varied appetite, we are encouraged by the amazing progress we have witnessed this week. God has provided us with a therapist who understands Alex’s needs and has offered us support and a good plan to help him overcome his food aversion. As we continue to seek daily blessings and pray for breakthroughs, we are grateful for all the progress Alex has made over the years. For today, Alex has requested chili and a baked potato from Wendy’s fast food restaurant for dinner. In the words of poet Walt Whitman, “What stranger miracles are there?”

“He does great things too marvelous to understand. He performs countless miracles.” Job 5:9

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Communicating Kindness

Like many people with autism, social skills do not come naturally to Alex. With difficulties in communication and sensory issues, he can find dealing with others somewhat overwhelming. Nonetheless, he likes interacting with people, so he is willing to be taught the social graces that most people learn more easily. Even at age twenty-six, Alex often needs reminders to say “Hello” and “Goodbye” to people as well as cues to say “Please” and “Thank you.” As a major part of behavioral therapy, his therapist works with him to develop social skills, and Ed and I reinforce these skills many times every day.

Among the social skills his behavioral therapist has taught Alex is reciprocal conversation, that is, learning how to have a give-and-take conversation with another person. She often models the behavior by asking Alex questions and then has him ask her similar questions. With time and practice, he is getting better at making conversation, but he still relies upon prompts. Last week, his music therapist was telling about a recent family vacation. I then asked Alex to come up with two questions he could ask about that vacation. Immediately, Alex asked him the name of the town they visited and how far the drive was to get there. While this shows Alex’s areas of interest––geography and statistics––those were still good questions to show interest in his therapist’s trip.

Perhaps because I have been working on reciprocal conversation with Alex, I am more aware of how people who don’t struggle with autism make conversation. Sometimes, I am surprised by how some typical people run monologues instead of dialogues. As a person who cares about others and asks questions about their families, I’m disappointed and even hurt when they fail to ask about Alex after I have shown interest in them by asking about their children. Unlike me, who takes things like that personally, Ed overlooks the omission and cuts others slack, assuming that they don’t know what to ask about Alex because he has autism. Maybe people are fearful that we would tell upsetting anecdotes, but no matter how things are going, we would always assure people that we are “fine.” However, it’s always nice to be asked anyway.

Recently, one of my favorite autism mom bloggers, Cathy Jameson, posted a terrific article on the Age of Autism website titled “Befriending Autism” regarding the discomfort others may feel about being around someone with autism. [To read this essay, please click here.] Noting that some people aren’t sure what to do or say when they see her son who has autism, she doesn’t want to make them feel more uncomfortable. Instead, she offers, “I thought of a few things they, and others in similar situations, might want to try when they see us next.”

The first four suggestions are simple and direct: wave, say hi, ask (how she’s doing and how her son is doing), and listen to her. As someone who likes mnemonic devices to remember concepts, I would use the acronym LAWS (listen/ask/wave/say hi). Her fifth suggestion may require more effort: “Be you.” She goes on to explain that she wants to catch up with the other person’s news, but she would also appreciate the other person talking to her son, even though he can’t respond verbally. However, as she explains, he can hear and see and recognize whether people are genuine or not. More importantly, she states, “When you shower him with kindness, you shower all of us with kindness.”

Because we have been blessed with people in our lives who have shown Alex special kindness––even some of whom we barely know––we have seen that the tips Cathy Jameson offers work wonders. Few things please Ed and me more than when coworkers or friends ask us how Alex is doing and make it even sweeter by asking us to say hello to him for them. Parents like to be asked about their kids, and autism parents are no exception.

From having observed kind people interacting positively with Alex, I can make a few suggestions about how someone might talk to a person with autism.

1. Call people by name first to help get their attention. Alex is often overwhelmed by all the sensory stimuli around him, but his ears perk up when he hears his name.

2.  Realize that the person may appear to be ignoring you, especially because eye contact is often difficult for people with autism, but they are probably paying more attention than you would ever think.

3.  Find out from parents what the child’s current interest is so that you know what questions you could ask. For example, one of the ladies who works at a nearby fast food restaurant shares Alex’s love of the Chicago Cubs, so she asks him what time the next game is, knowing this is something he’s happy to tell her.

4.  Offer a sincere compliment. “I like your shirt.” “You have a great smile.” “You’re being so patient.” “I’m so happy to see you.” Not only did these nice comments please Alex, but they made his parents proud, too.

5.  Give the person plenty of time to respond to a question. Alex takes time to process what is said to him and more time to come up with an answer. Sometimes parents may intervene by repeating or rephrasing the question or by cueing the child to answer.

While interacting with children and adults who have autism may be uncomfortable, even simple gestures, such as waving or saying hello, can mean a great deal to people with autism and their families. For one thing, these situations enable people with autism to practice their social skills. Certainly, those who make the effort will likely find themselves endeared to the parents of the child with autism. Those who engage Alex in conversation may witness the shudder of joy, in which puts his hands between his knees as he grins and shudders, trying to contain how happy he is. In addition, those sweet souls may become part of Alex’s nightly prayer list. I have to think that, indeed, God will bless those whom Alex names, knowing that their kind gestures touched the heart of a young man with autism.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Arsenic and Old Toothpaste

One advantage of having a child with autism in the Information Age is the ability for parents to access research easily and to compare notes with other parents in similar situations. Through online support groups, parents of children with autism can share ideas and brainstorm solutions. Last week, an online autism parent group had a discussion regarding tin. One of the mothers had her child tested for metal toxicity, which is common in autism, and discovered that her child has high levels of tin in his system. To prevent further exposure to this toxic metal, she wanted to know what might have caused her child to have tin poisoning.

Her surprise and concern mirrored my own responses when we discovered that Alex had heavy metal toxicity. Although I initially feared mercury poisoning from the preservative thimerosal found in vaccines when we had him tested as a child, his mercury levels were slightly elevated. However, he had the highest levels of arsenic in his system that his doctor had ever seen. Immediately, I began searching for the source of arsenic that may have poisoned Alex.

Some online searching led me to the likely source: chromium copper arsenate (CCA), an arsenic compound used a preservative for outdoor lumber until 2005. The backyard deck we built when Alex was a baby was made with CCA-treated lumber. At the time, we didn’t know that treated lumber contained arsenic. It’s quite likely that after crawling around on the chemically treated deck, he picked up the arsenic on his hands, and his hands likely found their way to his mouth. When we built a new deck, we were certain not to make the same mistake again and made sure the deck was built with lumber that did not contain arsenic. However, we had to address the arsenic already in Alex’s system, and oral chelation therapy with a sulfur-based compound successfully eliminated toxins.

In discussing possible sources of tin poisoning, one of the parents in the group explained that tin is in the air and soil, which makes avoiding it nearly impossible. Another parent offered a suggestion that I had never considered: toothpaste. She explained that stannous fluoride, present in some toothpastes, is a tin compound. Indeed, “stannous” means “of tin with a valence of two.” Immediately, I checked the toothpaste Alex uses regularly, the one recommended by his dentist and provided as a sample every time we have his teeth cleaned. That well-known brand of toothpaste, indeed, contains stannous fluoride.

This was not the first time I discovered that the toothpaste Alex was using contained an ingredient I would prefer he not have in his mouth. A few years ago, I found that the toothpaste he was using contained triclosan. In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that so-called antibacterial soaps containing triclosan could no longer be on the market. [For more information about this ban, please click here.] The FDA determined that these products could not prove scientifically effective in preventing the spread of illness and infection. In addition, the FDA cited safety concerns, specifically bacterial resistance and hormonal effects, in its ban on triclosan. However, the agency permitted continued use of triclosan in hand sanitizer, products used in health care settings, and toothpaste. Why the FDA allowed a substance considered not effective in dealing with bacteria––as well as potentially harmful––to remain in toothpaste is beyond me. Nonetheless, I threw away Alex’s toothpaste containing triclosan.

On its website, the toothpaste company Colgate offers more information about types of fluoride in an article titled, “Stannous Fluoride Toothpaste: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives,” written by Jenny Green. [To read this article, please click here.] In this article, the author notes that the two most common forms of fluoride found in toothpaste are stannous fluoride and sodium fluoride. (I am aware that some people have issues with using fluoride of any kind and avoid it altogether.) Citing research from the Archives of Oral Biology, the author notes that stannous fluoride is most effective at reducing bacteria that forms plaque on teeth. However, stannous fluoride can leave stains on teeth and because it contains tin, can cause a metallic taste. By contrast, sodium fluoride does not leave stains, does not contain metal, tastes better, and can “provide an effective alternative.”

Consequently, I bought Alex a tube of the same toothpaste I use, one that contains sodium fluoride. Not only will he no longer be exposed to tin in his toothpaste twice a day, but I’m also hopeful that removing a metallic taste from his mouth may help improve his appetite. Perhaps his frequent complaint that foods taste bad may be because the stannous fluoride he’s been using has left a bad taste in his mouth. While I’m annoyed I didn’t figure out that stannous fluoride contains tin until a few days ago, I’m determined that Alex will no longer use toothpaste that contains that ingredient any more.

For many people, stannous fluoride probably causes no problems. However, those with autism who have trouble detoxifying heavy metals and other harmful substances should avoid chemicals that could impair their health. While one would think that the Food and Drug Administration would ensure the safety of common products, such as toothpaste, the continued presence of triclosan and stannous fluoride shows that consumers must always read labels and be aware of potentially dangerous chemicals. Parents of children with autism must be especially vigilant because our children are more susceptible to environmental toxins. Moreover, once those dangers are discovered, changes must be made to protect our children. After all, helping our children be as healthy as possible is one of our greatest responsibilities as parents.

“Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you.” Proverbs 4:6

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Gift of Waiting

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.” Psalm 62:5

Although I’m not by nature a patient person, raising a child who does things on his own timetable has made me learn the value of waiting. Last summer, we kept waiting for Alex to get over a bad case of thrush, a yeast infection that made his mouth and throat sore and required multiple doses of antifungal medication and repeated visits to his primary care doctor. One of the side effects of the thrush was that food tasted bad to him, and he lost his normally healthy and varied appetite. I was certain that once the thrush went away, Alex would regain his enjoyment of eating a variety of foods, but his limited appetite continued long after his mouth had healed.

During one of Alex’s appointments last summer, his doctor suggested that we could take him to a speech therapist to work on the food aversion issue. Even though we had the referral paperwork to see a speech therapist conveniently located just five minutes from our home, I didn’t feel a pressing need to make an appointment. Convinced that Alex would just wake up one day and decide to start eating anything and everything again, I felt strongly that we simply needed to wait. After all, the thrush had gone away in time, and we thought the lack of appetite would soon follow. In the meantime, I kept praying that God would give me a sign when the time was right to take Alex to the speech therapist.

About the time we would have taken Alex to the speech therapist, he developed anxiety about going places, worried that the weather was too cold, too windy, too rainy, and/or too snowy. Even places he enjoyed going were off limits because he had a fear of going out into the elements. While we were able to get him to necessary appointments, such as the doctor, he required quite a bit of convincing to get him out the door. Consequently, this was no time for starting something new, and the speech therapy referral sat in a file folder on my desk.

Fortunately, this summer, Alex seems to have conquered his fears of going places, and he has resumed the enjoyment of getting out and about in the community. Unfortunately, his appetite still has not resumed its former enjoyment of foods after nearly a year of being over the bout of thrush. A few weeks ago at an appointment with the nurse practitioner who oversees Alex’s medications, she asked us if his appetite was back to normal, and I had to tell her that his eating habits were still off but that he was managing to maintain his weight. At that point, I suddenly felt the sign I’d asked God to give me and knew that we needed to take him to the speech therapist.

When I spoke to the speech therapist on the phone, I was immediately struck by her warmth and kindness; in talking with her, I felt somehow as if I’d known her for years. She understood my concerns about Alex’s appetite and why we had waited nearly a year to make an appointment with her, due to his ongoing thrush and anxiety about going places. As she sympathetically listened, she also expressed a desire to help Alex, and we agreed to set up an appointment. However, she explained that she’d only recently started working in our local office and admitted that she didn’t know the phone number for me to call. After quickly checking, she relayed the number I needed to call to make an appointment and told me she was looking forward to seeing us. After talking with her, I was convinced we were doing the right thing to take Alex to her, and I now knew why I had waited for months to make the appointment: God had chosen her to work with Alex, and we had to wait until she was available.

A few days later, she called me again with some more questions about Alex, specifically about what kinds of things he likes to eat and what he can eat on his gluten-free and dairy-free diet. As she explained what she planned to do for his evaluation, she asked me to bring some foods that he can eat on his diet so that she could observe how he chews and swallows. Again, I was reassured by her friendly and kind nature, and appreciated her concerns that Alex be comfortable when he came to see her.

On the morning of the appointment, Alex seemed calm and eager to meet her, even getting up earlier than usual. As I filled out paperwork, he was happily reading the Forbes and Bloomberg finance magazines in the waiting room. (Clearly, God was reminding us that Alex belonged there!) When we met the speech therapist, she was just as pleasant in person as she was on the telephone, telling us how happy she was to meet us. Noticing Alex’s Chicago Cubs shirt, she excitedly told him how she’s a big Cubs fan, too; and his favorite player, Anthony Rizzo, is hers, as well. She even told him that her little boy’s middle name is Anthony, which made Alex smile. As they chatted, they also discovered they shared a love of shrimp and country singer Alan Jackson’s music. I think she was amazed by their similar tastes, saying aloud what I was thinking: “It was meant to be!”

As she examined Alex’s mouth and throat and observed him drinking, chewing, and swallowing, she did everything possible to make him feel comfortable and praising him all along the way. We were pleased that he was cooperative and answered her questions, and he responded to her warm personality, smiling throughout the appointment. In addition, we were relieved that she found nothing amiss with his ability to drink, chew, and swallow, and she believes that his food aversion is sensory in nature. She commented that the thrush made food taste bad to him, and he has continued negative associations with food. In addition, she told us that she had been thinking a lot about Alex ever since she and I had talked on the phone the first time and had trouble getting him off her mind. As a result, she had been doing research and trying to figure out the best ways to help him. Again, I felt that God had brought us to her specifically because she was clearly dedicated to helping Alex.

After describing her plan for helping Alex by gradually introducing new textures and flavors of foods, we felt confident that we had brought him to the right person. She asked Alex if he’d like to come see her once a week, and he replied without hesitation, “Yes!” which confirmed our belief that we had found someone who can help him. In addition, her schedule of availability on Mondays and Wednesdays matched ours, once again convincing me God intended specifically for her to work with Alex.

Although waiting to take Alex to the speech therapist may have seemed like procrastination on my part, I know that circumstances and my hesitation were directed by God whose plans are far better than mine. While I was waiting for the right time, God was behind the scenes, moving the right person into place who genuinely wants to help Alex get better. As we look forward to working with her, I truly believe that waiting for the right time and the right person was the right thing to do. Moreover, I believe that she will help Alex regain his appetite because God sent her to us. As Alex often says, “Wait and see!”

“Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Sunday, August 12, 2018

More Than Words

Language impairment, one of the defining characteristics of autism, also proves to be one of the most frustrating aspects for those who have autism, according to a well-written recent article. [To read this article, please click here.] In “Communication: An Important Autism Life Skill,” published online July 29, 2018, in Psychology Today, Chantal Sicile-Kira notes that while sensory issues challenge adults with autism most, communication difficulties run a close second. As the author of acclaimed books on autism, namely Autism Spectrum Disorder and Autism Life Skills, as well as the mother of an adult son with autism, Chantal Sicile-Kira has devoted her life to her son and to sharing what she has learned about autism.

As she explains, children with autism often have motor skill impairments affecting their necks and mouths that make physical production of speech quite difficult. Instead of using words to speak, they may resort to attention-seeking behaviors, such as screaming. Because these behaviors are considered socially inappropriate, especially in older children and adults, the author emphasizes the importance of teaching nonverbal children with autism alternative methods of communication, such as typing or pointing to letters. Indeed, her nonverbal son, Jeremy, has benefitted from learning alternative means to communicate and has even co-authored a book with his mother, A Full Life with Autism. Nonetheless, he admits, “The hardest part of autism is not being able to talk.”

Even for those with autism who can speak, the author notes, communication can be difficult. Specifically, she describes the “hidden curriculum”––social skills that are not specifically taught but learned by following others’ behavior. These include eye contact, speaking at an appropriate volume, and reading people’s body language. Even knowing how to respond appropriately is important, as she cites the example of a teen girl with autism whose peers found her rude because she didn’t know how to accept compliments. Clearly, teaching language to children with autism requires thinking outside the box.

While we are blessed that Alex can speak and express his thoughts and feelings, speech has always been one of his biggest struggles. In addition to providing speech therapy for him, we also used his strengths to help him overcome his weak areas. For example, his precocious reading skills enabled him to connect written words to objects and spoken words. Using Post-it notes, I labeled objects in the house so that he would connect the objects with their written and spoken names. In addition, we used his love of books to develop his ability to connect written and spoken language by reading aloud to him daily. His phenomenal ability to spell words correctly, even as a pre-schooler, proves quite beneficial because he can spell aloud words when we can’t understand what he is trying to tell us. To help him with this task when he was younger, we bought him a Franklin Spelling Ace handheld electronic dictionary that allowed him to type words on a screen that he could show us and communicate what he wanted to say. Certainly, the advancements in technology in the past two decades now allow children with autism access to smart phones and electronic tablets that can enhance their ability to communicate with others.

Even now in his mid-twenties, Alex is still developing his speech skills, expanding his vocabulary by reading the dictionary and learning social language by eavesdropping on conversations. Moreover, his behavioral therapist has done an excellent job of teaching him the “hidden curriculum” that is often overlooked. She has worked with him on how to give and accept compliments, how to ask appropriate questions, and how to develop reciprocal conversation by asking and answering questions and sharing ideas and opinions on a given topic. While we still have to cue him on these social language skills, he is making good progress and knows the value of not appearing rude. Clearly, her lessons on the value of eye contact have made an impression on Alex because lately he has been leaning down to my eye level (since he’s several inches taller than I am) when he wants to tell me something he finds interesting. Being able to share his thoughts and feelings obviously delights Alex, and we are delighted not only that he can use language to share ideas with us but also that he wants to engage us in conversation.

Yesterday, I ran across a video of Helen Keller on You Tube entitled, “Helen Keller Speaks Out.” After an illness that robbed her of her sight and hearing at a very young age, she was able to learn to communicate with others by using touch to finger spell and read lips. Because her dedicated teacher, Annie Sullivan, knew the importance of teaching her language, she used unconventional methods to meet Helen’s needs. Despite debilitating disabilities, Helen Keller became an author and a public speaker. Even though she inspired many with her great accomplishments, she admits, “It is not blindness or deafness that brings me my darkest hours. It is the acute disappointment in not being able to speak normally.” While she may have been disappointed in her speech, I was amazed how well she could speak in this video. She goes to explain her frustration, “Longingly I feel how much more good I may have done, if I had only acquired normal human speech. But out of this sorrowful experience I understand more clearly all human striving, thwarted ambitions, and infinite capacity of hope.” Perhaps she underestimated her ability to communicate and the impact her words and her life have made upon others. Nonetheless, she emphasizes the importance of giving people with disabilities a voice, whether through sign language, an interpreter, or modern technology to allow a nonverbal person to communicate.

In the examples of Jeremy Sicile-Kira and Helen Keller, we clearly see the need to find ways to help people with disabilities communicate with others. Even with those whose language skills are less impaired, like Alex, we need to teach all aspects of communication to help them interact positively with others. Teaching those who are differently abled requires creativity, patience, and tenacity. However, knowing that those special people have something valuable to say truly gives us that “infinite capacity of hope.”

“The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland.” Isaiah 35:6

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Eyes Have It

On Monday, we took Alex for his annual eye exam. As with all appointments related to his health, Alex was looking forward to his visit to the optometrist, especially because he thinks she has a pleasant voice. Since we have been going to this eye clinic for several years, we know that things typically run smoothly there, which is one of the main reasons we take Alex there. However, the normally calm office seemed a bit “chaotic,” to quote one of the staff, that day.

When we arrived, a new staff member handed me forms to fill out. The first one, part of HIPAA compliance for privacy of information, would allow Alex to give Ed and me permission to access his medical information. Since Ed and I are Alex’s legal health care representatives and have medical power of attorney, we already have this right. As I tried to explain this to the receptionist, she seemed confused and not completely convinced until another staff member told her that I was correct and the form did not need to be completed.

After that, she pulled out a colorful photograph of a human eye and started a sales pitch about the wonderful diagnostic photos their office could take of the inside of Alex’s eyes. Having had these same photographs taken of my own eyes, I knew that Alex could neither sit still long enough to have this done, nor would he like the overwhelming sensation of having a very bright flash of light in his eyes. Consequently, I told her that he could not have that part of the exam done. Undaunted, she continued her spiel, explaining that he would not need to have his eyes dilated for that test. Undaunted, I explained that Alex has autism and would not be able to do that test. Fortunately, the other woman at the desk again intervened for me, telling the receptionist, “His mom is right. She knows what he can and can’t do. He won’t have the photograph taken.” As I nodded appreciatively toward her, the receptionist seemed a bit disappointed as she put her visual aid away.

When we went for Alex’s preliminary testing with the optometry tech, Alex did a great job of cooperating and following her directions. She seemed to understand that he could not do the photograph, nor the peripheral vision test that requires more dexterity than he possesses, using a hand clicker when images appear on a screen. We appreciated her kindness toward him, especially since she praised him enthusiastically about how well he had done.

After we went back to the examination room, she and I went over Alex’s medication changes while Ed chatted with Alex, who was patiently waiting. She asked me if they could dilate his eyes, and I immediately said no a bit sharply, and then remembered my manners, adding, “Please don’t.” For all the years Alex has gone to the eye doctor, we have managed to avoid testing and dilating that might upset him and make him unwilling to go to future eye exams. Since he has no real issues other than being slightly nearsighted, we didn’t need to risk upsetting him with unnecessary procedures. She seemed to understand, and then she began the preliminary vision exam.

While wearing his glasses, Alex began to read the letters off the screen. Even though I was bothered that the letters were tilted at a slight angle because the projector was not level, Alex didn’t seem annoyed by this. For the first line of letters, he recited letters that weren’t even close to what was on the screen. When I asked him if he could see any of them clearly, he admitted that he couldn’t. I told him that if he couldn’t see something, he could just tell us that and didn’t have to make up answers. That seemed to reassure him. For the next line, which was a little larger font, he was able to identify some letters but confused a T for and I and an F for an E. At least he was getting closer. By the time he saw the third line, he was able to read all of them easily and correctly. When this test was repeated on his other eye, the process was the same, except this time, he told us that he couldn’t read any of the smallest letters, heeding my advice.

When the eye doctor came in to examine Alex’s eyes more closely, he continued to be calm and cooperative, answering her questions clearly and admitting when he was unable to read certain letters. After various tests, she concluded that his eyes are healthy, but his prescription had changed slightly. When Alex was retested with the stronger lenses, he was able to read all of the small-sized font letters easily instead of just making up letters or admitting that he couldn’t see them. That confirmed that he would need new glasses.

As we went to select frames for the new glasses, the entire staff seemed to be engaged in learning something at a computer, so we browsed the rather meager selection of Flexon frames. Because the Flexon brand is quite durable and bends rather than breaks, we have always chosen this brand for Alex, even though he takes excellent care of his glasses. By the time the optician came over to help us, I was about ready to ask for his prescription so that we could get glasses somewhere else. When I asked her if they had any other choices, she seemed a bit unnerved and admitted that she doesn’t usually work in this office. The woman at the desk who had been helpful when we arrived immediately told us that there were more frames in the back and that she would get them for us. Soon, she returned with two boxes of frames, and we quickly found a few we liked. Because Alex isn’t terribly picky about the appearance of his glasses, Ed and I agreed on a pair similar to the one he already has.

Next, we had to order the lenses, which we thought would be simple since it had only been two or three years since he last ordered glasses. However, the optician told us that they get rid of the electronic files after a couple of years, so we weren’t sure whether that information was available or not. After rolling my eyes at Ed, trying to contain my growing annoyance, the optician was able to locate the previous information, saving us time.

Thinking we were now home free, another staff member informed us that they couldn’t take a credit card payment because they were switching to a new system. She seemed a bit overwhelmed until I assured her that after we went home, I would come back with my checkbook and pay with a check, figuring that was the simplest solution. Despite all the unexpected issues that had arisen during this visit, Alex seemed completely unfazed. As I could feel my frustration rising, I knew that Alex was handling these small annoyances correctly by smiling and being polite and patient. If he could be content, so could I.

After Ed and I took Alex home, we praised him for being pleasant and cooperative at the eye doctor. Then, I returned to the eye clinic to pay for Alex’s exam and glasses. The kind woman who had been supportive apologized to me for the “chaotic” atmosphere and hoped that Alex hadn’t been upset by anything that had happened. I thanked her for her help and assured her that he was fine. She commented that Alex always does well, adding that the eye doctor and tech had also remarked on what a great job he had done. Despite the various minor issues, Alex had successfully completed his annual eye exam. Perhaps more importantly, he reminded me through his calm demeanor not to be upset by little things. Instead of focusing on the paperwork issues, he was interacting with the staff in a positive way, making a favorable impression. Needless to say, we’re awfully proud of the young man we have raised who sees––even without his glasses––what’s truly important in life.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” I Corinthians 13:12