Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hurricane Alex

Alex and Ed share a fascination for weather. While I simply want to know whether I need a coat or an umbrella, they carefully study the weather. They follow forecasts, fronts, and trends online and on television, as well as on their electronic weather stations that record temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure. With rain gauges, they measure precipitation. Not surprisingly, they were eager last week to follow the track of the first Atlantic hurricane of the season, Hurricane Alex. Of course, Alex was pleased to share his name with this first hurricane, even though the storms didn’t last long. This summer’s Hurricane Alex reminded me of a summer a few years ago when we had our own Hurricane Alex.

From all the reading I had done on autism, I thought that once we had Alex talking, potty trained, and gaining some social skills, our lives would be relatively simple. We never anticipated the effects of hormonal changes that came in Alex’s early teen years, bringing disruption and destruction, much like a hurricane. As Alex went through puberty, he suddenly changed from an easy-going and gentle child to an often angry and aggressive teenager. With little warning, he would fly into rages, where he would hurl any nearby objects, scream, and physically attack us. These were terrifying and upsetting times, as it would take both of us to restrain him so that he would not harm himself or us. He would sometimes have a crazed look in his eyes and would even foam at the mouth because he was overwrought. Making the tantrums even more difficult, he was physically bigger and stronger than I was, and adrenaline rushes made him even harder to handle. Nothing we said would console him, and he would end these tantrums in tears, asking if he’d done anything bad. It was heartbreaking to see him so upset. Immediately, I began praying for guidance and researching how to help him. I finally figured out that he was probably having anxiety attacks that made his adrenaline kick into the “fight” mode of the typical “fight or flight” associated with panic. Having had anxiety attacks throughout my life (although mine take the form of “flight” and wanting to leave a situation), I understood the physical effects triggered by stress, emotions, and hormones. Next, we had to figure out a way to level his brain chemistry to ease the anxiety and prevent the outbursts.

The first OTC supplement we added after getting his doctor’s approval was an amino acid, gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA, which is often used by women for PMS. GABA calms the nerves much like the drug Valium, yet it does not carry the risk of causing addiction. Acting as a neurotransmitter, GABA helps maintain proper brain function by preventing nerve cells from overfiring during anxiety and stress. I ordered GABA with inositol and niacinamide (which make the GABA more effective against stress) online from Kirkman Labs, and giving him this natural sedative daily has made Alex much less anxious. In addition, Alex’s doctor gave us a prescription for low-dose Lorazepam, a generic of the drug Ativan, which is used to treat anxiety disorders. We only give him Lorazepam when he is extremely agitated, and it calms him very quickly. During this time, I discovered an article Dr. William Shaw of The Great Plains Laboratory had written regarding how lack of lithium is common in autism and can affect behavior. While lithium is naturally present in drinking water, people who drink filtered water do not get enough in their systems. After Alex had been chelated of toxic metals, we were careful to let him drink only filtered water, and our home water has a reverse-osmosis filter system for purity. Dr. Shaw’s article recommended giving very low doses of OTC lithium drops daily to supplement that need. Alex’s doctor agreed that the dose was harmless, and I ordered the lithium drops online from New Beginnings Nutritionals. We noticed a vast improvement in Alex’s mood swings: the extreme behaviors of silliness, anger, and sadness leveled rapidly. Alex’s sweet personality returned, and the tantrums lessened greatly in severity and frequency. While this period of Alex’s development was a very trying time, we feel blessed that we were able to help him balance his brain chemistry, ease his anxiety, and make life much better for all of us.

“He calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves. What a blessing was that stillness as He brought them safely into harbor!” Psalm 107:29-30


Anonymous said...

Pam--How long did it take the GABA to kick in? I am always interested in supplements and have used a couple for attention for my middle school son. I am on a quest for something for mood because the drugs out there are really not appropriate for kids. I will research GABA myself but appreciate hearing from someone on the front line. Marie R.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Marie,
As I recall, it took a few weeks to know that the GABA was working. Also, we had to gradually increase the dosage; Alex's doctor helped us with that. From what I've read, GABA works best when combined with inositol (which is also calming) and niacinamine, which is why I like Kirkman's GABA--it has that magic combination. The OTC lithium, on the other hand, showed positive effects much more quickly. Hope you are able to find something that helps your son; I know that you'll keep searching until you do!
Take care,

Mom said...

Pam, you did a beautiful job of writing about a rather ugly chapter in the story of Alex. I read the lithium article for which you provided a link and found it very interesting. I believe you told me that you give Alex about 1/1000th of the usual prescription dosage of lithium. It's amazing that such a small amount could make such a huge difference. I love the scriptures you provide with each of your essays. Today's is especially beautiful and fitting. I pray that God will continue to calm your storms.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks, Mom! I hope you know how much I appreciate your support in storms and in sunshine. :) The lithium drops have been almost miraculous in their positive effect. Plus, giving them to him is easy: we just put them in his juice.
Love, Pam