Sunday, October 10, 2010


Recently, Alex’s doctor suggested that we add Omega 3 fish oil to his nutritional supplements as a possible way to help his tendency toward dry skin and dandruff. After about a week of adding fish oil, we noticed subtle changes in his behavior, primarily a sense of discontent and some anxiety. Thinking that the timing between the new supplement and his mood changes was not likely coincidental, we took him off the fish oil, and his easy-going good nature returned almost immediately. Through the years we have learned that Alex’s metabolism requires a delicate balance of nutrients that impact his health and behavior tremendously. Under his doctor’s supervision, Alex has tried a variety of supplements, but we always introduce new things one at a time so that we can monitor his reaction and have a good sense of what is causing any changes—positive or negative. Some supplements that have a good reputation for helping children with autism have made Alex extremely hyperactive or agitated, so these were not a good choice for him. A couple of years ago, his doctor recommended that we make protein shakes for him, and after two days of protein shakes and an insomniac Alex, we decided to throw that supplement in the garbage. On the other hand, some supplements have been very helpful and critical to maintaining Alex’s good health.

While Alex has taken as many as four dozen supplement pills a day to address various needs he had at times in his development, he currently takes about twenty pills daily (some supplements in multiple pills), divided into doses after breakfast and before bedtime. The only daily prescription medication he takes is Fluoxetine, or generic Prozac, an SSRI medication to help his OCD. He started taking this around age eleven, and he has been on various doses over the years. Now he only takes ten milligrams per day, a very low dose, but one that seems to keep his obsessive-compulsive issues under control. For many years, he has taken a multivitamin and mineral supplement to balance his nutritional needs. We give him EveryDay Multi-Vitamin from Kirkman, a supplement that is especially developed for people with autism and is hypoallergenic for purity. Since Alex has food sensitivities to milk products, he takes a calcium-magnesium citramate supplement to make sure he has enough calcium in his system. His dairy-free diet also means that we have to give him a vegan form of probiotics to avoid ingesting any milk products. Over the years, Alex has had problems with yeast overgrowth, but the probiotic supplements, especially those with acidophilus, seem to keep his intestines in good working order. To address his environmental allergies, he takes generic over-the-counter Claritin. We had noticed that he acted particularly irritable during allergy seasons, and OTC allergy relief seemed to improve his mood. To make sure he is not bothered by allergens, we keep him on the medication year-round, and his doctor has approved this regimen, as she has with all of his supplements. To calm Alex’s anxiety, he takes GABA, a supplement we order from Kirkman that works much like valium but without side effects or the risk of addiction. Another calming over-the-counter supplement that has helped him tremendously is the addition of New Beginnings Nutritionals’ low-dose lithium drops, which help regulate his mood swings and keep him content. Before bedtime, a critical part of Alex’s routine is taking melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates sleep cycles and safely helps him sleep. Many children with autism lack the levels of melatonin in their bodies they should have, and Alex has definitely benefitted from taking melatonin so that he can sleep peacefully throughout the night without any negative side effects. Besides these daily pills, I give Alex a methyl vitamin B-12 injection prescribed by his doctor twice a week. These B-12 shots help heal Alex’s nervous system and detoxify heavy metals his body is unable to remove from his system, which has been an issue for him. Currently this combination seems to work well for Alex, and we are pleased with his behavior and his good health.

Fortunately, Alex is very cooperative about swallowing pills. When he was about five, I worked with him to help him learn how to swallow pills because I wanted to start him on supplements, and more were available in capsules or tablets than in liquid form. In addition, if Alex didn’t like how something tasted, he was likely to spit it out; hence, pills were the easier route to take with him. Having watched my mom give our family dog pills, I modified her technique slightly, putting the pill in Alex mouth, gently holding his mouth closed, and rubbing his neck to encourage swallowing. While he wasn’t pleased with this activity at first, he caught on to what I wanted him to do, and soon he could take the pills without my having to hold his mouth closed. Since then, he has always been very good about taking any medicines or supplements we have given him and seems to know that we are trying to help him. Part of my Sunday morning routine is counting out his supplement pills and placing them in pill containers marked with the days of the week. This helps Ed, who gives Alex his morning supplements on days that I’m at work, and it makes life simpler for both of us for the evening doses that we share supervising. To prepare for the week, I consult a list detailing the pills and their dosages as I go. In one of Ed’s poems from his book Tidal Air, “Late Vacation at the Cape,” he adeptly describes my task: “She separates the medicine as if she is a pharmacist, always counting out the tally, naming each as she distributes so none of them is ever forgotten.” In addition, we count the pills aloud—sometimes counting in foreign languages for variety—as we give them to Alex, who sees this regimen as a game and happily swallows each numbered pill. At the same time, I count our blessings that this daily routine and God’s grace are working toward healing Alex.

“O Lord my God, I cried out to you for help, and you restored my health.” Psalm 30:2


K. C. said...

You do everything with such grace. I couldn't have a better role model. <3

Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C.,
Bless your heart--thanks so much!


dluvscoke said...

My oldest son has Autism. He is 29.
I invite you to follow my blog and I will do the same for you.

I have a post in my June archive titled "Autism and Vitamins" that I think you may enjoy reading.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks for following my blog! Your blog article points out how important having doctor supervision is when adding any supplements, especially those that may interfere with medications. I'm sorry that your son had such a bad reaction to the supplements you gave him. We've been blessed that Alex's doctor is very good about monitoring any new supplements so that any negative effects have been annoying, rather than dangerous.
Take care,