Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mother Knows Best

The other day, I was sitting with friends at a baby shower for a colleague. As the mom-to-be was opening her gifts, a good friend of mine who is the mother of two typical young boys asked me what advice I’d give a new mother. Without hesitation, I said, “Trust your gut.” I had given similar advice the night before to one of my online autism mom friends who was struggling with what was the right thing to do for her young son. Since children with autism don’t come with instruction manuals and don’t follow the patterns outlined in Heidi Murkoff’s What to Expect series of parenting books, autism moms must rely on common sense and mothers’ instincts when it comes to raising their children. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that I can pass along to other autism moms, hoping they can benefit from our experience.

1. Carry an inexpensive calculator with you at all times. The purpose of this handy gadget is not to solve mathematical problems but to solve the problem of a bored child with autism. From the time he was a toddler, if Alex became restless, the calculator kept him occupied and content better than any toy ever could.

2. Buy your child sunglasses in the summer (or in the fall when they go on sale) to wear year round. Sunglasses serve as much more than a fashion accessory; they also help children with autism deal with visual sensory overload. From the time Alex was a baby, he has worn sunglasses whenever he is outside to deal with the sun’s glare. In addition, he wore them when he was younger at the dentist to help him deal with the bright overhead light and to protect him from any splatter that might fly when his teeth were being cleaned. In addition, he sometimes still prefers wearing them inside stores where the subtle blinking of fluorescent lights bothers him. Plus, he just looks cool wearing them.

3. Always carry plastic bags with you. From toileting accidents to spilling drinks to chewing on shirt collars, our kids usually wind up with at least one piece of clothing that gets wet when they are out somewhere. Which brings me to another suggestion: always carry at least one complete change of clothes for any of the previously mentioned potential problems.

4. Teach your child as soon as possible how to swallow pills. Children with autism often gag with certain textures and flavors, so being able to swallow medicine and supplements in the form of tablets or capsules helps them tremendously. Once he learned how to swallow pills, Alex has never balked at taking his medicine or supplements, even when he was taking as many as four dozen pills a day at one point.

5. Check online nutritional fact sites for restaurants and food companies if your child is on a special diet. As Alex has been on the gluten-free and casein-free diet since he was seven, I have found many websites that list ingredients and common allergens (such as milk and glutens) helpful in figuring out what he can and can’t eat. This makes grocery shopping and going to restaurants much easier because I know what foods he’ll be able to eat before we ever leave the house.

Of course, these ideas are just a few of the many things we’ve learned over the years in dealing with Alex’s special needs. After I shared my advice with my friend at the baby shower, I wanted to know hers. She said, “Never put a baby in diapers that are too small” and then went on to tell a [now] funny story about a time when one of her sons overflowed his too-small diaper while they were at a restaurant. Remembering that sometimes I, too, pushed the limit with Alex’s diapers, thinking that there couldn’t be that much difference between 27 pounds and the stated size limit of 25 pounds, for instance, I had a few messes of my own to clean up at times, especially since he was in Pull-Ups much longer than most children. Experience is a good teacher, however, and I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

“But true wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are His.” Job 12:13

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Things That Make You Go, "Hmmm..."

After living with Alex for twenty years and learning to deal with his various idiosyncrasies, probably not too much of what he does surprises Ed and me. However, at times, we find ourselves scratching our heads, trying to figure out his motivations and actions…those moments that make us go, “Hmmmm….”

For example, how can Alex re-program our television to display the closed captioning in a matter of seconds? When he did this the other day, Ed and I worked together to undo his actions for about a half hour with three remote controls and a variety of muttered comments reflecting our irritation. Of course, asking Alex how to take the closed captioning off is worthless because he just grins and walks away. I suspect he’s thinking, “What a couple of dopes that they can’t figure out something so simple.”

Similarly, Alex knows how to set the alarm for every clock in our house that has an alarm feature, most of which Ed and I have no clue as to how to set or re-set. For some reason, Alex likes to set them for strange times, such as 11:40 P.M. or 4:20 A.M. Moreover, he often leaves the battery-operated alarm clocks in unusual places, such as under couch cushions or on the bathroom floor. When the electronic beeping starts, we go on a wild goose chase, trying to find the hidden clock and turn it off before he really does awaken. Again, I wonder if this is something he finds amusing because we can’t figure out where he’s put the clock and why he set it for a weird time.

During Alex’s recent stint of obsessively writing numbers, I’ve discovered that ballpoint ink can write on a lot more surfaces that I ever dreamed possible. Alex's handiwork is truly a testimonial to the Bic ballpoint pen's slogan, "Writes first time, every time!" Besides writing on countless notepads, Alex has scrawled numbers on painted and wallpapered walls, the ceramic tile of the bathroom floor, the wooden top of our family room end table, our laminate kitchen countertops, the flannel sheets on his bed, the marble vanity top of our bathroom sink, and his own arms, legs, and abdomen. Who knew ballpoint pens could write on so many different places? Thankfully, rubbing alcohol on cotton squares safely and completely removed nearly all of Alex’s numbers. Although he’s never seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind, Alex’s need to write reminds me of John Nash writing mathematical formulas on windows with a grease pencil. I wonder if a ballpoint pen can write on windows.

In addition to making his own lists of numbers throughout the varied surfaces of our house, Alex has been having me type lists of numbers for him. I’m not sure why he insists that I type the lists when my handwriting is legible, while he chooses to write his lists in his barely legible scrawl instead of typing them. Most of the time he’s fairly specific about the lists he wants me to create, such as lists of random twelve digit numbers. The other day, he relinquished some of the control by asking me to choose how many digits the numbers would have, telling me to “surprise” him. Because Alex—like his mother—can be somewhat bossy, his allowing me to make the choice came as a pleasant surprise to me. Fortunately, he found my choices of digits a pleasant surprise, as well.

While some things about Alex are predictable—his love of numbers, clocks, electronic gadgets, and lists—the various new ways that he pursues these interests keep us on our toes and make our lives more interesting. Maybe some day he’ll tell us the secret to taking the closed captioning display off the television screen and how to disengage the alarm clocks. Somehow, I doubt it because I think he likes keeping those secrets for himself.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.” Ecclesiastes 1:10

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Defining Autism

Last Thursday, major media outlets, including ABC News and The New York Times, [Click here for the article.] reported important news regarding potential changes to the diagnosis of autism. These changes come not in the form of better testing and evaluation methods, but rather in the revisions the American Psychiatric Association is currently proposing regarding the definition of autism. Since 1994, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (along with text revisions in 2000) has been the primary reference used to diagnose autism. Since that time, the incidence of the diagnosis of autism has quadrupled, according to many statistics. One of the reasons given for the rapid increase in autism has been “better diagnosis,” instead of an actual increase in cases of autism. [However, I disagree with that theory.] As psychiatrists work together to develop the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5, scheduled to go into effect in 2013, they have been re-evaluating the definition of autism, trying to make diagnosing autism easier. However, some experts have asserted that these changes will greatly reduce the number of children diagnosed with autism. The Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine found that half of the patients diagnosed with autism under the DSM-IV criteria would not be classified as having autism under the DSM-5 criteria. For many parents, this news brings worries that their children may not be eligible for special education, treatment, services, and insurance coverage for therapies. In response to these changes, Dr. David J. Kupfer, psychiatry professor at University of Pittsburgh and chair of the task force making these revisions, commented, “We have to make sure not everybody who is a little odd gets a diagnosis of autism or Asperger disorder.”

When Alex was diagnosed in early 1996 with autism under the DSM-IV, I remember thinking that the criteria sounded like a Chinese restaurant take-out menu: Choose one from column A, two from column B, etc. In reviewing the definition of autism in the text of DSM-IV, it actually reads as follows: “A total of six (or more) from (1), (2), and (3) with at least two from (1) and one each from (2) and (3).” To briefly summarize these three decisive points, (1) deals with social interaction impairments, citing four areas; (2) concerns communication issues, also citing four areas; and (3) refers to repetitive behaviors, again citing four areas. [To read the specific examples, click here and then click on the DSM-IV tab.] In addition, the onset of these symptoms must be by age three, and the symptoms cannot be attributed to Rett’s Syndrome or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. In contrast, the DSM-5 definition of autism is more restrictive, stating, “Must meet criteria A, B, C, and D.” To summarize, criterion A involves deficits in social communication, and the patient must have deficits in “all three of the following,” namely “social-emotional reciprocity,” “nonverbal communication,” and “developing and maintaining relationships.” Criterion B deals with repetitive patterns of behavior and interests, exhibiting “at least two of the following four”: speech, routines, interests, and sensory issues. [To read the specific details, click here.] In addition, criterion C states that the “symptoms must be present in early childhood.” Perhaps the most intriguing as well as subjective part of the definition, criterion D states: “Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.” In comparing and contrasting both definitions, essentially autism affects communication, social interaction, and behavior, especially in terms of repetitive actions.

What each DSM definition fails to do, however, is to address any potential causes. In the nineteen years between DSM-IV and DSM-5, no one has figured out what causes autism, nor does the field of psychiatry have much to offer in terms of treatment. Although I am not a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist, my more than fifteen years of autism research and first-hand experience of parenting a child with autism leads me to believe that autism doesn’t even belong in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. With the various biomedical testing and interventions we have done with Alex, we have found him to have allergies, yeast overgrowth, nutritional deficiencies, and accumulations of toxic metals—all conditions that have responded to treatment. While I don’t have absolute proof, my mother’s instinct and common sense convince me that Alex has metabolic issues that are medical in nature, instead of being a “mental disorder.” Certainly, these issues have affected how his brain works, but I think that he, like many children currently being diagnosed as having autism, is a physically, rather than mentally, ill person. Until more in the medical community recognize the truth that these children have physical symptoms that affect their behavior, the DSM-IV and its successor the DSM-5 will not significantly help these children get better. Instead of trying to describe what autism is and is not, a much better use of resources would be to figure out why these children are ill and what can be done to cure them so that when the time comes to write the DSM-6, autism will no longer need to be part of that influential reference textbook.

“But ask those who have been around, and they will tell you the truth.” Job 21:29

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Taming of the Skew

As I mentioned in last Wednesday’s blog entry, “Improvements in Socialization,” Alex has been making some progress lately in being more social. In the past week, he has been much more interactive with me than he has been in months. For some reason, he would flee anytime he saw me as if being in the same room with me were a terrible fate. Moreover, I had the feeling that if I dropped off the face of the earth, he wouldn’t even notice, let alone care. To emphasize his disaffection for me, about all he would say to me was, “Mommy is leaving,” which was his way of telling me to hit the road quickly. Last week his choosing to sit beside me on the couch marked the beginning of my reintegration into Alex’s world. However, I knew that I would have to let him make the moves about including me back into his life, or risk being banished again.

This recent change in our relationship reminds me of a chapter from one of my favorite books, The Little Prince, in which the character of the fox asks the Little Prince to “tame” him. Confused by what the fox is requesting, the Little Prince wants to know the meaning of “tame.” The fox explains, “It means to establish ties.” The fox further clarifies this concept, stating, “But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.” He then lays out a plan in which the Little Prince will keep his distance from the fox but will gradually move closer every day. Following the fox’s guidelines, the Little Prince, indeed, tames him, and the fox later tells him, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” In dealing with Alex’s behavioral changes over the past several months, we have felt as though we were taming him, making him comfortable, in spite of his anxiety, by approaching him gradually and on his terms. We have respected his need for space, but we never wanted him to get too far from us physically or emotionally, knowing that he needed us, and we were responsible for him.

The past few days, Alex has begun asking questions about me. When I’ve been out running errands, he has asked Ed, “Where’s Mommy?” and “When will Mommy be home?’ Apparently he now notices my absence and awaits my return. When I’m home, he will now address me directly and ask me questions nicely. Of course, most of his questions revolve around wanting me to do something for him, primarily to help him entertain himself by finding, making, and/or printing lists for him. Over the weekend, he asked me to help him find lists of long words (specifically those with 16 and 20 letters), 100 common diseases, and 100 top country singers. Since he is a whiz with Google, he doesn’t really need me to help him find information on the Internet, but he does need for me to print them since we limit his access to the computer printer. If Alex printed everything he found interesting online, he’d go through countless printer ink cartridges and reams of paper. Therefore, he must ask us first before he’s allowed to print anything. In addition to searching for lists online, he’s also asked me to make up lists of random numbers with digit amounts that he specifies. For example, he’s had me type lists of random numbers that have 15 digits, 74 digits, and 103 digits. Fortunately, I can type those numbers pretty fast, and he’s delighted with the printed versions I’ve made for him. I suspect that this list making is his way of reaching out to me through the form of conversation he knows best: making lists of words and numbers. At times he seems to prolong the activity by asking for my ideas but repeatedly rejecting them, as though he know he’s controlling the interaction by doing this. Nonetheless, I’m pleased that he and I are on speaking terms again and that he seeks my company willingly. While I like to think that I’ve tamed Alex, perhaps the reality is that he has tamed me. As we re-establish our ties, I’m grateful for the opportunity to connect with my son and for the improvements we’ve seen lately.

“For I, too, was once my father’s son, tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.” Proverbs 4:3

Sunday, January 15, 2012

What Causes Autism?

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to an autism researcher whom I greatly admire speak about a new potential theory regarding what causes autism. Dr. William Shaw of The Great Plains Laboratory offered a free online seminar entitled “Unraveling the Cause of the Autism Epidemic: Identifying the Single Most Important Factor.” Having spent more than fifteen years engaged in autism research, I was intrigued by the topic and immediately signed up for the webinar. The evening of the presentation, I armed myself with my laptop computer, headphones so that I could listen to the lecture carefully, a notepad, and four-in-one ink pen so that I could take notes in various colors for emphasis. Although the webinar was originally scheduled to last two hours, the significant amount of data and explanations given in the slides and his narration actually took about two and a half hours. Nonetheless, I sat transfixed by Dr. Shaw’s engaging and compelling lecture, madly scribbling notes to review later.

Since children with autism often have the inability to rid their bodies of toxins, Dr. Shaw explained the various ways the liver normally works to detoxify the body. We know that Alex has detoxification problems because test results showed that he had various toxic metals in his system: mercury, lead, arsenic, and aluminum. When we discovered he had these toxins, we began a chelation regimen, using oral DMSA, a sulfur-based compound that binds with these metals and removes them from the body. For Alex, chelation took about three years. In fact, the last year of the therapy proved most helpful because his doctor had discovered that a much more aggressive protocol of round-the-clock chelation was necessary to keep from going, as she explained, “Two steps forward, one step back.” Once his test results finally showed his levels to be in the normal range, we were able to stop the chelation treatments. As Dr. Shaw detailed the ways that the detoxification system can be hindered by bacterial infection, inborn errors of metabolism, and insufficient levels of the amino acid glutathione, I took copious notes and tried to assimilate all the information, hoping to figure out something that might help Alex. Essentially, Dr. Shaw’s research has led him to suggest that a possible cause of autism is acetaminophen (commonly sold under the brand name Tylenol) often given in conjunction with vaccinations to treat fever. While he plans more specific research to test this theory, he offers quite a bit of data that makes his argument very convincing.

As I listened to his explanation of how acetaminophen could affect an infant’s liver, I vividly recalled sitting in the pediatricians’ office with Alex as a baby, waiting to get his immunizations. Because we were meticulous about doing everything exactly right for Alex, we made certain that he received all of his shots on schedule, and we followed the doctor’s instructions to the letter. I remember that the nurses always recommended that we give him Tylenol after his shots to ease any discomfort and fever that might follow the vaccinations. In fact, they often gave us samples of liquid infant Tylenol and suggested that we give it to him there in the office instead of waiting until we got home. Not wanting Alex to suffer the least bit for any moment, we gave him the pain reliever/fever reducer as directed. Perhaps he would have been better to have run a fever and been a bit uncomfortable, if, indeed Dr. Shaw’s theory holds true about the connection between autism and acetaminophen. If anyone is interested in hearing Dr. Shaw’s lecture, he will be repeating this presentation on Friday, January 20, 2012, at 7:00 P.M. Central Standard Time/8:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. To register, go to The Great Plains Laboratory website at and click on the link for the free webinar. In addition, Dr. Shaw has created a Facebook page entitled Acetaminophen and Autism, where he plans to share information regarding research on this topic. In the meantime, I plan to have Dr. Shaw’s lab run the organic acids urine test on Alex in the near future so that we can see how his metabolism is currently working, as compared with previous times we have run this test on him. With each bit of new information we gain through research and test results, we pray that doctors are one step closer to healing children with autism and preventing other families from having to deal with the struggles this disorder brings. In addition, I thank God for doctors and scientists like Dr. Shaw who tirelessly keep seeking ways to help these precious children with autism; may their work be blessed and their efforts be rewarded.

“But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves led out to pasture.” Malachi 4:2

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Improvements in Socialization

Ever since our doctor adjusted Alex’s anxiety medications recently, we have noticed positive changes in his behavior. Of course, our main goal was to ease the obsessions that triggered anxiety attacks that escalated into full-blown meltdowns. While we are thankfully seeing some improvement in his anxiety, we have also noticed that he has become more social. While “social” is a relative term because socialization issues usually accompany autism, we are pleased to see Alex being more interactive. Considering that he wanted virtually nothing to do with me for the past few months and even isolated himself from Ed at times last month, any attempt to spend time with us or to show interest in other people marks progress in our book. Therefore, I have made the following observations this week about Alex’s improvements in his social behavior.

1. For some reason, Alex decided a few months ago that I was persona non grata, and he would run from a room if I entered it. If he wanted to be in a room where I was already, he would abruptly tell me, “Mommy is leaving.” While I tried not to take his rejection personally, I began to wonder what I had done to annoy him, even if I was giving off some odor he found offensive. My mouthwash, deodorant, and pride all working fine, I decided he just wanted to be independent of me, so I respected his privacy. This past week, however, he has actively looked for me to tell me something and has even chosen to sit beside me for an extended time on the couch. While he usually comes to me because he wants me to do something for him, at least we’re on speaking terms again. This is a nice way to begin 2012.

2. Although Alex has always enjoyed going for rides in the car with Ed, he now requests going specific places, such as driving past my parents’ house. In recent days, his favorite place to drive past is my sister’s house, but Alex refers to it by the name of her daughter, his cousin. Every day he asks, “How ‘bout to drive past Hannah’s house?” I think it’s interesting that he doesn’t want just to go places, but he wants to drive by the homes of people he knows, even if it does seem slightly like a stalker/"creeper." Perhaps if his behavior improves, he might even be able to go inside the houses and actually see the people who live there.

3. Another place Alex requested to go over the weekend was Wal-Mart. Now, Alex has had a long-standing affection for shopping at Wal-Mart, but his anxiety has inhibited his desire to go there in the past few months. That he wanted to go to a place filled with people marks a good sign that he doesn’t mind being around crowds. Unsure of how well he would really cope with weekend hordes at Wal-Mart [I find myself unnerved in that situation!], we suggested that we would take him some weekday when it’s less crowded.

4. Up until about a year ago, Alex talked to my mom on the phone daily. In fact, he enjoyed this “reach out and touch” time so much that I used it as a reward/bribe to get him to behave himself: “If you want to talk to Nanny, you need to be a good boy.” Like his recent rejection of me, he also decided that he no longer wanted to talk to her on the phone anymore. This weekend, out of the blue, he came to me and told me that he wanted to call Nanny. Despite being out of practice, he did fairly well making small talk on the phone. Since then, he has requested to talk to her on the telephone a couple of other times and has continued to improve his conversational skills with her, speaking up and answering the questions she asks. Again, this is a good sign that he wants to interact with other people.

5. Yesterday when he was on the phone talking to my mom, Alex told her that he wanted to start writing stories about Bill and Carlos again. When Alex was younger, he invented the characters Bill and his son Carlos and wrote simple stories about their lives. Alex’s creating these stories in the first place was a bit surprising because he much prefers to read nonfiction, and he doesn’t show a great deal of imagination. His renewed interest in these characters and wanting to write about them shows improvement in his socialization because he usually shares these stories with us.

Although none of Alex’s behaviors seem astounding because they mark small steps of improvement, we’re pleased nonetheless that he is making attempts to engage us (and others) in conversation and shared experiences. We’re hopeful that he continues to make good strides and that 2012 signifies a year of marked improvement for Alex.

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.” Revelation 2:19

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Autism and Backgammon

Over Christmas break, I started playing backgammon on the computer after several years of having not played the game. When Ed and I were dating, we used to play the board game, and as I recall, he won most of the time. At that time, my lack of experience at playing, along with my timidity in making daring moves that would put me ahead but could also risk my being sent back, made me an easy target for defeat. Playing on the computer offers me an ever-ready opponent and one whom I can insult without feeling any guilt. I often find myself sarcastically telling my computer opponent, “Oh, yeah, YOU rolled doubles!” or “Sure, send me back, you JERK!” I suspect that while I enjoy the mental stimulation of the game, I appreciate even more the stress relief of being able to insult someone whose feelings I cannot hurt.

In a past blog entry, I wrote about how Ed had commented that our life with autism is like playing the board game Chutes and Ladders. [To read this entry, click here.] His analogy was that at times when Alex is making progress, we climb the ladders to get to the rewards. Other times, we find ourselves tripped up by issues, such as anxiety, and find that we are falling down the chutes instead, going backwards. While I think this comparison is good and valid, my recent online games of backgammon have made me realize that life with autism is more like a game of backgammon. While progress in Chutes and Ladders, a simple game designed for children, relies upon pure luck in the roll of the dice, backgammon depends upon not only the luck of the dice but also the strategy of the players. In addition, Chutes and Ladders players don’t think much about their opponents’ moves, other than to beat them to the final blue ribbon square. By contrast, backgammon players try to anticipate their opponents’ moves that may not only beat them at the end but also hinder their progress along the way. While backgammon players learn certain basic strategies for protecting their game pieces and making progress, each move usually requires some thought about how to proceed safely and wisely to reach the desired end—winning the game.

In dealing with Alex’s autism, we started by playing the safe game, doing the traditional moves of speech therapy, special education, and occupational therapy. Later, we decided that bolder moves were needed to help him make more progress, such as homeschooling, sensory integration therapy, visual therapy, cranial therapy, and biomedical interventions, including putting him on the diet free of glutens and caseins, giving him nutritional supplements, and using chelation to rid his body of toxic metals. Some of these less traditional approaches were the equivalent of rolling doubles in backgammon as they helped us move Alex’s progress along much more rapidly. At other times, opponents, such as anxiety, blocked us, as opponents in backgammon strategically do, to keep us from moving along as fast as we’d like. Even more frustrating have been the times when we were taken off the board completely, put on the bar to wait our next move to get back in the game, such as when we’ve given him supplements that made him worse, including fish oil that makes him hyper and gives him insomnia. From these experiences, Ed and I have learned to think carefully before we make any new moves, researching the methods and discussing the consequences so that we don’t find ourselves being blocked from moving forward, or even worse, being sent back to the beginning. Perhaps the most valuable lesson that backgammon has reminded me in dealing with autism is the importance of always sticking together. A single backgammon game piece is always vulnerable, in danger of being sent back by the opponent; only those who are not alone remain safe. Despite the fears and frustrations the obstacles of autism bring, Ed and I have learned that we’re always strongest when we work together to help Alex. As we try to defeat the difficult aspects of autism, we keep working to get all of our game pieces onto our home board and then take them completely off the board, hoping for and striving toward victory and Alex’s total defeat of our opponent, autism.

“To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square.” Matthew 11:16

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Number, Please

Since he got his new graphing calculator last week, Alex has been carrying it with him around the house—from the family room to his bedroom to the kitchen to the bathroom. In addition, he has been filling notebooks with numbers he’s written. One morning, we discovered that he apparently had run out of paper in his bedroom, so he decided to write numbers on his bedroom wall. [A little household tip: thankfully, a cotton cosmetic square soaked with rubbing alcohol takes dry erase marker off painted walls.] Another evening, Ed noticed that Alex had written numbers on his legs and tummy. [Another tip: anti-bacterial soap, which contains alcohol, takes ballpoint ink off skin.] Not surprisingly, when I went to check his Internet searching history on his laptop the other day, he’s been researching numbers.

Here are a dozen number-related sites Alex has investigated online this week:

1. He Googled “big number random generator.”

2. He also checked out “math videos” on Google.

3. In addition, he typed, “count from 0 to 100 & beyond” into Google.

4. Similarly, he searched for “numbers 0-500” on Google.

5. Later, he expanded his Google search for “numbers tables 0-10,000.”

6. The last search I discovered on Google was “2091,” which may seem like a random big number. However, I’m sure he was thinking of it as a year because in 2091, he will turn 100 years old.

7. From Google, he went to You Tube, where he found a video called “Random Number Generator.”

8. You Tube also amused him with a musical video called “Numbers Song 1-1000.”

9. Another You Tube music video he watched was entitled, “The Big Numbers Song.”

10. His Google searches enabled him to find a site that had a prime numbers

11. He also spent some time at, where he looked at free rounding worksheets and free number charts.

12. Finally, combining his interest in math and foreign languages, he visited a
website that taught how to count from 0 to 100 in more than twenty different languages.

Since I never particularly liked math, I’ve never quite understood Alex’s love of everything about numbers. However, I’m pleased that he still possesses a curiosity about learning and has developed the skills needed to research topics he finds interesting, both of which ensure that he will continue to learn and develop his mind.

“And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. “ Ezekiel 37:26

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This past week, as 2011 came to an end, the news has been filled with various top ten lists of the year: the most important news stories, shocking scandals, best movies, celebrity weddings and breakups, to name but a few. In the spirit of looking back and compiling lists, I decided to make a list of the unusual things Alex has yelled during his meltdowns in 2011 to give a glimpse of the things that concern, aggravate, and agitate him.

10. “Is Mommy joking?” Alex blurts this question randomly when he is upset and accusing me of saying something I may or may not have actually said. We don’t know what triggers this inquiry, but we have discovered that no correct answer to this question exists. An answer of “Yes” or “No” only seems to stir his anger more. Therefore, we have learned not to respond to this question when he’s mad.

9. “Need a pen/paper!” Alex’s need [compulsion?] to make lists leaves him frequently searching for the tools he needs to write them. When he’s calm, he can find the pen and/or paper on his own, but when he’s anxious, he needs our help. Most of the time, our providing the pen and paper for him solves the problem because he can then write down the dates, times, or other numbers he wants to list. Other times, however, he reveals his frustration by turning pens and composition notebooks into projectiles, hurling them to let us know he’s not happy.

8. “Oh, no!” This is a generalized cry for help, triggered by Alex’s inability to find something he’s lost or by his upset that the cable tv or his computer won’t work or by some other issue he feels is beyond his control. Sometimes we can solve these problems for him, but other times we cannot, which may lead to other comments blurted in frustration.

7. “Need to ask God/call Dr. Trowbridge/look it up!” When Alex can’t figure out something or needs some piece of information that he doesn’t think Ed or I know, he turns to those whom he trusts can answer his question: God, his [now retired] doctor, or the Internet. If God would start e-mailing Alex, our lives would be a lot simpler.

6. “ENT!” and the closely related “Want voice to stop changing!” Alex has been obsessed with the way his voice changed in his teens, and he has indicated that he doesn’t like the way his voice sounds now. When he’s really angry, he’ll even say, “Voice is too damn deep!” Even though his voice is really not that deep, apparently he preferred his little boy voice. He has spent hours researching voice changes and found some idiot’s post on a comments board that said surgery can be done to make a man’s voice higher. With some more Internet research, Alex decided that the best person to do this operation would be an Ear-Nose-Throat, or ENT, doctor. At one point he decided he’d save his money for this surgery, despite our best efforts to convince him that his voice is fine and that no doctor would perform such an operation on him for that, anyway. While he no longer talks about that plan anymore, the remnants come out when he’s upset in the form of the ranting regarding his voice and the type of doctor he thinks could fix it.

5. “Want life expectancy to be 150 years old!” This comment reveals a recent obsession Alex has with age, life, and death. After studying insurance actuarial charts on the Internet and his various medical books, Alex has decided that he wants to live longer than the typical life expectancy. I suppose this is probably related to a fear of death, but Alex used to talk happily about going to Heaven someday. Like other phases, I’m guessing this one will eventually pass, but if not, Alex may be thinking about it for the next 130 years.

4. “Happy New Year!”/”Happy Birthday!” When Alex is really agitated, he starts rambling about dates. As though he is playing a newsreel in his head, he’ll oddly mark the passing of time by blurting “Happy New Year!” before yelling out the number of a different year or “Happy Birthday!” [or sometimes, “Happy Birthday, Alex!”] to indicate he has aged another year as he remembers various events. Ironically, Alex isn’t very happy when he says these two comments, and hearing them out of context is a bit disconcerting.

3. “I’m sorry!” While one would think apologizing is a nice social skill we’ve taught Alex, when he uses this phrase, he’s not really sorry. In fact, he’s probably fairly irritated. Yelled in a sarcastic tone, Alex’s “I’m sorry” is the equivalent of saying, “I’m sorry that I have such losers for parents who can’t figure out why I’m so upset by this seemingly small irritation.” Our usual response to him is, “I’m sorry, too, Alex,” which often means, “I’m sorry that you’re so upset by the stupidest things.”

2. “Need to pee in the potty!” For years, we would have been thrilled to hear Alex say this phrase because he was so difficult to potty train. Now he uses this phrase to attempt to manipulate us. When he’s in meltdown mode, we insist that he sit until he’s calm. Trying to escape our imposed time-out, Alex thinks that telling us he needs to use the bathroom will allow him to get away from us. Smarter than we look, we assure him that he can wait to use the bathroom until he’s calm.

1.“Done arguing now.” This phrase is one Alex recently started using, and the wording is totally his own. Knowing that Alex’s meltdowns stem from anxiety, we have never referred to them as “arguing.” After he has listed his grievances, he has learned to calm down and seems to know that he’s done with the meltdown. This self-awareness signifies a developmental leap for him. We hope the next step is learning to calm himself before the meltdown ever occurs.

Although 2011 offered many challenges in terms of Alex’s development and behavior, we look forward to 2012 with hope that he’ll continue to learn and improve. Perhaps a year from now these utterances said in frustration will be a faint memory as his anxiety fades, allowing all three of us to enjoy a peaceful life. Wishing everyone a 2012 filled with many blessings!

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13