Sunday, October 30, 2016

Facing the Future

Last week, I read two very sweet and uplifting Key Ministry blog entries written by mothers of children with Down Syndrome. While both essays express concerns for their children’s future, they also acknowledge the hope we have, knowing that God will provide for our needs. In “Worried About Your Child’s Future? Pray for Daily Bread,” Gillian Marchenko explains that people ask her if her special needs children will ever live on their own or if they will always live at home with her. [To read this essay, please click here.] She herself asks the question, “What will it be like to care for adults with disabilities as opposed to young children?”

As she considers this uncertainty about the future, she remembers the line from The Lord’s Prayer that her family recites daily: “Give us this day our daily bread.” She notes, “There is no way I can parent today without the daily strength God graciously gives…The only way to parent is day by day.” She concludes her essay, stating, “That’s how the future questions will resolve.”

Similarly, Ellen Stumbo addresses a major question parents of special needs children ask in her essay, “Will Our Daughter with Down Syndrome Live with Us Forever?” [To read this essay, please click here.] As she notes, “…who thinks about their child moving out on the day they’re born?” However, with the realization that her child’s life will be different, she candidly admits, “I was immediately wondering if she would ever live independently, if she would ever get married, if she would ever have a job.” Over time, she realizes, “I really, really enjoy my daughter.” Describing the sweet moments she and her husband share with this precious daughter, she comes to the conclusion: “So what if she lives with us forever?”

As the mother of a young adult with autism, I, too, have dealt with the concerns of taking care of an adult with special needs and wondered if and when he will be able to live on his own someday. In a little over a month, he will turn twenty-five, and people who don’t know our situation will ask if he still lives at home with us or lives in a group home for disabled adults. Even people who do know our situation will ask if and when he will move to a group home. Because of changes in how state funding is allocated for people with disabilities, he won’t be moving out anytime soon. However, Ed and I are perfectly fine with that. To borrow a line from Ellen Stumbo, we really, really enjoy our son.

To be truthful, I sometimes wonder how age will affect my ability to take care of Alex, performing the grooming tasks he cannot perform for himself. As I sit on the floor to clip his toenails, I’m thankful that I’m still limber enough at my age to sit cross-legged on the bathroom floor and lift myself up to standing position when I’m done. When I twist and turn my hand and head daily to make sure I have carefully shaved Alex’s face without any nicks or whiskers left behind, I’m thankful my hands are still nimble. As I help him get dressed every day, lifting his shirt onto the top of his head that towers nine inches over the top of my own head, I’m thankful that somehow God has given me the strength and energy to take care of my six-foot tall son. On those days I worry about how much longer I’ll be able to do these tasks for Alex, I watch Ed, who is ten years older than I am, perform similar caregiver tasks, and know that I don’t have to think about those things for at least ten more years.

When I am tempted to be overwhelmed by all the things I need to do for Alex or to fret about what lies ahead in our future, I have to remember to take things one day at a time, or, as Gillian Marchenko describes, “to parent day by day.” To calm myself, I often repeat aloud the scripture Philippians 4:13, which is posted on my refrigerator as a reminder: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Moreover, I often think about the worries of the past and realize that either they never came to pass or they resolved themselves over time. For example, Alex has pectus excavatum, a condition in which his breastbone dips down on his chest. When he was little, his pediatrician scared the daylights out of me, telling us that if it became worse, he could face a grueling surgery to fix the breastbone so that it didn’t press on his heart and lungs. Thankfully, that never came to pass, and the dip has become less pronounced over time. Nonetheless, I spent countless and useless hours worrying about a surgery we would not have to face.

Other concerns have taken care of themselves in time. For a long time, we wondered if Alex would ever be able to sleep through the night, but eventually we all were able to enjoy peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. Often when I awaken at my usual time in the morning, I thank God that Alex slept through the night, remembering the many nights he awakened and needed us to settle him back to sleep. For many years, we questioned if he’d ever be toilet trained, and eventually, he learned to use the bathroom independently and consistently. In fact, his main bathroom concern currently is that we always have enough toilet paper, and he gives us daily reports on how low the roll is running.

Perhaps the main question I have asked throughout the years has been, “Will our lives ever be normal?” After dealing with Alex’s developmental delays and anxiety and unpredictable behavior, we thought that we might never enjoy the peace and calm of “normal” life. However, because he has made such good progress, we are able to enjoy a more “normal” life than we thought possible, going to restaurants, concerts, and sporting events as a family. Last week during our quarterly meeting with Alex’s support team, as we told about the various activities he enjoys, his case manager remarked that Alex has more fun than anyone she knows. She’s right, and since he’s having fun, so are we.

As I look forward to the future, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know when Alex will be able to live independently or how long he will live at home with us. At this point, Ed and I are delighted to have him home with us, enjoying the fruits of our labors to make him into the pleasant young man he has become. Moreover, we know that God has plans for him and trust that He will guide us in making any future decisions. Perhaps the greatest guide for handling the uncertainties of the future has been watching Alex, who doesn’t fret too much about his future, other than wondering how he can manage to fit in his schedule all the things he wants to do. In many ways, Alex is like the lilies of the field that Jesus describes in Matthew 6:28: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” Alex trusts that God and Ed and I will always take care of him, so he need not worry about the future. If he can be that faithful, so can I. Besides, we’re having too much fun right now and don’t need worry to spoil any of that.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Next Year Is Here

“As sure as God made green apples, someday, the Chicago Cubs are gonna be in a World Series.”~longtime Cubs announcer, the late Harry Carray, 1991

Last night, we, like thousands of other Chicago Cubs baseball fans, watched in delight as our favorite team won the National League Pennant for the first time since 1945. This victory was especially sweet for Cubs fans after many years of drought when our team simply could not get their act together. Having only won World Series titles more than a century ago in 1907 and 1908, under manager Frank Chance, who also played first base as part of the famed Tinkers to Evers to Chance double play trio, the Cubs have earned their nickname, “the lovable losers.”

Despite the Cubs having little success in the past post-season games, Chicago Cubs fans are known as the most loyal in baseball. Taking losses in stride, they are often quoted as saying at the end of every disappointing season, “Wait ‘til next year.” However, this year’s Cubs team with its depth of talent has allowed Cubs fans to proclaim, “Next year is here!”

As a baseball fan growing up in New York City, Ed became accustomed to cheering for teams who enjoyed consistent success, unlike the Cubs. In the past fifty years, the New York Mets have earned five National League Pennants and won two World Series. Even better known is the New York Yankees dynasty that has won forty American League Pennants and twenty-seven World Series. After moving here to the Midwest more than thirty years ago, Ed couldn’t understand the complacency of Cubs fans, who simply shrugged off losses and waited for next year. He has frequently remarked that New York fans would never let their baseball teams off the hook so easily and wondered why Chicago Cubs fans take losing in stride.

Growing up as a Cubs fan in the era of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo, I adopted that same “Wait ‘til next year” mantra, figuring that someday the Cubs would eventually put together everything they needed to be a winning team. Alex, whose interest in the Cubs has been especially strong the past two years, also took on the typical Cubs attitude of not being upset about losses and just enjoying wins as they came along. Fortunately, the Cubs of his generation––Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Jake Arietta––aren’t carrying the team alone and are backed by teammates of equal and perhaps even potentially greater talent. However, throughout the season, he took losses in stride, noting,  “Sometimes they lose, and sometimes they win, just like the stock market goes up and down.”

Perhaps the attitude of the Cubs fans that Ed sees as complacent is actually an eternal optimism that things will get better. Moreover, the tenacity Cubs fans show in continuing to support a losing team is something to be admired as loyalty rather than scorned as foolishness. As someone who believes that all experiences in life have some valuable lesson, I believe that being a Cubs fan has been good preparation for being an autism mom. Through the years, I learned to deal with disappointment that things didn’t turn out as planned, and I learned the value of having to wait patiently for good things to happen. Moreover, the slogan, “Wait ‘til next year” developed an optimistic attitude in me that things will get better in time along with an eternal hope for the future.

Just as the Cubs have enjoyed one of their best seasons ever, Alex has been coming into his best season ever, too. In recent months, we have watched him make progress in small ways that signal he is putting behind losses to work toward victory. From the improved fine motor skills that allow him to hang up his jacket without any help to his being able to string together compound-complex sentences with perfect syntax and meaning to walking confidently with his head up straight and his arms at his sides, Alex shows signs of healing.

In addition, he has learned to deal with the intense anxiety that plagues him so that he can not become overwhelmed by changes in plans that used to upset him and so that he can be truly content instead of fretting over little things that used to bother him. For example, earlier in the week, I could see that he was becoming anxious one afternoon, even though he didn’t express his upset in ranting or aggressive behaviors as he once did. He seemed pensive and suddenly asked to take a bath, which is what soothes him when he’s overwhelmed. I asked him what was upsetting him, and he began to shake, but calmly told me he had a difficult decision: whether to watch the Cubs game or the Presidential debate. While this kind of dilemma could have sent him into a meltdown in the past, he used the calming skills his behavioral therapist has taught him.

After discussing his various options of taping one program or the other or switching back and forth between the two shows, he decided upon taping the debate while watching the game. However, he was able to add another option as he watched the debate on the computer while watching the game on television. What impressed us most, however, was not his ability to multitask, but his ability to resolve an internal conflict by reasonably discussing his options and never escalating his anxiety. After a few minutes of talking, he stopped shaking, was content with his choice, and didn’t even need the soothing bath, after all. He proved that he, too, has become a winner, overcoming obstacles autism has presented him. Believing in Alex, just like believing in the Cubs, has paid off, and I am enjoying the fruits of my tenacity and optimism as well as God's goodness, celebrating victory that is even sweeter than I anticipated. Go Cubs! Go Alex!

“For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:3

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Curing Autism

Last month, Autism Speaks, perhaps the best-known autism organization, revised its mission statement for the first time since it began in 2005. As Michelle Diament notes in the article “Autism Speaks No Longer Seeking Cure” in the October 14, 2016, edition of Disability Scoop, “one notable objective is no more.” [To read this online article, please click here.] Even though Autism Speaks merged with Cure Autism Now in 2007, the new mission statement eliminates the goal of curing autism.

The previous mission statement asserted: “We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism.” The revised mission statement instead mentions, “advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorders and related conditions.” An Autism Speaks board member explains the reason for the change: “…the organization grew to believe that autism is something to be worked with for promoting fulfilling and productive lives of people on the spectrum––rather than something that has to be done to.” I suspect this references the neurodiversity movement in which some adults with autism see the condition as simply a variation of brain wiring and convey resentment that autism is viewed as a disease to be cured. Sadly, most people with autism lack the language skills to be able to express how they feel, and many of them deal with debilitating conditions that exist with autism, including anxiety, seizure disorders, and digestive issues.

Whether Autism Speaks is bowing to the pressure of a small percentage of people with autism or whether they are abandoning a crucial and worthy pursuit, this organization is not using its extensive financial resources in ways that would be most beneficial to families dealing with autism. However, they are not the only ones failing to use their funding wisely. The National Institutes of Health, an American government agency that oversees billions of dollars for medical research, wastes money every year on autism research that is essentially worthless.

In her Age of Autism October 13, 2016, article “2015 NIH Autism Grants­––Why We Are Making NO Progress,” Katie Wright provides extensive data regarding how the National Institutes of Health allocate autism research funding. [To read this article, please click here.] Ironically, Katie Wright’s parents started Autism Speaks when her son was diagnosed with autism. However, she has been critical of the organization and its focus on genetic research instead of environmental research.

In this article, she notes that despite nearly $200 million dollars spent annually by the NIH on autism research, after nearly a decade, no real progress has been made in finding a cause. Of this amount, the primary research money is spent on genetics and brain imaging studies with only a fraction of research funding––$8 million––being spent on environmental studies with regard to autism. Additionally, she notes that twenty percent of these environmental studies focus upon foreign countries, such as Finland, Denmark, Korea, and Jamaica, none of which has helped to determine causes of autism in American children.

In addition, she notes that the National Institutes of Health spend five times as much research funding on behavioral intervention as biomedical intervention, even though many children and adults with autism also deal with serious autoimmune and gastrointestinal issues as well as seizures. Moreover, many of the behavioral studies duplicate previous research and have nothing new to offer. As she concludes, “There has been little to no return for autism families or the taxpayer from this research.” Considering the increasing rates of autism and the costs of taking care of these children potentially all of their lives, everyone should be concerned about how taxpayer money is being wasted on research that is not producing, nor even likely to produce, a cure for autism.

Recently, The Atlantic published an article entitled “The Dangers of Snake-Oil Treatments for Autism” describing how parents of children with autism seek various nontraditional methods to help their children. [To read this article, please click here.] Author Alisa Opar focuses upon autism mom Ariane Zurcher’s desperate attempts to help her daughter, Emma, by pursuing a wide variety of interventions. According to Emma, only occupational therapy was beneficial. Her mother has embraced neurodiversity, stating, “My entire focus changed. Instead of fighting against Emma’s neurology and trying to cure this heinous disorder, I started finding ways to help her flourish.”

The author notes that 88% of children with autism are treated with alternative therapies, which she describes as having “no scientific evidence to support these purported benefits” as well as few being “adequately tested for safety or efficacy” with some being “downright dangerous.” Furthermore, she states, “These unproven treatments do not come cheap, and some are harmful.” In this article, parents who pursue alternative therapies are portrayed as desperate, gullible, and ignorant. For example, she states, “For most parents, who have little understanding of how science is done, wading through claims about alternative treatments can be befuddling.” Additionally, she quotes clinical psychologist Catherine Lord, who describes autism research as “probably very confusing for parents.”

However, the article also provides clues as to why parents seek alternative therapies. Columbia University psychiatry professor and child and adolescent psychiatrist Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele is quoted: “We do not have treatments that relate in any way to what causes autism spectrum disorder, or that really relate to what’s happening in the brain.” Moreover, the author states, “The list of treatments with a solid evidence basis is short.” Perhaps if the NIH funded better research and Autism Speaks rededicated its focus and funding toward curing autism, more treatments would be available to parents.

We parents who have pursued alternative therapies, such as sensory integration, chelation, special diets, nutritional supplements, cranialsacral therapy, and other interventions we believed would help and not harm our children with autism, had to do something to make our kids better. We could not wait around for traditional medicine to come up with treatments that may be as “downright dangerous” (such as the FDA-approved medication Risperdal) as alternative treatments are purported to be.

Until a cure for autism is found––and I believe that not only will a cure be found but also that parents will be crucial in finding that cure––parents need to keep searching for safe ways to help make our children better. We cannot rely upon Autism Speaks nor the National Institutes for Health nor conventional medicine, all of which have failed our kids miserably. In the meantime, I keep praying for the day that the cure for autism will come and strive to keep Alex as healthy as possible, knowing that with God, all things are possible.

“Lord, Your discipline is good, for it leads to life and health. You restore my health and allow me to live!” Isaiah 38:16

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Learning to Serve; Serving to Learn

One of Alex’s current favorite activities is going out to eat at restaurants. Because his behavior has improved significantly over the past few years, he has been able to enjoy these outings at least once or twice a week. In fact, we use dinners at restaurants as a reward for good behavior, and this offer motivates him to be cooperative. He doesn’t need anything fancy; he’s happy with any family-style restaurant whose menu offers food he can eat on his gluten-free and dairy-free diet. Fortunately, most of the places we take him offer excellent service. Moreover, he’s become such a regular in some restaurants that they know him by name and remember that root beer is his beverage of choice.

On Friday and Saturday we had completely contrasting experiences at two different family restaurants we visited. At our favorite Friday spot, the waitress greeted Alex by name, kept his glass filled with root beer, and provided the usual excellent service this restaurant consistently offers. However, on Saturday, the waitress mixed up Alex’s root beer with my Coca-Cola, forgot to bring one of Ed’s side dishes, and had to be asked repeatedly for beverage refills, despite the signs at every booth proclaiming “Endless Refills” on soft drinks. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the poor customer service was that she really didn’t seem to care, nor did she apologize for keeping people waiting. Needless to say, we will probably cross that restaurant off our list of possible places to take Alex.

Perhaps I’m more observant about how restaurants treat their customers because I worked as a waitress at a well-run family-owned restaurant all the while I was in college. The owners expected their staff to give the best service to customers and trained us well. Looking back on that experience, I realize that many of the skills I learned then in my late teens and early twenties have proven valuable to my life as an autism mom.

First, keep people happy and updated while they wait. As a waitress, that means keeping coffee warm with frequent top-offs from the coffee pot and refilling soft drinks as needed. In addition, if the kitchen is taking a long time to prepare the food, reassure the customers that their meal should be ready soon. As an autism mom, I know that keeping Alex happy while he waits someplace often involves a snack and a beverage, as well as distracting him with conversation or something to read, and reassuring him that the wait won’t be much longer.

Next, check in frequently to make sure things are going well, but don’t hover. A good waitress makes sure the order is correct when delivering the food, but still returns a few minutes later in case the customers realize they need something, such as steak sauce. Throughout the meal, the waitress should be available in the vicinity of where the customers are seated, but without making them feel that they are being stalked. As an autism mom, I have to keep an eye on what Alex is doing and be available if he needs my assistance, but I also have to let him do things on his own. When he’s had enough of my presence, he’s not above letting me know, as he used to tell me, “Mommy is leaving now!”

While attending to needs, don’t waste steps. A waitress with a coffee pot in hand should offer to refill all of the customers’ coffee cups instead of running back and forth between the coffeemaker and the booths. We were taught never to have empty hands. If we weren’t carrying food or a coffee pot, we were to be picking up menus or emptied plates. This efficient busyness was terrific training for my life as an autism mom, where I multitask most of the day to keep things rolling smoothly for Alex.

In addition, as a waitress I was taught to remain calm, even during the busiest times. Invariably, on hectic weekend evenings, the food for several tables would be ready at the same time, yet my job was to take the time to give the best service while making sure the food didn’t sit too long before being taken to the tables. At times, I felt overwhelmed and wanted to cry or go running out of the restaurant; however, I could not get rattled. Similarly, my role as an autism mom requires me to be able to juggle several things at the same time while never letting Alex know I’m under stress. If he senses that I’m upset, he will become upset, too, so it’s to my advantage to stay calm at all times.

Another lesson I learned as a waitress was the old adage, “The customer is always right.” Even when the customer was actually wrong, we were instructed to keep them happy. Occasionally, that meant taking unfair accusations from people, but that was also good training for my later life as an autism mom. During meltdowns when Alex has falsely accused me of making a mistake or saying something I didn’t say, I know to let him think he’s right until he calms down.

Probably the most valuable thing I learned as a waitress was to apologize, even if it was not my fault. Everyone makes mistakes, and the ability to admit the errors and to say, “I’m sorry” usually helps smooth a situation.  I found that most customers quickly got over their upset when I genuinely apologized for something that went wrong. As an autism mom, I apologize often to Alex: “I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you.” or “I’m sorry we don't have any; we need to go to the store to get more.” or “I’m sorry that you’re not happy.”  In turn, Alex has learned to admit his mistakes and to apologize quickly. Apologizing shows an acknowledgement of the other person’s frustration, disappointment, or anger and strives to make the situation better. Unfortunately, apologizing seems to be a social nicety that some people lack, but I’m pleased that Alex realizes the value of saying, “I’m sorry.”

Looking back on my experiences of waiting tables, I recognize that God used my first job as training for the most important job of my life: being Alex’s mom. Although being able to balance dinner for four on my arms without a tray is a pretty neat trick, what’s more impressive is how God knew what I would need years later and allowed me to learn in unexpected ways. By learning to serve others, to multitask, to remain calm under pressure, and to deal with people who are upset, I was better prepared for the challenges of parenting a child with autism. The longer I live and the more I experience, I realize that everything has a purpose, even when we don’t see it at the time.

“God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” I Peter 4:10

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Flu Shots: Some Facts to Consider

Flu season hasn’t even officially started yet, and already I’m tired of seeing and hearing all the ads urging people to get flu shots. Last week while I was on the phone refilling Ed’s blood pressure medicine, my thyroid medicine, and Alex’s anxiety meds, I had to listen to the pharmacies’ pleas to get our flu shots right away, especially since they are “free.” In fact, I’ve seen some places offering gift cards as an enticement to customers to get flu shots at their stores. In addition, my friendly and well-meaning pharmacist eagerly offered to give me a flu shot when I was picking up refills. I declined then, as I also did during my regular thyroid check when my doctor offered one. I don’t do flu shots anymore.

When I was younger, I received annual flu shots, fearing that my job as a middle school teacher put me more at risk for exposure to the flu. Some students feel the need to stand very close to me as they share their fears of illness along with their germs before I send them to the school nurse. Unlike other jobs where a person just calls in sick, teachers must construct elaborate lesson plans for substitute teachers, even when we are half-dead with illness. In addition, taking care of Alex requires that I always be at my best. Consequently, I can’t get sick. I used to think that flu shots were a good way to avoid illness. However, after Alex was diagnosed with autism and I was diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, I began researching ways to make both of us healthier. My research led me to conclude that flu shots were not the answer for us.

Before getting a flu shot this year, I would suggest researching and considering the following factors.

Limited Effectiveness: This year, the Centers for Disease Control has decided that the nasal version of the flu vaccine should not be given because it is ineffective. This vaccine that contains a live weakened form of the virus is usually preferred for children who do not like getting shots. However this year, it was found to have an effectiveness rate of only three percent. While the shot version of the flu vaccine performs better, the CDC admits that various factors hinder making the shot effective, such as predicting which strains of flu will be present in the coming season. Consequently, they predict that flu shots will be effective in only fifty to sixty percent of the people who have them. Those are not impressive odds.

Side Effects: Before getting a flu shot, patients should consider the potential risks. The package insert for the flu vaccine lists serious adverse effects that have occurred after flu shots. These conditions include the blood disorder thrombocytopenia (a blood platelet disorder that can cause serious bleeding), immune system reactions such as anaphylactic shock, nervous system disorders including convulsions and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, vascular disorders that can involve the kidneys, along with skin and other disorders, such as cellulitis and “influenza-like illness.” In trying to prevent the flu, a patient at worst can become sicker from the vaccine or even die, or at least have the same symptoms of flu. Patients should also be aware that “no interaction studies have been performed on interaction between influenza vaccines in general and other vaccines or medications.” In other words, no one has bothered to test whether mixing flu vaccines with other vaccines or medications is dangerous or not.

Ingredients: The package insert for the flu vaccine gives pause for thought, too, in listing the ingredients found in flu vaccines. The least concerning component is sucrose (sugar), and ovalbumin, or albumin from egg whites seems harmless, except for those with egg allergies. Hence, those with egg allergies are usually warned not to get flu shots. In addition, people with allergies to antibiotics should also be concerned because the shot contain the antibiotics neomycin sulfate, and polymyxin B. These shots also contain beta-propiolactone, which is considered a carcinogen, a potential cancer-causing agent. These ingredients occur in “residual amounts.” One should investigate the main ingredients, as well.

The vaccine insert lists ingredients that can be found and researched on Sodium chloride is used to supplement the body with fluids and can cause rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. Monobasic and dibasic sodium phosphate are both laxatives that can cause nausea and vomiting and should not be taken by people with kidney disease or who have had gastric bypass surgery. Potassium chloride is a mineral used to treat potassium deficiency and has similar side effects to sodium phosphate. Patients with kidney disease and the autoimmune disorder Addison’s disease are warned not to use potassium chloride. Another mineral, calcium chloride, can cause nervous system and cardiovascular side effects. Monobasic potassium phosphate, which controls the amount of calcium in the body, can cause dizziness and vomiting and should not be taken by people with kidney disease. Sodium taurodeoxycholate is listed as a bile acid and an irritant. Injecting any of these compounds could be problematic, aggravating previous health issues and potentially causing new ones. In addition, most flu shots contain thimerosal, which contains mercury, a heavy metal toxin harmful to the nervous system. In fact, we had to use chelation therapy with Alex because he suffered from mercury poisoning, probably caused by his childhood vaccines in the 1990's. Thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, yet flu shots continue to use this compound as a preservative.

What led me to research flu shots in greater detail was a letter Alex recently received from our pharmacy encouraging him to get a flu shot. The letter also contained a vaccine screening form with several questions that made me question how safe the flu vaccine really is. In addition to questions about various allergies and immune system issues, Question #10 asks: “Have you ever had a seizure disorder for which you are on seizure medication, a brain disorder, Guillain-Barre Syndrome or other nervous system problems?” Thanks to autism, the answer to that question is a big resounding “YES.”

After the questionnaire, the form provides fine print legalese in which the patient agrees to understanding all the potential risks of the vaccine and releases the pharmacy from any legal responsibility for any damage the shot may cause. The final line should give a person pause for thought: “I understand and agree that I will not be able to sue [the person who administered the shot and the pharmacy] for any injury or property damage I may suffer as a result of the immunization.” Essentially, you take a risk, and they incur no responsibility.

Consequently, Alex and I will not be getting flu shots this year or likely ever. His neurological issues associated with autism and my autoimmune issues put us at risk for complications. Besides, I don’t like the idea of being injected with questionable compounds, and the limited effectiveness of the vaccines makes it not worth the gamble, even if it is free. Another pharmacy we use offered helpful suggestions for staying healthy during flu season: wash your hands; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially in public; get plenty of sleep; be active; drink plenty of water; and manage stress. While they also suggested getting a flu shot, Alex and I will skip that tip, follow their other guidelines, and take vitamin D-3 as recommended by our doctors. In addition, we will follow the 3 P’s for good health my retired internist once shared with me: proper nutrition, plenty of rest, and prayer. Armed with those, we trust God will keep us safe and healthy.

“Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You.” Psalms 25:5