Tuesday, August 13, 2013

School bells and Neurofeedback!

So school is almost back in for us down here in the south and some have already ventured back this week. I'm not going to lie, by the time August hits, I am counting down the days until school like my kids do with Christmas.  I am that mom who shimmy's back up to her house after the bus pulls away and sits on my front porch for that first cup of tea and silence after a long busy summer with two boys *bliss*.

Our summer isn't typical.  Yes, we go to the pool, we cook out, we go on vacations and we meet up with friends, but we also run back and forth to therapy at least three times a week and have meeting updates on Aidan's progress with doctors in addition to keeping up with reading, writing and math.  I believe summer is much more busy for me than the actual school year.

Over the summer Aidan was doing  interactive metronome therapy (IMT).  He has completed 30 sessions and has plateaued.  Did we see a difference?  Yes, we definitely did see a lot of progress and improvement. The area where we saw the biggest gains was sports.  I know that seems like something that wouldn't be important to some people, but to an 11 year old boy who wants to play on a team with everyone else it means the world. He began playing flag football when we first began IM therapy and it was not pretty.  We almost pulled him out but we decided to let him stick it out.  By the end of the season he was named the most improved player. He was catching the football a lot more, throwing more accurately and his response time was a lot better. Best of all, he began to feel better about himself.  His improved timing and coordination carried over to his overall tasks at home.  He didn't seem as clumsy anymore and his movements began to appear more fluid.

However, IM  plateaued which we knew it would.  Right now we just began neurofeedback therapy (NFT). We are hoping this is another step in the right direction to recovery.  Aidan appears to be on the verge of breaking through to complete recovery but isn't quite there yet.  He had one session so far of NFT and afterwards he seemed a little tired, but nothing worrisome.  By the time we got home, he perked right back up and was fine.  At this point Aidan appears more ADHD than ASD, although you can still see some quirks pop up here and there that reminds us of his ASD lurking in there, such as covering his ears when he gets overwhelmed.  In addition to NFT, he is undergoing a Spectracell blood test tomorrow morning to check for any intracellular vitamin deficiencies along with the MTHFR test.  I will definitely post those results when I get them back.  I am figuring 2 weeks.

Much love...xoxo

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pets and Autism

How great are pets?  I mean really, they are probably one of the few creatures besides our children that love us back endlessly no matter what.  That kind of unconditional love is so hard to come by these days and so comforting as well.  If you have a bad day, or don't feel well, or are sad or lonely, a pet can do amazing things for your state of mind.  In fact, it has already been proven that pet owners live longer and happier lives than those without pets and are healthier.

Another wonderful perk of having a pet is if you have a child with Autism.  There was an article that caught my eye in the beginning of the year in the Huffington Post about children with ASD and pets.  A study had been done on 99 children ages 5-13. Some of the children had autism and some did not.  Researchers observed the children playing with toys and interacting with their class pet; a guinea pig.  What they discovered was incredible.

"When they were with the guinea pigs, the children with autism were more likely to talk and look at their peers than when they were with the toys, which included dolls, art supplies and Beyblade tops. They were also more open to their fellow students approaching them and were less likely to cry or whine".

"Children with autism engaged in 55 percent more social behaviors when they were with the animals, compared to toys...the amount they smiled more than doubled".

We have two dogs, Alaska (Toy American Eskimo) and Havana (Havanese).  What is interesting is that I have heard so many people say that their ASD kids simply weren't really into their pets.  I can say first hand that we had experienced that with Aidan.  While he loved Alaska he was never "attached" to her the way most kids are to their dogs.  We figured he just wasn't "that into her" and it was simply part of his ASD. Then, we got Havana when she was 12 weeks old in June of 2011.  Amazingly, he took to her right away. He wanted to pick her up and hold her which was honestly a bit awkward for him at first.  You could literally see the uncertainty of him getting comfortable with holding her close and actually "showing" affection.  After a while it got more natural for him and he no longer looks like he is trying so hard (those with Aspies know exactly what I am talking about).  Soon after that, about a few months, Aidan started to spontaneously say "I love you"  to me and Scott before he would go to bed;  usually we would have to be the one's to initiate it first.  It was quite remarkable and he has maintained that pattern for a year now.

Aidan acknowledges both dogs daily now, and pets them several times a day and always every morning when he first see's them. They have grown accustomed to cuddling up beside him when he is engaged in an intense Minecraft game on the couch.  We have tasked him with giving Alaska and Havana food and water daily as part of his chores, which has been very rewarding for him.  He gets attacked with jumps and licks on a daily basis and loves it!

Of course, as we know, each kiddo is different and not all will respond the same, but it was interesting to see this unexpectedly unfold in front of us.  I feel his age also has a lot to do with it since we are seeing so much development as he gets older and moves closer to his teenage years.  So if you can have a pet join your family, you may get some unexpected leaps in bounds in your child as an added bonus.

Alaska & Havana

Much love...xoxo

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rx for Laughter!

They say laughter is the best medicine and let me tell you, it sure is. Of course it helps when you have a best friend who not only has been a stand up comic in NYC but who also shares your sarcasm. I'm also fortunate to have a quick witted hubby who keeps me chuckling.  Over the past decade laughter has pretty much been my lifeline through this journey.  Of course not everything is a comedic matter, but those times when things are just so chaotic and crazy there is nothing else you can do but laugh!

Every day we wake up with a decision of what we will do with our day and every night we have the opportunity to reflect on our choices. As I sit here writing this on vacation, I am fortunate enough to be watching my two children and husband play and laugh loudly in the ocean on Hilton Head Island. I can't help but to reflect back to a time when we weren't sure Aidan would ever be able to play and interact the way he does now. Seeing his progress and knowing how far he has come creates overwhelming feelings of happiness, joy and more love than I thought possible. 

The day has just begun but I know tonight while Scott and I spend time together after the boys are in bed and chat over a glass of wine (or two), we will look back on today with smiles and fond memories. It has been a long road with many ups and downs but we are seeing that light at the end of the tunnel.  Happiness has never felt so good.  Time to stop and savor it.  We're getting there!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Vacationing with an ASD child

So, we are currently living it up and taking in the beautiful island of Hilton Head.  We are fortunate to live a mere 3.5 hours away so frequent trips are the norm.  There is nothing like the summer time crowd though, as it is filled with so much hustle and bustle and the sounds of laughter and excitement.  I love crowds and chaos so "in season" is ironically the most peaceful time for me.  Could this be from adapting to life with autism?  Probably.

We are a "go, go, go" type of family.  Two boys will do that to you and we NEVER adhere to a schedule.  We are literally making up the day as it goes which works for us.  While we haven't come close to completing our vacation I thought I would share a few things we have done so far to anyone who is thinking of heading this way for vacay.

Dining options are kind of limited unfortunately for ASD kids.  There aren't too many places that have "safe" foods although I do have to say I have started to see more gluten free options available.  However, vegan options are very scarce, so if you have a child like mine who is casein free, you will be hard pressed to find a lot of dessert options.  I have found however, gluten free only desserts at a few places, one being at The Quarterdeck in Harbour Town that looked delish!  Luckily there is a Publix nearby so I did my grocery shopping there and was able to buy plenty of food for Aidan in addition to the food I packed from home.  There is also a Piggly Wiggly right across the street, but options are extremely limited.

Finding activities isn't as hard as finding after dinner desserts though!  The beach is a great activity if your child is up to it.  We are on North Forest Beach, down two blocks from Coligny so while there is a good amount of people it isn't overwhelming and everyone is spread out pretty well.  I personally love this activity because both kids are wiped out by the time dinner comes and they both sleep like rocks. Score!

Today we went on a dolphin tour which was amazing!  The tour is 1.5 hours and while there are MANY tours in Hilton Head that do this, the one we chose was on a very large boat complete with restrooms, snacks, drinks and an inside cabin.  Many others that I looked at were on much smaller boats with no restroom;  a disaster for any parent with a child.  Here is a link http://www.vagabondcruise.com/.  They offer many other cruises as well such as sunset cruises, a fireworks cruise and a children's cruise.  Here is a pic of the boys on board our dolphin cruise where we saw many dolphins swimming!  The captain was very calm and narrated the trip well.  There were no loud noises or over stimulation at all.  Very pleasant!

Miniature golf is also on our list along with a trip to Savannah (my favorite city) and an adventure in kayaking.  Will update on those places in a few days!

Much love...xoxo

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Supplements are a part of virtually any child's life who is living with ASD.  Parents know this all too well, as well as their bank accounts, because unlike prescription medications, supplements are not covered by insurance and are not cheap.

People often ask me what I give Aidan on a daily basis so I thought I would gather it all together here for those who are curious or for those who are just starting out on this journey to get a visual.  I have to preface this by saying the following:

*No, I do not work, volunteer or know anyone who works at any of these companies
*These were supplements I was advised to get from our DAN! doctor that are specific to the issues with Aidan
*I am in NO WAY telling you to give these to your child/ren.  Your child will need to be assessed by his/her own doctor to find what is the best fit for them
*ALWAYS talk to your doctor before starting any herb, supplement or vitamin.  Just because these are over the counter does NOT mean they are always safe.

If you decide to start supplements after talking to your doctor, do not buy them from the grocery store or chain drug store.  You need to go to a health food store to get quality products. Here is a pic of his daily lineup: (sorry for the stretched photo.  I will never claim to be tech savvy)

Starting from the left we have:
Chelated Magnesium Glycinate by Bluebonnet
Efalex (EFA) by Efamol
Ther-biotic Complete by Klaire Labs (Probiotic)
Tri-Enza w/DPP IV Activity (Digestive Enzyme)
Vitamin D3 by Carlson Labs
Folic Acid by vitmain shoppe
L-Theanine (Suntheanine) by Enzymatic

It seems like a lot doesn't it?  I have friends who actually dwarf me in supplements, but like I said above, each child is different.  Some may need more, some less.  Many people also give a good all around multivitamin but every time I give one to Aidan he gets more hyper and agitated so we leave that one out.

I break his regimen up throughout the day.  The morning seems to be the biggest dose.
A.M. -Magnesium, Efalex, Probiotic, D3 and L-Theanine
Afternoon- L-Theanine and Folic acid
P.M.- Efalex, L-Theanine, Magnesium

Now, you may have noticed the digestive enzyme is missing.  I give this as needed with meals.  The enzyme helps his body absorb the nutrients from the food he is eating and since it is given with meals, the times vary.  When we go out to eat, which is rare because it is so hard to get "safe" food at restaurants, I always take it with me and give it to him before he puts even a crumb of food in his mouth.  I have to say, this enzyme got rave reviews from my friends and I have not been disappointed.  I even take one myself when we go out to eat because I stick to a pretty strict diet and different cooking/food doesn't always agree.  Another alternative for a digestive enzyme is Digest Gold which is also effective and works well.

So there you have it.  All in all it isn't too bad.  It is amazing what you get used to after years of doing the same routine.  Have I seen a difference?  Yes.  Did it cure anything?  No.  If I had that pill I would honestly share it with everyone for free, but so far I have not found it.  What these supplements have done is helped Aidan's concentration, focus and moods.  When Aidan was younger and non-verbal, EFA's helped with language and eye contact and reduced quirks like random clapping in sequences of three and sensory issues.  Supplements are supplements.  They supplement the therapy that we are doing, the work his teachers are doing, the work that we are doing and most importantly, the work that Aidan is doing.

Much love...xoxo

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Food dyes-Red and Yellow and Blue, OH MY!

Food dyes.  They are the bane of my existence.  When I pick up a product in the grocery store and read the ingredient list, I take it very personally when I see red 40, blue 1, yellow 5 etc...

It doesn't take a scientist to realize that artificial food dyes are harmful.  The fact that the word "artificial" is in the name should be your first tip off.  Food is not supposed to be colored.  I have yet see an apple produce an electric shade of blue on its own.  Instead, food manufacturers are "adding" this to our food to make it more "appealing". Instead though, they are creating a slew of problems such as hyperactivity, behavioral problems, migraines, tumors in rats, etc...

Aidan used to consume food dyes.  I'm not going to lie. I was once one of those parents who didn't read labels until I had to.  I knew something was wrong when Scott and I would notice Aidan in either a daze after ingesting food dyes or completely off the wall.  There were several times we had to leave restaurants and outings because his behavior was so out of control there was no way to contain it.  I remember watching him stand on the other side of the room and run, throwing himself into the couch over and over again.  This could go on easily for over an hour.  It was like his brain was short circuiting every which way and nothing we could do would help.  We literally had to ride it out with him.

After looking up his symptoms on Google, or as I like to say, Dr. Google, I came across a site for "The Feingold Diet".  Here is a link: http://www.feingold.org/  I devoured the information on the site and ordered the materials.  Now, I'm not advocating anyone buy anything, trust me, I know times are not great for a lot of people, but the information was invaluable.  If you can swing it, it's worth the investment.  They put out a new grocery list each year but I have been able to hang on to my copy for a lot longer than that.  I just ordered the newest version last year after 4 years of using the older version.

The diet is a guide to eating and buying foods without food dyes and preservatives (BHA,BHT).  There is also a section on salicylates, but for this blog we will stick to dyes.  So what should we do?  Well, first we need to know what these abbreviations, letters and numbers stand for and look like so we can avoid buying food containing them.  So here is a little crash course.
FD&C- Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics, Blue 1,Blue 2,Red 3,Red 40,Yellow 5,Yellow 6
Below is a snippet from the Center For Science in the Public Interest: http://cspinet.org/new/pdf/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf
Blue 1: was not found to be toxic in key rat and mouse studies, but an unpublished study suggested the possibility that Blue 1 caused kidney tumors in mice, and a preliminary in vitro study raised questions about possible effects on nerve cells. Blue 1 may not cause cancer, but confirmatory studies should be conducted. The dye can cause hypersensitivity reactions.
Blue 2: cannot be considered safe given the statistically significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. It should not be used in foods.
Red 3: was recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and  is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. All uses of Red 3 lakes (combinations of dyes and salts that are insoluble and used in low-moisture foods) are also banned. However, the FDA still permits Red 3 in ingested drugs and foods, with about 200,000 pounds of the dye being used annually. The FDA needs to revoke that approval. 
Red 40: the most-widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. The dye causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in a small number of consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. Considering the safety questions and its non-essentiality, Red 40 should be excluded from foods unless and until new tests clearly demonstrate its safety. 
Yellow 5: was not carcinogenic in rats, but was not adequately tested in mice. It may be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, Yellow 5 causes sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions in a small number of people and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. Posing some risks, while serving no nutritional or safety purpose, Yellow 5 should not be allowed in foods.
Yellow 6: caused adrenal tumors in animals, though that is disputed by industry and the
the FDA. It may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals and occasionally 
causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Yellow 6 adds an unnecessary risk to the food 

Now, I know that is scary.  I still shiver when I think how much of that stuff went into Aidan's body before I knew better.  However, the results we saw after we eliminated food dyes was nothing short of miraculous.  Within 2 weeks were were getting positive notes home from his teachers.  I remember one note said "I don't know what you did over winter break, but Aidan is doing wonderfully".  He still had some other issues, but we NEVER had another incident of couch tackling.  We were moving in the right direction.  To this day, I can tell when Aidan ingests food dye.  His behavior isn't what it was when he was younger, but he still becomes dazed, out of it and cries at the drop of a hat.  

So what's the cost of this food?  A lot of it is surprisingly affordable.  Things like lays chips are on the diet list as are a lot of other food you find in regular grocery stores.  However, if your kid is a poptart fan like mine is, you will have to fork over more money for organic.  I have found Trader Joe's to be the cheapest for these types of products.

So there you have it in a very condensed manner.  It really is worth checking out the Feingold Diet especially if you are new to an autism diagnosis and even ADHD. It's worth a try and it's good for your entire family, not just our affected children.

Much love....

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Interactive Metronome Therapy-Music to my ears!

So, I wanted to share the new therapy we are doing with Aidan called interactive metronome therapy.  It has been around for a while and has had great success in children with autism and adhd, but I was unaware of it until the fall of last year.  Better late than never, I say!

As you recall from previous posts, Aidan has a difficult time with coordination.  He had been diagnosed with developmental coordination disorder prior to his autism diagnosis.  His fine motor skills are less than ideal, making things like handwriting a horrible experience for him. Additionally, skills such as riding a bike, a scooter or a big wheel never came naturally.  He just could not do it. He didn't have the coordination or balance. Today, he still cannot ride a bike well, but has improved with his scooter.

Determined to get Aidan "balanced" so to speak, we started searching for therapies that would include some type of balance/coordination treatment.  Scott called me from work one day asking me to take a look at "Interactive Metronome Therapy", and I quickly obliged.  Here is a link: https://www.interactivemetronome.com/.

So what the heck is metronome therapy?  Well, it is a type of therapy that helps children and adults with neurological issues and poor motor function.  Here is a snippet from their website:

"IM is an assessment and treatment tool used by therapists and other professionals who work with pediatric and adult patients with neurological conditions that affect cognitive and motor functioning. IM provides an objective method for measuring deficits and for tracking improvement.

IM is an evidence-based, engaging therapeutic modality that improves cognitive and motor skills. The design of the program ensures that patients recognize progress as it is occurring, increasing their motivation toward therapy and their ultimate recovery. IM is used to improve: attention, coordination, language processing, reading and math fluency, control of impulsivity/aggression"

I quickly found a practitioner in our area, Dr. Vicki Parker, in Ballantyne who owns "The Brain Trainer" http://www.thebraintrainer.com/.  I called and scheduled an assessment.  Aidan's results were what we expected. The metronome test results were poor.  Below are his results:

After waiting 6 months, we were finally able to start therapy.  Wait lists are LONG for therapists.  They are bogged down with more patients than they can handle, so if you are looking for a second career or are just starting out on a path to college, get into occupational therapy or speech therapy.  You will be lucratively employed.

Aidan attends therapy twice a week for one hour.  He does 30 minutes of metronome therapy, followed by 30 minutes of therapy to increase his processing speed and auditory processing skills.  So far he has gone 3 times, and we have seen small improvements at his baseball practices and games.  His moves appear more fluid and he isn't stopping to think about his next step.  He is simply just reacting like the other kids and is doing so appropriately.  He caught several baseballs that were thrown to him from the other end of the field and got a few kids out.  He had NEVER done that before.  He also hit the ball the first time, every time when he was up to bat last Saturday at his game; a new accomplishment.

So are we satisfied?  We really are.  I can't say this will work for every child, because as we know, each child is different depending on where they fall on the spectrum and how severe their impairments are, but for us, we are more than happy.  This therapy seems to really target the coordination part of the brain that Aidan seems to have been lacking his entire life. He will continue with his therapy for the next 8 months (or longer if needed), so I will continue to track his progress.

Much love....