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As spring break loomed on the horizon, Joseph began asking about going to Arizona. He’d never been there before and he wanted to see Sedona and the Grand Canyon. He also wanted to see Las Vegas, which is on the way.

I had recently quit my regular part-time job and am hysterically happy about having spare time.  Blue Eyes was up for going, and we like to encourage adventuring in Joseph…so a vacation was born. We’d spend about a week and a-half driving to and from, and exploring the wild west.

Friends told us we would have a wonderful time. Arizona was one of their favorite places and it would be amazing. To most of them, I smiled and said I was looking forward to it. To one of them I explained that Joseph could have a hard time with change so it would probably be challenging. To Terese, who has an autistic kid of her own, I said that Joseph could be such a pill on these trips that it would no doubt be difficult.

Perhaps “a pill” wasn’t quite the right expression. Sleeping in new places is usually difficult for Joseph, going to new places (especially crowded ones) is difficult, and not getting his way is also hard. All three of which are happening on this trip to some extent. Add to this the fact that Joseph had recently finished a round of antibiotics and was displaying pronounced symptoms of autism and candida (much flapping, fingers constantly in mouth, etc), and we were headed for quite a time.

Yesterday was day three and was supposed to be “his” day. We had made it to AZ and had booked a train ride up to the Grand Canyon. Challenge #1 occurred when Joseph went to sleep late and woke at 4am, resulting in three straight nights of sleep deprivation. We arrived early at the depot to watch the cowboy shootout but, as soon as the first “shot” rang out, Joseph screamed and cried and would not be calmed down. Blue Eyes quickly ushered him out of the bleachers amidst the looks of curious families.

My impression of age 13 is that the volume’s been turned up big time. Joseph’s always been one for constantly making noise (“verbal stimulation” in the vernacular), but it’s really gotten worse lately. Walking around the incredible, breathtaking Grand Canyon naturally inspires a reverent silence — but my constant companion was a nonstop noisemaker which was, to put it mildly, draining. And disappointing. Yogananda used to say that, if someone got your goat, they got your inner peace — so don’t let them get your goat. Well, my goat went galloping down the canyon and I haven’t seen it since! So my disappointment was for both the experience of the canyon and in myself for losing that goat. ;-(

At one point, in a small crowd, a little chipmunk appeared. Of course everyone was thrilled to see the cute little guy. Everyone else, that is. Though he was quite a distance from it, Joseph started screaming in anxiety and the only way to calm him down was to find a quiet place in which to sit for half an hour.

I sound like I’m blaming Joseph but I also blame myself. Before the Grand Canyon trip, I forgot to pack nutritious snacks and had let him load up on carbs (hotel breakfast, anyone?). Things have been quite good with Joseph — many breakthroughs this year — and so I thought this trip would be easier than it is. I didn’t prepare myself for a difficult day, so the fall was greater. The idea that expectations set us up for being disappointed at some future point certainly applies here — but the expectations were so unconscious that I didn’t realize they were there until, well, now.

Speaking of now, it is 2:20 in the morning and I am in the hotel bathroom, typing away and dreading the fact that Joseph may wake up anytime and give us yet another difficult day, tainted by sleep deprivation. Is it an autistic thing that he simply can’t nap during the day unless he’s deathly ill? And if positive expectations bring future disappointment, what does dread bring? As my own private guinea pig, I hereby postulate the following effects of dread: Insomnia (did I mention 2:20am?), negative mindset, and separation.

Ah yes, separation. Where is God in all of this? Of course I know that God IS — but I’m not feeling the Love. What if I just take a moment to soften my body and open my heart. What if I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and release some resistance.

Then I realize that the thoughts are not my thoughts. They come from I know not where and they go I know not where. They are there, but who I AM is something much greater.
Jaw softens, shoulders drop. Heart remembers.

And then, oh gloriously then, there it is: The felt inner communion. The spaciousness of Spirit, more breathtaking than any grand canyon. A shared silence filled with understanding and even amusement. A remembrance that this is just a tiny blip on the radar of life, and especially of life beyond. The reassurance that always, always I can come to this place – no matter what is happening externally. In this I can rest. Time to go back to bed.goat

Hello, little goat. Welcome home.

I teach yoga for the staff at Joseph’s school, and one of the regulars is his special ed teacher, Dana. Usually we focus on yoga but, every now and then, she’ll share with me a tidbit about Joseph when class is over. Last week, for instance, she wanted to tell me about the “miracle” that happened.

For months Dana has tried to get Joseph to leave his session with her and walk into the cafeteria (for lunch) by himself. Now, the cafeteria is a challenge unto itself, being noisy, crowded and somewhat unstructured, but the big deal was that he’s always refused to go in without his aide. On the day of the miracle, Joseph walked over, found a friend, and went into the cafeteria with him. And he’s been doing it ever since.

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!

Another one: This morning I walked Joseph to his classroom. Never, ever in the past has he allowed me to leave before his aide shows up, but today he let me kiss him and go. Wow! On my way back to the car I saw his aide coming up, and I excitedly told her what happened. “Yup,” she replied. “Takes about 100 repetitions and then he can do something.”

I laughed. “Blue Eyes and I say it takes 500!”

Repetitions. What a great way to learn patience. What a marvelous way for my character to be formed. What great sandpaper for my rough spots.

Will it ever end????

Sigh…probably not. And it gets more complicated. Now we are endeavoring to teach him to speak to us with respect, to clean up after himself without being reminded…that sort of thing. It feels endless. Maybe it is. Maybe every parent feels this way. Maybe I’m going to set myself on fire.

sugarEaster was full of sugar, and right afterward we took a week’s vacation. Think ice creams and other sweet things — the kind of thing you do when you’re on vacation.

Trouble is, by the time we got home, we saw that candida had taken over Joseph. He was spacey, stimmy, tantrummy, and an overall pain in the butt. We put him on a sugar-free cleanse, which has been devastating for him. Almost every morning he wakes up and starts an argument with me. When can I have sugar? Can I have it if we go to the lake in the summer time? Can I have it on June 6th, the last day of school? Can I have a soda the next time I go to a restaurant?

It’s relentless. I am trying to do my Love and Logic — I love you too much to argue — and leaving the room, but this kid will not let it go. It’s a major struggle.

Our Love and Logic Instructor once wrote on the whiteboard four big letters:

C
T
F
D

 

Calm The F*** Down.

i pray for long-term perspective. For more patience during these phases that require so much repetition. I pray to remember that things take longer with Joseph, and that I need to take care of myself in order to deal with his special needs. Last, but definitely not least, I pray  to CTFD in those trying times.

In the first years after Joseph’s diagnosis, we focused much of our energy on the biomedical side of autism. Earlier blogs have a lot to say about Joseph’s gut issues and sleep issues, and the many treatments he/we undertook. Even our first RDI Consultant admitted that there was virtually no change in Joseph their first year together, because he was simply too sick physically to advance in any other way.

Joseph was gluten-free and casein-free from ages 3 to 61/2. He was also virtually sugar-free. We saw a lot of progress in those years. Expanded vocabulary, bowels that actually moved, more social engagement. Eventually even sleep, oh thank God.

And Then There Was Public School.

In kindergarten, I made a batch of gluten-free cupcakes to stash in the teachers’ freezer as a substitute for any birthday cupcakes parents might bring in. I gave the teacher GF crackers to keep. She gave me the heads-up when anything untoward was happening, foodwise, in the classroom, and I’d scream up some reasonable facsimile.  Happily, Joseph got out before lunchtime so we mostly didn’t have to deal with what the other kids were eating — and, sigh, the hot lunches that you can buy.

When first grade hit, it was all over before we knew it. In the second week of school,  the school secretary called: Joseph had had two hot lunches already, and when were we planning to pay for them? I have yet to see a hot lunch without gluten in it, and it always comes with a container of milk.

I got a little hysterical at this news. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry that my son had, of his own accord, broken the diet that had done so much for him. I called Blue Eyes, and we decided to just roll with it. Since then, we’ve been GFCF at home but not when we’re out. Two hot lunches allowed per week. It’s worked pretty dang well.

Until recently.

It started with the chewing. He’s always been a chewer of pencils and the occasional shirt collar, but suddenly he had to have something in his mouth all the time. Hankies, soaking wet and well-chewed, would hang down from his mouth. Sleeves became soaked with saliva.

Then he started stimming more. Flapping, doing his music (humming, singing) so much that he couldn’t stop it to concentrate on his homework or his food.

But worse — much worse, if you ask me — is that he began sleeping badly. Awake in the middle of the night, awake way too early in the morning. Tired and grumpy all day long. Near tears because of the tiredness. When Joseph doesn’t sleep, I don’t sleep. It was like old times — bad.

And every morning, as soon as he’d come downstairs, he’d ask for sugar. Chocolately Koala Krisps or Gorilla Munch or yogurt tubes or candy or cookies.

As much as I adore denial, I could ignore it no longer. My son has Candida.

Yeast outbreak is very common in autistic kids. In those early days we used healthy eating, Nystatin and various natural supplements to control it.

It’s different now. Sugar and starches seem to be a natural part of public school, and we have felt powerless to stop it. There’s something about a kid who is inherently different from the others telling me that “All the other kids get to eat it!” that quickly wears down my resistance. After all, I want him to be like all the other kids.

But now it feels like do — or die. So, we told him, he is off sugar for the time being.

Ohhhh it’s hard. Every day except today (so far, anyway), Joseph has had major meltdowns about missing sugar. Little does he know that this makes me all the more determined. We’ve upped the Grapefruit Seed Extract and the Corcumin. We are starting on a new product, inspired by the folks on the blog A Ventography, as soon as it arrives in the mail.

After a few days of slogging through — no sugar and no sleep and no improvement – ugh! — we are starting to see some progress. Sleep is going better and the chewing is slowing down a bit. More than that, even: Joseph is suddenly more cheerful. Can Candida make a person act like an angry, sullen teenager when he’s only eight? I don’t know, but the change is a very welcome thing.

Joseph keeps asking about Valentines Day. Can he have sugar then? Candy hearts and all the other goodies that his fellow students will give him? I am finding it  hard to say no. I am saying that it is his choice: he may be feeling so much better without sugar that he will decide to pass it up. I am not as mean as I act; this mama’s heart simply can’t say no to Valentines treats. If we have to deal with a flare-up, we’ll all learn something from it.

The older I get, the more it registers that life is full of seasons. This season is harder than some, but truly it’s just a season. I’m holding on to the concept of effort over time: the idea that effort, consistently applied over a good amount of time, will make more difference in one’s life than almost anything else.

Body, mind, emotions…it’s all so connected. It’s a microcosm of the macrocosm, because we on this earth are all deeply connected as well. Wishing you health and happiness in all of your connections.

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is one of the books that turned me toward the spiritual life in my twenties, so it was with pleasure that I accompanied Blue Eyes to a talk that its author, Dan Millman, gave recently.

I found that every time Dan discussed being a warrior, my mind flashed on autism. When he talked about life’s waves crashing over us and pulling us down, I saw how it happened to me with autism.  And when he spoke of the concept of effort over time, I perceived it in light of Joseph’s, and our, journey with autism.

You know how you attend a talk or read a book and, if it’s a good one, you leave with one or two gems that provide clarity and direction for you? Effort over time is such a gem for me: the idea that effort, consistently applied over a good amount of time, will make more difference in one’s life than almost anything else.

I think about all the effort we put in to help Joseph’s gut problems (chronic constipation, leaky gut, candida). For 3 1/2 years he was gluten- and casein-free. He took medications and supplements, sat in oxygen chambers, suffered through glutathione shots, and –worst of all — screamed bloody murder during every-other-day enemas. It was pretty much hell on earth for all of us. But it was this effort over time that has made him the healthy boy he is today.

Then there’s RDI, the behavioral intervention we’ve been involved with for about five years. One of RDI’s slogans is It’s not a sprint — it’s a marathon. In other words, effort over time. Regular homework assignments for us parents, which include reading, learning, creating video footage of us working on objectives with Joseph, and constant incorporation of the principles into daily life. Endless discussions with our RDI Consultant, who runs the marathon with us and hands us water bottles and power bars to keep us going. Effort over time for sure.

There’s also nasty stuff, like the fact that I got so traumatized by Joseph not sleeping for four years that, three years after that difficult period, I still can’t sleep well myself. If Joseph gets up in the night to use the bathroom and I hear him, adrenaline still shoots through my body and I wake up, terrified. Recently I asked Blue Eyes what else I could do to resolve this problem and I loved his answer: Effort over time.  Oh yeah. Patience, Yoga Mother. The trauma didn’t come in a day and it seems to not be leaving in a day. But don’t give up — it’s effort over time.

Joseph being goofy

Joseph has come so far that it’s like a good dream. Earlier today I spoke with the mother of one of his classmates, and she said her daughter has a huge crush on Joseph and wants to marry him. Could I have imagined anyone saying this four years ago, when Joseph would rather stim than interact with someone? Absolutely not. It’s due to effort over time — ours, his, and the support team we’re surrounded by. Oh, and grace. Lots and lots of grace.

I know that some of you who read this are early on the autism journey. You can’t know if your effort over time will be worth it, and believe me, I know how much effort it is. It drains your life force, ages you beyond your years, takes away your life as you knew it, and threatens your sanity. But really, what choice do you have? Amazing effort now might help your child reach his or her full potential, and if you don’t do it, you’ll never know. Today is Superbowl Sunday and I watched a little vignette of huddles of football teams getting motivated before previous Superbowls. In one huddle the quarterback said, “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So let’s just go and do our best.” Indeed. What else can you do?

How then can we approach autism, or any major trial in our lives? Effort over time, doing our best, and — if I might add one more concept — letting go of the fruits of our labors. We can control our efforts but we can’t control the results. We simply can’t, and it’s crazy-making to pretend otherwise.

I love where Joseph is now — and yet, as his peers grow older and more sophisticated, he well may not be able to keep up. Crushes on him may turn to laughter at him. I will continue my effort — that’s my business —  and I will do my best to let go of the results, because that’s God’s business.

To be honest, I’m not so great at letting go; I just plain like to be in control. So I continue to work on it, hoping to land in the body, mind and soul of the Spiritual Warrior I strive to be. This Warrior has great focus, puts in major effort over time toward a noble end and, at the same time, lets go of what that end might be.

Will I ever really become that Spiritual Warrior? Perhaps the effort alone will transform me into her. Then again, perhaps it won’t.

I’ll just do my best, pray that it’s blessed, and let God take care of the rest.