Tag Archives: Health & Safety

The Organic Difference

I mentioned in a recent post how eating organic food has made a big difference in our family’s health, and I wanted to go into more detail about that. In the past two years, I have had only one mild illness, over in two days, and the boys have each had only two mild illnesses. I used to have spring allergies so bad that I would need to be on Claritin-D for two months straight. Not since I started eating organic food.  My nose still gets a little itchy and I sneeze a bit, but at least I can breathe at night.  I have not experienced any major congestion in two years.

The great thing about organic food is that you don’t have to buy everything organic to notice the benefits. All you have to do to get started is to look at what you consume every day and choose one of those items and buy it organic. For me, I almost always have cold cereal and milk for breakfast. So do my sons. We started drinking organic milk and noticed the difference right away. For one thing, it tastes so much better than non-organic, somehow fresher and more flavorful. I switched my cereal to an organic brand, and Nigel’s also. (Aidan is addicted to his Crispix. He’s an even pickier eater than Nigel.)

Next I looked at what else we eat a lot of in our house: fruit. Both boys eat apples every day, so I started buying organic apples. Yes, they are more expensive, but our health is worth it. And neither of the boys got sick at all until almost a year later, when the next school year started. A nasty flu was going around, but they were only down for two days. And I didn’t get sick at all.

I started buying more organic fruit, yogurt, eggs, and tried some organic meat. Words can’t accurately describe how much better it all tastes. I’m not saying that I’ll never go back to non-organic. On the contrary – I would say that at this point the percentage of my diet that is organic is probably only half, or less than half. I’m not the type of guest at a potluck who passes up a great-looking dish because it’s non-organic. And on the rare occasions I eat out, I don’t ask if anything’s organic. Eating organic isn’t like being a vegetarian or vegan – it’s not all or nothing, unless you want it to be. Another great thing about organic food is that it cuts out all the chemicals – the artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives present in most non-organic food that can be so detrimental to the functioning of an autistic person, as I mentioned in my previous post.

Try switching to organic even for just one or two items that you eat on a regular basis. It’s definitely worth the effort.  

Medication Check-in

Yesterday I forgot to give Nigel his Zoloft. All day long I was wondering why he was being so difficult: irritable, non-compliant with any little thing, lashing out, complaining, and then, sometime after dinner, it hit me. I had forgotten to give him his medication that morning.

It was good to note that the Zoloft really does make a difference for him. I had already forgotten (or probably blocked the memories of) how he had been the months prior to medicating him. His anxiety level was so high that he was constantly irritated and often lashed out. I remember one afternoon going into his room and noticing that his desk chair (the kind with the adjustable, pedestal-supported seat on rollers, with a curved metal bar covered in ribbed plastic connecting the seat and the chair back) had been broken. He had ripped off the chair back, wrenching it off of the bolts that connected it to the curved bar. I tried to fix it, but the damage was beyond repair. I ended up removing the curved bar so that the chair is now just a rolling seat with no back.

I asked Nigel what had happened to the chair. He said in a low voice, “It was because of my anger. I feel different from everyone. I have a defective brain because of the a-word.”

He has referred to autism as “the a-word” for a few years now, ever since he asked “What’s wrong with me?” and I told him about autism. That day with the vandalized chair in front of us, I assured him, as I have on so many occasions, that his brain is not defective, it’s just wired differently. I reminded him that he has a very good brain that taught him to read at age three and a half. He seemed to feel a little better.

But since going on Zoloft almost two months ago, he has not destroyed anything because of self-esteem issues. He is more relaxed, more comfortable in his skin. He sleeps better. He no longer eats his hair. He doesn’t talk about his brain being defective. He is happier, I think. It pained me to think of him breaking his belongings because he feels angry about being different, that his self-esteem should suffer because of autism. If Zoloft can alleviate any of that, then I’m sticking with it. Nigel never balks at taking it. It makes me wonder if he notices the difference in how he feels. I think he does. He just isn’t able to put it into words.

Vaccines

Often over the years I’ve had relatives and friends ask me what my stand is on the vaccine/thimerosol issue. I’ve devised my own theory.

I believe that thimerosol is partly responsible for some cases of autism. What I emphatically believe is that in the last thirty years, large amounts of chemical toxins in our environment (including our food, air, and water) are contributing (not causing, but contributing) to the increase of autism cases, along with increased awareness for diagnosing the milder cases. Thimerosol in vaccines is included on my list of chemical toxins. But I certainly don’t believe that all cases of autism were caused by thimerosol.

When I was six months pregnant with Nigel, I experienced pre-term labor and was hospitalized while I received terbutaline intravenously. I have often wondered if the presence of this chemical affected Nigel’s development in utero. I believe he was genetically predisposed to autism, and the introduction of harsh chemicals through medication I received as well as the aggressive inoculation program thrust upon him after birth caused him to develop autism. It was the combination, not just one or the other.

Hence the variance of the spectrum. I think this theory also helps to explain why some severely autistic children can, with therapy, progress to mid-functioning or even high-funtioning levels, while others do not. It also explains why some autistic individuals respond so well to GF/CF diets, while others do not. Autism manifests itself differently in each individual because there are so many different causes and contributing factors.

I hope I live to see the day when we understand more of the complexities of autism, and maybe have some concrete answers. But for now I’ll have to be satisfied with my own interpretations, which will more than likely continue to evolve. What are yours?

Medication

I struggled with this one for a while, not just for Nigel but also for myself.

In late 1997, after crying one afternoon because I could not stop rearranging the chairs around the kitchen table, I realized that the anxiety wasn’t going away on its own. I had several other symptoms as well: peeling skin off the bottoms of my feet until they bled, systematically pulling out my hair, and chronic insomnia. I finally went to a doctor and was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The ‘when it rains it pours’ adage is unmercifully true: my diagnosis came one month before Nigel’s autism diagnosis and my husband’s announcement that he wanted to be separated.

For six months prior to obtaining medication for myself, I had struggled with believing that it was necessary, that it wasn’t a sign of weakness. The doctor had to remind me that if something was wrong with any other part of my body, I wouldn’t hesitate to obtain the medication I needed. If I had a heart disease, I might need antiplatelet drugs. If I were diabetic, I would need insulin. I agreed to a low dosage of Zoloft, and I experienced relief from my symptoms within days of taking it. I took it for a year and a half.

Within the past year, I had noticed that Nigel exhibited signs of anxiety, possibly OCD. He pulled out his hair so much he would create bald spots. He would rub his lips so hard that  he had rough, bleeding patches around his mouth. He had chronic insomnia. I had thought that his anxiety was environmental, due to the constant stress of the middle school. When I pulled him out of the school, his lips/mouth area improved, but he still had insomnia. And the worst thing was that not only was he still pulling out his hair, he had started eating it. I knew then that, even though he was only thirteen, he needed medication. Also, I have read that autistic teens are highly susceptible to depression, and with that running in our family as well, I figured getting him on Zoloft now might cut the depression off at the pass. There are some in my family who think I jumped the proverbial gun, that he’s too young to be on medication, that I should wait and see. But pulling out your hair and eyelashes and eating them indicates a definite need for medication, and I do not regret my decision.

I am happy to report that Nigel is sleeping much better now and has a full head of hair. Life goes on. And I am far too busy to be rearranging the chairs around the kitchen table, thank God.

Seizures

Nigel has never had a seizure*, but I have heard and read over the years that adolescence can bring on seizures in previously seizure-free kids. And the possibility has filled me with fear.

Two years ago, one of my co-workers was running some errands on her lunch break, and she had a seizure while she was backing her car out of her space in a busy parking lot. No one was hurt and there were people around who helped her, but it got me thinking and worrying. What if Nigel had a seizure while riding his bike? Just in the past few months I have become secure enough to let him ride his bike alone around the neighborhood. He craves some independence, and so I hold my breath while he is gone for half an hour, hoping he’ll watch for cars, remember to stop at corners, not run into anyone or anything. Not have a seizure. It’s hard to completely let go like that and just trust.

When my co-worker returned to work the next day, my boss made sure that all of us were informed about what to do if a seizure occured in the office (the co-worker had not previously disclosed that she was epileptic). We learned to not restrain her, and to remove any sharp objects in the area. Afterward, we should lay her on her side to maintain an open airway and prevent inhaling any secretions. We learned that she may experience confusion and that someone should stay with her.

According to Autismuk.com, Roughly 25-30% of autistic adolescents have been reported to develop seizures. That’s too high a percentage for my comfort level. But I guess if Nigel did start having seizures we would just deal with it. We’d do what we needed to do, just like we’ve done all along with every other issue that’s come up.

And I would do what I’m doing now: solicit advice from those who’ve been through it. Are there any readers whose children developed seizures in adolescence? Do your children take any medication for it? Please contribute your experience and suggestions. I appreciate your input.

*UPDATE* Nigel had his first seizure, a grand mal, in June of 2010. He has has many since then and has been diagnosed with epilepsy.