Special Needs vs. Special Treatment


I hold what is probably an unpopular opinion that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses that logically lead to different skills and roles. When speaking in generalizations; however, there are always exceptions to the rule. In general though if I’m trapped in a burning building I want to see a 6’3″ burly man coming up the ladder to rescue me… not a 125-lbs woman. I do not subscribe to the notion that just because men can do something that women should too. Can she? Sure. But, be required to? No. Before you get all huffy, let me explain. I think most women are more suited to raise children, organize a household, and give a manicure to name a few. Can a man do all of these things? Of course. I think most men are better suited for ambitiously climbing corporate ladders, carrying out military missions, and farting. Can a woman do all of these things? Of course. Can some women do these things better than some men? Without question.

This idea is one of the supporting pillars for our successful marriage. For years I have been told by the media, tv, movies, teachers and other assorted women (read man-haters) around me that for me to be happy I needed to be a strong, independent woman who didn’t “need” a man. I should play games. I should play hard to get. I should be the boss. I should be a b-word. The women giving me this advice were not happy.. they were very often miserable so I could not see where following their advice would land me in any better position. I chose my husband carefully, I knew that above all I needed a man I could respect. He needed to share my values, my parenting style and also my view of gender roles. I did not want to feel guilty or inadequate for my desire to stay home with our kids. I am still currently working full-time, but our goal is for me to be able to stay home, run our business and homeschool our Aspie if needed. Does any of this mean I do not get to follow my dreams or do what I want? Unequivocally no.

Perhaps being the mother of boys is also part of the reason. It has in any case made these feelings stronger. I fear the trend that demonizes manly gifts and virtues rather than valuing them. My boys should not have to apologize for being born male any more than a girl should have to feel bad for being born a woman. If we teach our children to follow their dreams, while at the same time setting realistic goals for what they can achieve I believe they will be happier in the long run. And this leads me to the main reason for this post.

I came across this article “Autism awareness: Leading others by example” several weeks ago, and it has been rolling around in my brain since then. The author is recounting an experience she had at a Target. Her autistic son was in full meltdown when another shopper “paused long enough to stare at him with disgust and roll her eyes at him, this ungodly little boy infiltrating her space, her day, her life with his shrill shrieks.” The mother, calmly and politely, asked the woman if she could help her with something. Followed by, “”This is autism. It can be really hard, so please keep your staring and eye rolling to yourself.” The story goes on through the meltdown to the calm down, and it ends with the woman coming back to find the mother to apologize for judging her! This story touched me. Not just because I have been in the mother’s shoes, but because I have been in the other woman’s shoes as well.

I admit that if I make it through a shopping excursion meltdown free that I get irritated when I hear a child screaming relentlessly about not getting some toy. I judge that parent. I judge them when I don’t hear them trying to stop the screaming. I judge them when they give in and buy the toy (thereby enforcing the idea if the kid screams long enough they get what they want). I shouldn’t judge. I should be thankful that even though parenting is a struggle for me, my children know that no means no. I shouldn’t assume that other parents have it easy. When I am on the other end, I try not to look around me or make eye contact with other shoppers. On the other hand I do not just let him scream. I do what this mother did, try to calm my child. If leaving the store is the means for achieving that, then I can always come back another time; or quickly beeline for the checkout. Thankfully, the public meltdowns are happening less frequently.

With our Aspie we have learned that successful learning happens in small steps. Repeated over and over and over again. Being out in public at a restaurant, in a store, at school is stressful and overwhelming for him. Many times it results in angry outbursts, rude behavior, hyperactivity or in the extreme case.. meltdowns. We try to minimize the stress as much as possible. Schedules, lists and clear expectations of behavior all help. When we go out to eat we will sometimes allow Cullen to bring his Kindle Fire and headphones, which he can use to listen to music or watch Netflix. He cannot use it when he is eating; only until the food arrives. Mike and I usually use this time to recap our day and have “grown-up” conversation. One day after a particularly exhausting week of work and fighting with Cullen, Mike took us out to breakfast at Corner Bakery. We were chatting at our table while Cullen was watching something on Netflix. A table full of women nearby started making snarky comments about what was happening at our table. I wanted to tell them why we chose to allow it, but I didn’t. Why bother telling them that allowing him an electronic device helped make their breakfast experience more enjoyable; or that it gave my husband and I much-needed together time. Cullen turned it off when the food arrived and happily ate his breakfast. I couldn’t help throwing a dirty look at the table when we left.

I think this is where my struggle with special needs vs. special treatment comes in. I have a really hard time with giving our Aspie special treatment. Yes, he does have special needs, but that doesn’t mean he gets off the hook for his behavior. It just means he has to work harder, and it means I have to work harder to teach him. We allow him special privileges (like electronics at a restaurant), but he doesn’t get to skip out on consequences or chores or responsibilities just because his brain is wired differently. I expect his teacher to find appropriate consequences for him in class, but I also expect him to be the most distracting kid in the class most days. I have a hard time with letting him slide on things that our other boys don’t get away with. I don’t expect him to grow up “normal,” but I hope he will be able to be on his own, make friends, start his own family and above all follow his dreams.


Survival Kit: Lists and Visual Instructions

One of the common denominators I’ve noticed in every book I have read is that Aspies like routine. Like isn’t a strong enough word… they need, crave, can’t function without routine. This is certainly true for our Aspie. Every now and then we can get away with verbal schedules when there is not a lot going on. For example, in the morning at breakfast I will tell him, “After school you are going to the YMCA, I will pick you up around 5:30 and we’re coming straight home.” When we get home he knows that he gets 5-15 minutes of “free choice time” before he has to start his homework and finish his chores. He then gets free choice time until dinner is ready. After dinner he has to take a shower and get ready for bed. If any one of those things gets mixed up without warning he can become angry, irritated, or start a full-blown meltdown (wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc.).

Aspies are not usually great organizers of their time. They get distracted or they get involved in a project, and when their time is up they have a hard time transitioning to another task. Can you see where this would be a problem, say, in a classroom? We have some stress-relieving techniques that have worked wonders for Cullen’s stress level, and by extension ours as well.


Cullen likes to be independent. He enjoys doing things for himself, especially doing what he is supposed to be without mom and dad telling him. In the mornings before school he would fight getting ready, he would fight me when I tried to wake him up even. He kept saying, “I know what to do mom. I’m a big kid. I don’t need you to tell me!” But we were constantly struggling to get ready in time for school. Then he asked me for an alarm clock. He said he would be able to get up and get ready easier if the clock woke him up and he could see the time. We went down, and bought a Lego alarm clock with a radio. This helped a great deal with him not getting angry at me for waking him up, but he would get distracted with toys and not actually be getting ready for school.

One day at Target, while treasure hunting in the dollar section, I came across Cars themed dry erase boards! I had an epiphany! They were affordable, easy to hang anywhere, AND they had his favorite movie characters on them. I bought 3, and that night he and I made a morning checklist. Once he completed everything on the list he was allowed free time until we had to leave for school. Mornings became a breeze! To the point that now, he no longer needs the checklist. I also hung one on the refrigerator that I would use for the daily schedule: school, YMCA, grocery store, errands etc. During the week our schedule is pretty static, but this board became a lifesaver on the weekends when we always have something different going on. He would check the board, memorize it and then keep the rest of the family on schedule the rest of the day. The third one I saved for his chore list. He loves being able to check off the items as he goes along.

He also really likes to make his own lists. I found this To Do notepad in the dollar section too, and for a week he was making up lists. He carried it around all day, asking what we were going to do that day and what chores needed to be done. These kind of lists work great for one time events or special schedules. Last year we drove from southern California to Phoenix to visit family with all 3 boys. Before we got in the car I wrote a list of “Car Rules” for Cullen and every time we got back in the car we would have him read them. He does so much better remembering what to do when he can see it and read it.

Visual Instructions

When I first heard about Carol Gray’s Social Stories I wondered a) Where was I going to find the time? b) Would it work? c) Where was I going to find the imagination and creative juice for it? But mostly where was I going to find the time? We have books that teach lessons, but they’ve never made much of an impact for Cullen. Social Stories work because they are personal and usually incorporate the subject’s obsession somehow. At the time I was researching one of the major struggles we were having was with Cullen’s showering methods. He would either not be in there long enough to clean himself, be in there for way too long, or he would start playing with the soap/shampoo and dump it down the drain. Daily showers were getting costly. Dad and I would have to yell up the stairs to remind him of the next step, or sit in the bathroom to keep him on track. I was trying to think of a social story using his obsession… Legos. Then I thought… we are photographers! I can make him Instructions for a shower using his Legos and take pictures of each step. So I built a bathroom that looks like his, (look there’s even a little toilet!) assembled a Lego Cullen and set up a mini studio to take the pictures. I used whipped cream for the soap and shampoo shots. I dropped the photos into Photoshop and created specific directions for him. We laminated it and taped it in the shower. Since then we hardly ever have to remind him what to do next or hurry him up to get out. Granted, we still do a smell check to make sure he’s actually washed his hair… but for the most part he is an Independent Shower Taker now. Our guests might think we’re crazy, but who doesn’t love a little Lego comic while they are showering?

Cullen loved this so much he asked me to make more for him. I haven’t had any other tasks that need this kind of instruction though. We have so many Legos that I think I could make instructions for almost anything. So if anyone wants a custom one for themselves contact me and I can see what I can do. Maybe I should start an Etsy shop for it! In hindsight I should have included a few other details, like hanging up your towel and not running through the house naked. I once told him that he shouldn’t be taking more than 5 minutes in the shower. That night I heard him counting and asked what he was doing. He told me he was counting to 60 five times, because he didn’t have a clock in the bathroom and wouldn’t know when five minutes was up. He was so busy counting that he forgot to wash his hair, which made a funny yet necessary conversation about what I meant about approximate time.

One of our dear friends, Bethany Barton, created a How To Brush Your Teeth comic with a dinosaur (another one of his favorite things) for us to put on the bathroom mirror. How awesome is this dinosaur? And his teeth are so white and clean! I love all the little details she included. She knows exactly how his mind works and she thought of everything.. like turning the water off and rinsing the brush?!?! Get out of here with your thoroughness Bethany!

One of our main goals for Cullen is for him to be independent. Even if it means making a list every morning of what he has to get done. Building that confidence so he can take care of himself and giving him the responsibility now, even at a young age is crucial.

So the moral of the story is that it takes trial and error, and lots of tools. Try some of these out and let me know the results! I’d love to hear what works for you.

Eggs. Where do I start?

For the purpose of this discussion I have to start with the chicken, no matter which came first, because how the hen is treated and fed affects the eggs. There are a ridiculous amount of egg options in the grocery store. Large, Extra Large, Jumbo, Organic, All Natural, Free-Range, Cage-Free, Omega-3 fortified, Soy-Free, Pastured, Vegetarian (huh? Ya.. I’m going to get to that). How do you know if you are getting a good egg? For those of us on a real food plan eggs are an essential protein, source of choline (a nutrient similar to B-Vitamins that works in tandem with folate, and keeps our livers from accumulating fat and has some links to developing brain function.) and vitamin D, among other benefits for your eyes, hair, brain and cardiovascular system. Good quality eggs are required. If you are not fortunate enough to be keep your own flock of chickens (or know someone who does) what kind should you buy? I’m going to break down the labels since it seems that consistency in labeling (or truth in labeling) is not in our immediate future.

Free Range vs. Cage Free

To almost any person with even a good dollop of common sense and elementary grasp of english language  you would think that these two terms are interchangeable. You would also probably imagine happy chickens on a wide open field or perhaps even in a quaint barnyard happily scratching away at the dirt. However, there is a slight difference in the terms and neither situation is what you would imagine. Cage-free generally means that the birds are not confined in a cage, but are confined in a barn or a warehouse with no access to the outside. Free-Range signifies that the birds do have “access” to an outdoor area adjacent to the barn or warehouse. Usually they are concrete or dirt pads, and the birds are fed inside so they rarely venture outside. The duration of time they are given access and quality of the outdoor area is not regulated. There is no oversight or audits to check either free-range or cage free conditions.

Organic vs. All Natural

Unless you know something I don’t I have yet to come across an unnatural egg. This in my opinion is a ridiculous label. Certified Organic eggs are uncaged and have access to the outdoors (again, the amount, duration and quality is not regulated).  The hens are fed an all organic, vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. Organic eggs are usually the best quality eggs in a market. If you are buying from a local farmer however the eggs may be a better quality even if they are not “certified” organic. Certification takes money and many small farmers do not want the hassle. Farmers markets are usually the best place to find farm fresh eggs. You can get a good idea of how the hens are living by talking to the farmer.

Omega 3 & Vegetarian Fed & Soy-Free

Eggs are natural sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, but with the recent trend in consuming more Omega 3’s the industry has started supplementing the chicken feed with omega 3’s through the use of fish oil, alfalfa meal, algae, flax-seed and soy. I don’t see too many cartons that will tell you exactly what they are supplementing, but I believe that soy is used most often. Vegetarian fed means their feed does not contain any animal by-products, which eliminates things like chicken feathers and feces, but also takes away bugs! Last time I checked chickens were not vegetarians. They love to eat worms, grubs and the occasional reptile they come across. The basis for any quality meat or egg product is did the animal eat food that it would have in the wild? Chickens eat bugs.. stop forcing them to be vegetarians. Soy-Free eggs are from chickens that have not been fed any soy or soy derivatives. There have been studies showing that when a chicken is fed soy it is present in egg and the tissue of the bird and that is transferred to us when we eat them. The controversy surrounding the prevalent use of soy and the side effects are a post for another day. I avoid soy like the plague.

Pastured or Grass Fed

These are the best eggs to buy if you can find them, and they are hard to find! These birds do not live in crowded barns and fed an unnatural (for them) diet. They have truly free range of a grassy area where they are allowed to eat BUGS, and other natural behaviors. These may not be certified organic, but chances are that if the birds are in a pasture environment they are not being given any antibiotics or pesticides. There is quite of bit of research showing the nutritional benefits of pastured eggs being much higher than other types of eggs. Higher levels of vitamins A, B12, E, folic acid, beta-carotene and essential fatty acids were found in naturally pastured eggs.


From best to worst. Combinations of any are to be expected.

1. Pastured
2. Soy Free
3. Organic
4. Free-Range
5. Cage Free

My Egg Reviews

Since there is no reliable classification of store-bought eggs you have to do your own testing and reviews. I grew up eating eggs from my grandparents backyard, and my own when we once had a small flock of hens. The one thing you notice immediately is the color of the yolk. Farm fresh eggs have a rich golden orange color to the yolks. Many eggs you find in the store have a pale almost yellowish cast to them. The strength of the shell was another indicator that it came from a healthy chicken. Using these test factors I’ve tried every brand of eggs at my local Sprouts Farmers Market, Mother’s Market and Trader Joe’s.

 Vital Farms Pasture-Raised Organic Eggs.
These are by far the best eggs I have ever tasted. They even come with pictures of the hens in the pasture along with the company’s policies and a description of the treatment of their birds. I had been buying the Chino Valley Ranchers Soy Free Eggs at Mother’s Market, but they were out of stock and bought these instead. They were $6.99/dozen. A little pricey considering we can easily go through 4 dozen eggs per week at our house. I was surprised at the rich flavor, and it passed my two tests for yolk color and shell strength. I will be keeping these on hand for breakfast eggs, but I will use less expensive eggs for mixing in to baking recipes.

 Chino Valley Ranchers Organic Omega-3 Soy Free Eggs
These are my second choice for eggs, but I am having a difficult time finding them at the moment since Mother’s has stopped carrying them. The feed is soy free meaning that the eggs are also soy free. The yolk color on this is fair. I believe that these hens are in a cage-free environment (big barn/warehouse structure).

 Organic Valley Organic Cage Free Eggs “rich in flax seed”
When I can’t get to the Mother’s Market these are my eggs of choice. Because it says rich in flax I assume that they are giving flax instead of soy for omega-3 support. And since they are organic the hens do have some outdoor access. This company does have pretty strict rules for their products and they seem to care about what they are producing. These are the darkest yolks that I’ve gotten from the store in this category of eggs. This is the kind I buy most often, they are priced around $4.49-4.99/dozen.

The Sprouts and Trader Joe’s brand of organic, free-range eggs are just ok. The Trader Joe’s brand has very pale yolks and weak shells. The WORST eggs I have purchased so far have been the Archer Farms brand from Target. They didn’t taste very good at all, and when I used them in baking my finished goods had a strong sulphuric egg flavor. I would not buy those again.

I realize this has been an insanely long post about eggs. You’re welcome. All joking aside I hope some part of this was helpful.

Hello, I have ________.

I wrote this post in April of 2011 on a different outlet. The most frequent question we are asked about The Food Plan is, “Do you see a difference with Cullen?” And it always gives me a little twinge somewhere deep down when I have to admit that I don’t see any major improvements. He is a little more calm and his dark moods are shorter and fewer between, but the day-to-day challenges are still there and it’s still a lot of stress. Then I think about where we were a year ago, or two years ago, and I can see that we have come a long way. Even though there is still a lot of work to do it is a great feeling to recognize the progress we’ve made so far. I thought I would just copy the post from last year as it talks about what we deal with regularly, and how our individual weaknesses have been transformed into strengths to help our family.

[From April 2011]
Many of you know that we have 3 boys. It makes for fun times and sticky messes most days, but we love the Lego’s, video games and farts. Cullen is the youngest, he is now 6, and in February was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. For those of you who don’t know, Asperger’s is on the Autism spectrum, and is caused by frontal lobe deficits in the brain. Aspie’s (people with Asperger’s) are all unique, but some of the characteristics that they share are trouble reading non-verbal communication, an inability to recognize or follow social cues and trouble interacting with people. They can be blunt and brutally honest. They usually see the world differently and have amazing perspectives. A bit obsessive and they can have problems moderating their speech and keeping personal space. Another big thing is sensory sensitivity and their love of routines. They are literal minded; they don’t get sarcasm or figures of speech. Some of history’s most brilliant inventors, scientists and artists are believed to have had Asperger’s. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Vincent Van Gogh top the list. But genius is by no means the norm.

At first, the diagnosis threw a wrench in our lives, and then we realized that now that we had the wrench we had the tools to help him! Cullen started Kindergarten this year (after 3 years of preschool and pre-k), but his behavior in class had been increasingly odd and frustrating for his teachers (and for us). At the beginning of the school year Mike pushed me to get Cullen tested for ADHD, which came out normal for his attention level, but high on the hyperactive side. We completely changed his diet, cutting out sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and some dye’s. He also started going to a psychologist twice a month to work on his concentration and behavior skills. We saw some changes, but the quirky habits started to be more noticeable, and I started to feel like maybe there was something else going on. An email from his teacher telling us that his behavior was not improving made us start questioning what else it could be. I made a list of observations I had made, and took it with us to his bi-monthly visit. The Dr. pulled out a diagnostic test, and at the end of it said, “That was an Asperger’s test, and he is overwhelming positive.” The first thing I did was make a beeline to Pinkberry and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, the next stop was the Kindle Store where I downloaded every book I could find on Asperger’s. After devouring about 8 of them I felt better. I obsessed for weeks… reading everything I could and trying new ways of interacting with Cullen. We started seeing bigger changes at home and at his after school program.

We are still learning and will probably keep on learning for the next ten years. I was thinking the other night that the challenges Mike and I face have already given us tools for helping Cullen grow and learn the skills he needs. Mike probably has ADHD and is able to help Cullen focus. Mike is also great at making Cullen “fit in” they have their own gibberish language, and they love to walk funny, and just be goofy together. I (according to Mike) am a little bit of a control freak. Which makes me a great organizer and routine setter for Cullen. My artsy side helps when I draw out instructions and social stories for him to carry with him. We’ve both had to learn to let some things slide, like that he can’t help his goofy faces, and the inability to sit still, or the way he talks when he gets excited or stuck on something. We’ve had to change how to talk to him, and we’ve started repeating instructions.. specific instructions.

The most frustrating thing is the challenges we are still having at school. The teachers and administrators have little more than a textbook definition of what Asperger’s is, and no idea how to deal with Cullen. Since his academics are way above the standard level required he isn’t eligible for any assistance from the school, and because he doesn’t have a learning disability or trouble speaking he isn’t eligible for state assistance. We wanted to take some pictures of the Cullen we see every day.. the goofy faces, and the solid stare haha, and we had to get some in with our name tags too. The best part is getting to share his Cullenism’s (as his fans call them). He has such a unique way of looking at things, that are downright funny most of the time. I need to compile a list of my favorites. One of the latest was him looking for cats and dogs on the roofs and in the trees when I told him it was, “raining cats and dogs.”

Happily Ever After

A diagnosis of anything typically leads to statistics.

  • 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder according to a commercial on tv.
  • 1 in 88 are diagnosed with Autism according to Autism Speaks
  • 1 in 54 are boys.
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined.
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.

But the scariest one to me is the exaggerated statistic that 80% of marriages in families affected by autism end in divorce. Luckily, the true number is closer to 36% only 1% more than a typical family. Any marriage can be stressful, you have to worry about household budgets, who cleans the dishes, who leaves wet towels on the floor or hair in the sink. Add in the kids and suddenly you are a chauffeur, a short order cook, a housekeeper and a laundromat; probably all while working a 40 hour week. The romance fizzles, and we all know what can happen next. For a family with Autism Spectrum Disorder the stress is enhanced and money gets tighter. Special diets make it hard to eat out in some cases. Meltdowns or behavioral issues can make it difficult to go anywhere. Doctors visits, psychiatrists, behavioral counseling and occupational therapy eat up time and resources. Parents are frustrated, worn out and just plain exhausted.

I no longer qualify as a newlywed, but I am nowhere near an expert on marriage either, at least not any except my own. A marriage takes work, a lot of work some days, but for us our relationship mantra is Work Hard, Play Harder. We make time for each other every day. The kid has a strict bedtime for the specific purpose of giving my husband and I some alone time every night. As often as we can we have date night. Then there is the romance.. Neither of us is particularly romantic, but as our friends say, “You two make me barf with your cuteness.” My husband sends me a love note on google chat every single day when he leaves the house, without fail. I put little notes in his lunches, or on his Facebook wall. I like to use things like, “We go together like peas and carrots.” or “I love you more than old men love soup.” We also always go to bed together. That’s not particularly romantic, but I like to think it keeps us connected. Bottom line: We try to act the same way we did when we first started dating. We spend most of every day together, we remember to say I love you a lot! And we are thankful for what we have. We cherish and nurture it. Love isn’t something that once attained will continue on it’s own like some mechanical device. It’s like a garden– you’re gonna find weeds, and gross bugs, and maybe an evil bougainvillea every now and then, but at the end of the day it was worth the effort of caretaking.

One of the most endearing traits of my husband is his commitment to family. It was one of the many reasons I fell head over heels for him. The most poignant example of this has been when we decided to try The Food Plan (it’s capitalized because it has become its own entity). It might have been easier and certainly cheaper if Cullen was the only one on a special diet, but Mike felt like it would be more fair if we all did it together. Now, Cullen isn’t alone when he passes on the sugary treats, bread or fruit. We are right there with him. He has a support team and he is learning that family sticks together. My husband is great at telling me to stop and relax. I have a slight control freak tendency (and by slight I mean I would take over the world if not held in check), and Mike is always right there to help me with my latest hare-brained scheme or to force me to just take a break and put my feet up. He’s my ultimate de-stresser and with a cocktail (slightly healthier when homemade) in hand we both get to chill out together.

I also think that all the PDA and lovey-doveyness is great for the kids to see. Lead by example people!! So remember, whether you have 3 kids, 1 kid with Asperger’s, or a pet turtle, your spouse needs your undivided attention for a portion of each day. Take care of them and they will take care of you.

Every Which Way

In high school, one of our assignments in English was to journal on various topics. I typically hated the act of journaling. Not due to a lack of anything to write about, but because I felt it was intensely personal at times. I wasn’t a person who let many people close. I felt safer in relationships based on my terms. And if not for one assignment and one teacher that pushed back when I needed it I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing our adventures.

It was close to the end of senior year. We only had a few weeks left and I opened my heart in a journal entry. I did not think she would actually read it, only check that it fit the length requirement. I laid out my insecurities about my feelings of being mediocre. My friends were all accomplished in some talent or another. Some were talented actors and are now starting theatre companies, some were brainiacs and heading to Berkeley or later became PhD’s researching cures for cancer, some were wildly creative and are now making fantastic art and children’s books. I was a straight A student, but I wasn’t going to a top-notch college. I lettered in two sports, but I was far from the best on the team. Math was ok when it was just numbers, but throw in some letters and I was completely lost. I could draw a little; I was in the choir, and on the yearbook staff. I felt silly for not feeling good enough when I had so much to be thankful for. And I was good at a lot of different things.. just not GREAT at anything; unless you count not panicking or ridiculous organizational skills as something to be great at. Or my ability to always finish first on tests. When I got my journal back there was a 2-page handwritten letter tucked in at that spot of my journal. Not only had she read the entry, she had listened to my fears and responded in a way that touched me. She wrote, “You have a smile that will light up the room. When it’s gone I wonder what is happening that makes you so sad.” I still have that letter.

That was the beginning for me. She made me feel good about my well-roundedness. I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist, or a famous actor.. I just needed to be happy to be me. I’m still just ok at a lot of different things, but when you have a child on the spectrum you have to be good at a lot of different things! We have conversations about the differences between battery power and electric power. What the center of the earth is made of. What two colors make orange. Why we shouldn’t destroy Jupiter (because it saves earth from meteors). Not to mention being able to come up with creative consequence and reward systems. I also build mini Lego sets for creating pictorial instructions for him (this uses my creativity, engineering, photography and photoshopping abilities). Today, the three traits I value the most in our daily life is my anti-panic personality, my need to organize everything, and my weird ability to remember just about everything I read. (I don’t know what Asperger parents did before Google.. I guess they spent more time in the Library). Staying calm, providing structure, and teaching are the most important things for our Aspie.

I hope that relating our adventures will help someone else struggling with this new and different world seen through Aspie-tinted glasses. My goal is to teach my children (all of them) to be happy with who they are, whatever characteristics and talents they are born with. I want them to be happy being them. As a mom of course I want them to enjoy going to school and to be able to make friends, so whatever we can do to make that easier we are willing to try.

At the beginning of this blogging adventure I have so many things to share that it’s difficult to pick what to start with. I have friends and family asking questions and getting excited about changes they can make, because the diet changes are not just for those specifically on the spectrum. It will help those with anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD, diabetes, asthma, eczema and allergies. We have started a healthier way of eating and are seeing the benefits (if not in behavior yet) in mood and looks.

I want to start by answering the questions I’m getting, but they are not necessarily in chronological order, or any kind of order really. It wouldn’t be an adventure without a little bit of winding road, right? If there is something you would specifically like to hear about.. like what Cullen’s behavior was like, what books I read, what a certain recipe was.. please ask!!

The Hand You’re Dealt

We all have turning points in our lives. A moment when we stand at a crossroads looking down the paths our lives may take.. knowing there is no turning back; no do-overs. My turning point came when I finally realized that there was something “off” with our youngest child, not wrong.. just off. I could see the obstacles and the heartaches ahead, the challenges at school, with family and in public. I wondered if my son’s differences were something we could ignore or make excuses for. Surely most of his behavior could be written off as normal boy behavior, right? I took one last look at the road we had traveled for so long, made a 90 degree turn and started in a new direction. I will admit I needed a running start. I needed momentum to carry me along the first couple blocks, and thankfully my husband was the catalyst and my strength. I believe that it doesn’t matter what hand you are dealt in life. It’s all about how you play that hand. So I’m not going to relate the entire prologue to our adventure in Asperger’s.. I am going to share how we’re playing our hand.

In 2011 our 6-year-old was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not going to lie it changed our lives, but in all honesty getting a real and proper diagnosis was the best thing that happened. He was so smart and I was so inexperienced that a lot of the warning signs I made excuses for. Once he started school there was no ignoring them any more. Unless you’ve spent a fair amount of time with him, or have seen him interacting with other kids you don’t notice his quirks. He is bright, wants to make friends, enjoys talking to adults (usually with his mouth full of food), and he loves to play with legos. In school, he became hyperactive, sometimes violent, too much stimulation would send him over the edge, he argued with the teachers, and either refused or forgot how to use the bathroom.

At first we thought it was ADHD, but although he scored higher on the hyperactive side of the test it was within normal 5-year-old level, and the attention side of the test was also fairly normal for other kindergarteners. We decided to take out high fructose corn syrup and other processed sugars from his diet. This seemed to help a little, but he was still having meltdowns over the way his socks felt and trips to the grocery store. Consequences and reward systems failed. He was just as happy sitting at the table all night as he was playing with toys. We started seeing a psychologist monthly for “behavior skills.” This was therapeutic for me to be able to talk about what was going on in our family without being told he was “completely normal” or “he’s just a boy.” But I didn’t see the value in it for Cullen. The doctor didn’t spend a lot of time working or coaching him. He was the doctor that finally pinpointed the Asperger’s though, and for that I am thankful. It gave us something to work from. I went on a research binge and read just about anything and everything related to Asperger’s Syndrome. I found support groups, I found teaching aides and success stories from other parents. Eventually we ended up at the psychiatrist to try medication. In the meantime he had also been given a tentative Tourette’s diagnosis, so the psychiatrist opted for non-stimulant medication. It helps a little. But we are still having constant trouble.

Looking back to when he was in preschool I know that we have made huge strides, but it’s a constant battle to teach him skills that most kids pick up subconsciously and with little effort at all. The funny thing is that the things that get him in the most trouble now are things that are going to serve him well later in life. He’s persistent, he’s a perfectionist, he challenges differing opinions, he doesn’t go along with the crowd, he thinks for himself and tells you what he thinks.. It’s a tight rope walk for us as we try to teach him self-control without completely stifling those characteristics that we want him to have as an adult.

Over the last year and a half we’ve found useful tools and he is making progress, but the aggressive or depressed child is always lurking. We will have two or three weeks of pleasant, enjoyable Cullen followed by weeks of a tyrant. In March a friend mentioned the GAPS diet and said it might help him, and referred us to a nutritionist that works with other autistic families. I did my usual thing (submerged myself into internet research) and decided to make an appointment with the nutritionist. At the initial consultation she went through his and my entire medical history; covering antibiotics, surgeries, serious and not so serious illnesses, and diet. She recommended that we start with the Page Food Plan, which is similar to Paleo. We were only to eat organic, pastured meat, organic veggies, pastured eggs and raw nuts. Exciting, yes? We knew that whatever we did we would be doing it as a family. Eating restricted foods in front of him would be cruel and unusual punishment, and I had been having health issues as well. Cutting sugar wasn’t a big deal as we hadn’t had much in the last year anyway, but cutting carbs and fruit?? In addition to the food changes we would be adding a therapeutic probiotic dose, fish oil and homemade bone broth twice a day. Once we’d successfully weaned ourselves off the carbs, sugar and processed foods we would be starting the GAPS diet.

And that’s where this blog comes in. Over the past two months since starting the Page food plan I’ve been posting pictures of the food I’ve been slaving over, and commenting on the amount of weight Mike and I have been losing. We didn’t expect to lose anything, but it has been a pleasant side effect. We are only losing the stored fat though, we’re not losing any muscle mass. Cullen on the other hand has been becoming more muscular and filling out more. Friends have been asking for my recipes and details about what we are doing. I thought this would be an easy way to share the adventure. I plan to fill the pages with recipes, tips, articles and “cullenisms.” I ask for your patience as I am a wife first, a mom second, and a woman with two full-time jobs third.