Confessions of a Health Nut

health_nut_t_shirts_and_gifts_custom_announcements-rd41380c863f74c5cb46411b027a39b3e_8dnmv_8byvr_512I have been feeling the need to tell my story. In as much as it relates to finding myself cooking liver for dinner. That’s right. LIVER!! Blobbily, slimy, bloody liver! First attempt was an utter failure by the way my friends. I couldn’t bring myself to make my family eat it. (It was saved and will be made into frozen pill shapes to swallow. So I suppose it wasn’t a complete disaster.) I wasn’t always this way. You know a crazy-crunchy-granola-health nut who has foods fermenting and cultures growing in her fridge. Seeking out organ meats from grass-fed butchers, and being upset at buying an organic chicken that doesn’t come with giblets. In fact, only 2 years ago my husband had to pull the giblet bag out of the turkey for me at christmas time.

Growing up my family ate fairly healthy. Eating out was a treat. My mom made us 3 meals a day, and we ate together as a family every day. Most of my grandparents and great-grandparents were from Oklahoma so hearty country meals were the norm. Dinner with the extended family was usually roast beef or fried chicken, 8 kinds of vegetables, bread and plenty of butter on everything. We would have mac n cheese and spaghetti often. Simple pasta dishes. I think jarred tomato sauce and kraft mac n cheese was the extent of our processed foods minus the occasional (maybe once a month) trip through a drive through. My great-grandma was our after school spot and she would make everything from scratch and canned her own peaches. Lord I miss her biscuits!

I grew into a young adult and turned into a lazy eater. There’s no other excuse. I have the skills and knowledge to prepare good meals and I choose the fast and cheap way. I was being lazy. Lucky Charms for breakfast, dollar meals at any drive thru for lunch and Hamburger Helper or other no-fuss boxed meal for dinner. I washed it all down with 6-8 Pepsi’s per day. Starting off every day with a minimum 32oz Super Big Gulp. Throw in a couple of candy bars, cookies or a piece of cake and you have a pretty good picture of my eating standards. I remember posting pictures of an Entenmann’s pound cake and a Pepsi as my “breakfast of champions.” Thanks to an auto-immune thyroid disease, that developed shortly after high school, I rarely put on weight, but I got to the point where I just didn’t feel good anymore. My teeth started sprouting cavities like weeds after a week of rain. I developed crippling IBS.. to the extent that my husband sent champagne and Immodium to me on our wedding day, because he knew the stress would cause an episode.

Within the last 5 years, I had started cooking more with my husband, but every meal still included a starch, and usually bread of some kind. Then we found Anna, our nutritionist, in our search for anything that would help with our son’s behavioral issues. When she recommended the GAPS diet she asked me to read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Natasha Campbell-McBride. It was an eye opener for me. Not only were my health issues related to my poor nutrient-deficient diet, but my son’s issues were because of my diet before and during my pregnancy. When we decided to try GAPS for Cullen, we decided to do it together as a family, not just because it would be cruel and unusual punishment to make a 7-year-old watch you eat the foods he loves in front of him, but also because we knew it would only improve our own health.

I tried to hold on to my Pepsi. I tried to just cut it back to one or two per day. I quickly realized that even holding on to that little bit made my cravings for sweets too strong to resist, so I slowly transferred to iced tea, making weaker and weaker batches to wean myself off caffeine. Now I might have very weak iced tea once a day, and I’m drinking my suggested daily intake of water. I have devoted hours more of my time to working in my kitchen. I make our yogurt, applesauce, salad dressings, condiments, nut butter, beef jerky, sauerkraut, ice cream and bone broth. Lots and lots of bone broth. Everything is from scratch with no additives, no preservatives and no pesticides. I’m hunting down sales and the cheapest place to find groceries. Trying to find soy-free eggs or chicken has been a battle and a half.

I was standing in front of my stove sautéing liver tonight, and I thought, “How did I get here?!?” I bought LIVER and I’m cooking it with the intent of eating it! And I am secretly hoping I will enjoy it! I have done a 180, dragging my carb-loving family with me into the world of grain-free and probiotics. I was talking to a friend today and she asked if I ever wanted to just give up. Absolutely, without a doubt there were moments I wanted to throw all of my pots out the window and never enter my kitchen again. But I kept trucking, because I truly believe in how much better I feel. Because my husband doesn’t have asthma attacks anymore. Because my son is finally making friends, and showing emotions. Because I get hugs from him at any time of day; not just when I tuck him in at night.

I went from a junk food addict to certifiable health nut. And I’m never going back.

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An Interview With Our Nutritionist- Anna Hammalian

I get the opportunity to introduce you to our Nutritionist today! Anna has been a lifesaver for our family starting us on the road to better health, and keeping us on track along the way. I asked her a few questions so she can explain in her own words what she does. One of the questions is on the GAPS diet, which you can learn more about HERE.

annaPhoto by: D’Avello Photography

Anna Hammalian attended Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, CA where she completed rigorous training in the school of Nutrition and Dietetics. The program concentrated in the areas of nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition, food production and administration of food service operations, chemistry, physiology, plus a variety of supporting coursework in related disciplines. She achieved her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in June of 2009. Anna received her certification as a Board Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) from the Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc. (NTA) in 2010. This training has given her the ability and knowledge to specialize in digestive health, blood sugar management, heart health, and hormone balance using Nutritional Therapy.

Anna is also among the few health care advocates that are Certified GAPS practitioner. As a certified GAPS Practitioner, she works closely with children and adults with Autism ADD, ADHD, Asthma, Allergies, Schizophrenia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, autoimmune disorders and much more. Through Diet, Detoxification and Supplementation Anna has seen beautiful transformations in her clients while healing through the GAPS program.

Q: What exactly is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner?
A: A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) addresses nutrition from a holistic perspective. An NTP offers a clear alternative to the grain-based, low-fat nightmare that is the official diet of America. NTP’s address weaknesses in the body’s physiological foundations brought on by poor nutrition.  The alternative I offer goes beyond just diet and exercise, offering customized and highly effective natural approaches to each client’s specific needs. Nutritional Therapy can be applied to all areas of health, including: weight management, constipation, IBS, gallbladder problems, acid reflux disease, hormone health, infertility support, autism, depression, mood disorders, athletic performance, allergies/asthma, endocrine support and so much more! We strive to reverse the tragic and unsuspected effect of the modern diet for our clients. We also teach the importance of properly prepared whole foods that are delicious, nourish our bodies, and restore good health.

Q: What made you become a NTP? 
A: After working as a clinical dietitian while attending Loma Linda University I saw the need for more answers. Telling my patients to eat low-fat foods, 6 servings of adulterated grains per day, soy, and sugar-free foods was making the disease process worse. I saw patients decline at even faster rates. I sought out a few of my mentors in the medical field and nutrition field who are holistic oriented; to get a clearer understanding of healing with whole foods and natural remedies as opposed to the food guide pyramid and pharmaceuticals. As soon as I completed my degree at Loma Linda University  and came out from under the food industries umbrella, I started the NTP program and not only did my life change for the better, but every client I come across has a new and clearer perspective of real nutrition and its healing benefits!

Q: What kind of services do you offer?
A: Where Western medicine focuses on treating symptoms, Nutritional Therapy stresses a root cause approach to health. As a Nutritional Therapy practitioner, there are a variety of evaluation methods and techniques used, including a complete review of a client’s health and diet history, a 3-Day Food journal, and a through evaluation of the individual’s nutritional weakness in the body, utilizing the hands-on Functional Evaluation. Each individual possess different nutrient deficiencies, different toxic burdens, different eating habits, and different physiological functions. Therefore, each person needs a customized nutrition plan that will yield quick results.  Through carefully designed bio-individual dietary, lifestyle and supplement recommendations Nutritional Therapy promotes optimal health; along with advice and tips for adequate hydration, rest, and stress management. This will effectively balance body chemistry, and reduce, or even eliminate dysfunction. I also offer group workshops and seminars on educational topics regarding real food nutrition, detoxification, healing the gut and brain through the GAPS Nutritional Program, preconception nutrition and hormone balancing.

Other services:
  • Detailed client history via written intake form and lengthy personal interview
  • Blood chemistry analysis, optional
  • Comprehensive three-day stool analysis, optional
  • Salivary hormone testing, optional
  • Hair mineral analysis, optional
  • Other specialty testing analysis available

Q: GAPS is not well-known, why did you become a GAPS Certified Practitioner?
A: We live in a world of unfolding epidemics. Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), Schizophrenia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder and other neuropsychological and psychiatric problems in children and young adults are becoming more and more common. I have been practicing the GAPS for the last 2 years, but decided to become certified so doctors don’t think I am crazy. Well, they still do; however, it enables me to work in a clinical setting guiding families through the program.

Q: What are 3 things you wish everyone would change about their nutrition?
A: 1. Eat real butter
2. Cook at home
3. Cut grain and sugar intake by half

Q: If someone wants to make a nutritional change what is the first thing they should do?
A: Look to the Weston A. Price Foundation website to help one understand the truth about whole food.

Q: What is the difference between therapeutic supplements and store-bought vitamins/supplements?
A: Pure, therapeutic remedies/supplements contain the total complex family of micronutrients (just as they are found in nature) with a potency that is highly effective. These micronutrients are indispensable for proper vitamin absorption and maximum utilization. Most stores are not allowed to carry therapeutic supplements because a health practitioner must dose them according to the bio-individuality of each person. This is to your benefit considering you might have to go through several bottles of a store-bought vitamin D vs. going through only 1 bottle of a therapeutic vitamin D given to you by your nutritionist.
Are the ingredient’s vital factors retained? The manufacturing process of store-bought products has been handled poorly and exposed to an undue amount of chemicals.  Along with the added toxic substances, supplements undergo high-heat treatment, which destroys enzymes and phytonutrients that are vital for your health; not to mention the reason you bought that particular product. Supplement manufacturers often add in a variety of fillers to their vitamin and mineral supplements for numerous reasons:
  1. Easier and faster production
  2. More appealing to the eye (colorants)
  3. Easier to swallow (coatings)

Could that supplement you bought be harmful? Don’t be fooled by “organic” or “natural.” Look at the ingredients listed on the label. Can you pronounce them and do you recognize them? Common chemicals and toxic substances found in most supplements that you can buy from health food stores, pharmacies and grocery stores are listed below:

  • FD&C Red #40 Lake, FD&C Blue #2 (links to cancer, ADD, ADHD, headaches and allergies/asthma)
  • Hydrogenated oils (encourages heart problems, strokes, nervous system problems, block the absorption of essential fatty acids, upset blood sugar regulation and more)
    • Soy (high levels of phytic acid that reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D).
    • Gluten (causes inflammation, intestinal damage, heartburn, constipation, and headaches)
    • Corn starch (headaches, gastrointestinal damage, allergies and much more)
    • Sugar (blood sugar irregularities, headaches, obesity, tooth decay and much more)

These preservatives and chemicals are stored in the liver. Your liver is your largest detoxifying organ. Keep it clean so it can do its job of detoxifying on a daily basis. Just like a recipe, the quality of the ingredients you use affects the quality of the final product. The final product being your health!

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: I have two!
1. Educating people about what real food is, and how we can find true healing and joy from eating the foods which we are designed to eat!
2. Hearing about the leaps and bounds of improvement in my client’s health. When I hear, “My doctor let me stop all my meds.” I am satisfied!

To learn even more (or to contact her) visit her website at www.selahwellness.net

GAPS Diet On A Budget

When I explain our food plan to inquiring minds I get, “You must spend a fortune on groceries.” Yes, it can get a little pricey at times, and there have been trips to the grocery store that have left my bank account weak in the knees. (Like the time I did all of our Christmas meal shopping at Whole Foods… and bought a goose.) Overall, I’ve found that with an eye on the mailers and shopping at 4 stores instead of one I can keep our groceries bills reasonable; if not low. A few things first before I get into the lists of what I buy where.

1. You should buy the best quality you can afford. If you can’t always get organic ingredients, fresh is still better than processed. I read in the GAPS FAQ’s that if you have to choose between organic meats and organic produce that you should always buy the produce organic because animals have immune systems to fight off what the farmers feed them, but vegetables can’t fight the pesticides. That being said, I try to stick to the less expensive meats and continue to buy organic. When I am making our bone broth I use only the best quality ingredients. We do save a bit of money by eating more veggies at mealtimes than we used to. Print out (or save on your phone) a list of the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen produce items. The Clean 15 are the ones you can get away with buying non-organic. The Dirty Dozen are the most contaminated and should always be organic.

2. In the beginning I spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to replace the foods we were missing; like baked goods, breads and desserts. Most of them did not compare to the real thing (which only made me miss it more) and the ingredients for baking are on the higher priced side. Forget about bread, there isn’t a good replacement. There are some crepe recipes that make a decent sandwich wrap or tortilla substitute, but they use a lot of eggs. Unless you’ve got a good line on pastured eggs for cheap I’d save this for a treat also. Lettuce is great for wrapping around meat for sandwiches. Experiment with different kinds. I like to use romaine hearts for tacos, red leaf for sandwiches and boston for egg burritos. Mix it up!

3. Check online for bulk items and dry goods. I was buying our almond flour from Honeyville online, until I realized they have a store near me. Now I’m saving on shipping! I always check online for items like: tea, kombucha, flour, nuts, fruit leather, coconut oil, raw cider vinegar, etc. And there are quite a few companies that ship perishable foods like: meats, dairy, starter cultures, honey, etc. Amazon surprisingly has quite a bit of food stuffs.

4. Farmer’s Markets!! Usually lower prices than a grocery store; if you live near one make it a habit to stop once a week. The farmers that come won’t always have certified organic produce (it costs a lot for the certification and many small farms just can’t afford it). Ask questions, because many will be practicing organic farming. Some of the big markets will have eggs and occasionally pastured chickens. Bring a cooler with you just in case. Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated right away, but it’s always good to keep your meat cold if you are lucky enough to find it at a market.

Below is a list of what I buy and where I shop. These stores are regional, so Southern California residents are going to have the best odds for this working for them. Start taking notes on your local stores for the best deals near you if you don’t live close by any of these stores.

Sprouts

This is where I buy the majority of our groceries. They have raw milk and cheese (but not cream), pastured butter, organic eggs, grass-fed meats and the largest selection of fresh organic produce in my area. They have everything on my shopping list, but not always at the best prices. Their regular (non-organic) chicken is hormone-free and free-range so when I need to save some dough I will buy this. Their sausages are hand-made and they have a variety of chicken that are nitrate-free and made with the same chicken. Most are gluten-free as well.

** I always stop by Sprouts on Wednesdays. It is the day their weekly deals overlap so you get the sale price on everything from the previous week and the next week. When their grass-fed beef goes on sale it’s always a good idea to go the first day because they run out.

  • Grass-fed steaks/roast (ground beef only when it’s on sale, which is often)
  • Organic produce
  • Organic spices
  • Organic eggs
  • Raw milk
  • Raw cheese
  • Applegate products
  • Purified/Spring Water (I buy the big jugs and then take them back to refill)

Trader Joe’s

The one by us is small and doesn’t carry everything. I go specifically for these items because they are less expensive here:

  • Raw nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans) We make our own nut butter because we like cashew butter better than almond and I can’t find one made with raw cashews. (And it’s cheaper to make it ourselves. It takes 15 minutes)
  • Organic, free-range chicken. Whole chicken is a better buy than individual pieces and is easier to prepare. Also, they include the giblets, which the whole organic chicken at Sprouts does not. (I like to add those in our broth) If you are making bone broth regularly roast a chicken for dinner and save the remainder to make broth from.
  • Grass-fed, organic ground beef.
  • Organic, no additives fruit leather (No added sugar, 100% fruit puree). I don’t give these to Cullen often.
  • Trader Joe’s brand Organic Diced Tomatoes in juice. (We don’t notice any adverse reaction when we use these)

Mother’s Market

I would probably shop more here if it was closer to us. Their produce section is awesome. Watch out for their restaurant and deli case as most of it has some type of soy or vegan substitute.

  • Raw cream (can only get it here)
  • Organic Pastures raw cheese  (can only get it here)
  • Ghee (can only get it here)
  • Evolution Juice – for when I am lazy and don’t want to juice it myself. It’s cold-pressed and unpasteurized. They have it at Starbucks too, but not the organic kind.
  • Celtic Sea Salt
  • Organic, unrefined honey

Costco

  • Wild salmon – sometimes they have a good deal on fresh, but I usually buy the 3 lb. bag of frozen for $28 (less than $10/lb). They come individually sealed so I can grab them out of the freezer and thaw what I need.
  • Wild shrimp – frozen, not always in stock
  • Canned wild salmon
  • Organic coconut oil – giant Costco size, organic, cold-pressed for $10. GIANT
  • Lamb – from New Zealand or Australia. (I was told that lamb from “Down Under” is always 100% grass-fed)
  • Organic baby carrots
  • Any other organic produce they might have (I don’t buy the sliced organic apples though.. the preservatives worry me)
  • There is supposedly organic chicken breasts occasionally, but I have never seen them.
  • Aidell’s sausage for our non-GAPS kids.

I always watch to see what items are on sale. I look online at the weekly deals before I go out shopping. If I can think of any more items I will add them as I go, but these are the staples. Our grass-fed beef bones I have to drive to Clark’s Nutrition and Natural Foods in Riverside or Loma Linda. Or I just found a new source Lindy & Grundy in West Hollywood (also a drive, but the bones were $4.99/lb).

Feel free to ask me questions or leave your money-saving tips below!

Barbara Manatee

There are a couple of tell-tale indicators for Cullen’s stress level. During the part of the year when he wears socks, the number of socks he tries on in the morning usually will tell me what level his sensory overload is. 1-2 pairs he is good to go, 3-4 and he is going to have a rough day, 5+ and I deliberate calling in sick to work and school to stay holed up in our Batcave.

Another one is his attachment to Barbara. His love affair with manatees started early. He was just barely talking, 3-years-old, and he discovered the manatees at Sea World. He stood nose pressed to the glass for well over an hour. Watching them float and eat their lettuce… they don’t do a whole lot of anything else. On our next visit we exited the manatee exhibit to the inevitable gift shop. He spied a giant stuffed manatee that was literally as tall as he was. He ran over to it, picked it up and turned to me with a face full of joy, “Mama, Barbara Manatee wants to come home with us.” The fact that he asked for something blew me away because he NEVER asked for anything, he was more content playing with notepads and high-lighters than toys. He also had never shown any interest in any of the stuffed animals he had at home, (I think he was even frightened of the monkey I had gotten him at Build-a-Bear). But here he was holding a 3 foot manatee that he had named… Barbara?!? I convinced him that a more manageable size would be better for taking home, and we left with Cullen clutching a brand new (12″) Barbara. He did not put her down for 3 days. And then the unthinkable happened. Barbara was stolen. Yes. Stolen. Who steals a stuffed manatee you say? A despicable, black-hearted person that’s who. Cullen was heart-broken.

Not being able to afford another trip to Sea World just to buy a stuffed animal we had to wait almost a year before a kind soul we knew planned a trip and graciously brought back the exact same manatee. I still don’t think I have ever seen Cullen as happy as he was to be reunited with Barbara. He would dance and sing the Barbara Manatee song with her, but she wasn’t allowed out of his room often.. and never out of the house. (Unless he was going to Grandma’s house for more than a couple days). Every precaution was taken to keep her safe this time. She had a special place on his bed, and he rarely went to sleep without her.

When we moved to our house we live in now, Cullen was careful to keep his “moving buddy” in sight at all times during the packing of the truck and when we reached the new house he safely stowed her behind his mattress in his new room. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that he is carrying her around the house with him in the mornings before school or after his shower at night. I feel like lately with the supplements he is taking for his behavior that he is feeling more vulnerable because his emotions are clearer to him. He can now clearly define how he feels when he is sad, frustrated, confused, happy or angry. Where before every emotion registered as the same.. something foreign that he could not grasp. Barbara anchors him and makes him feel secure.

I made dinner too late last night, and hungry Cullen brought Barbara into the kitchen with him and was swinging her around. I told him to be careful, not to be too rough with her. Multiple trips through the laundry have left her a bit more floppy than she used to be, and he pointed out the spot between her fins seemed a little empty. He said we should get a backup Barbara, just in case. I explained he should take care of her because the manatees have moved from California Sea World, and it would be almost impossible to get a new Barbara if something happened to her. (Do you know how hard it is to find stuffed manatees?) Then I said something silly.. or stupid. I said I once thought about having a Barbara made that looked just like the one on Veggie Tales……

meltdown.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth over a stuffed animal that doesn’t even exist! He went on and on for 10 minutes about how he had a “fake” Barbara, and how could he go on like that? How could I not get him the real one? Luckily, I finished dinner and satiating the hunger became a priority and the “fake vs. real” dilemma was dropped. At least for now.

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.

SCHEDULES AND LISTS

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.