Journal

Progress Report – GAPS Intro

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We started the GAPS Intro almost two weeks ago. Cullen has moved into stage 2 and I feel like we are seeing a difference. A small difference, but any progress is progress, right? I have been trying to set markers or some sort of control for his behavior, but his improvement to this point have been so minor that it takes someone who is not around him every day to tell me that he is getting better. A part of me says that all of the time, energy and mostly the dollars we are spending on eating this way has to be doing something. I fear that my imagination is playing tricks on me; that I think he is behaving better because I want this to work so badly.

For most other parents we know the beginning of the school year is a relief. A relief from bored kids stuck at home and hectic vacation schedules. Not us. Back to school feels like tax day, a trip to the dentist, and being all out of clean underwear all rolled into one. Not fun. The hardest time of the year for us has to be the end of summer. Cullen has a strong desire to make friends. For the most part he enjoys being around other kids (even if he doesn’t understand how to play properly), and he really likes to make friends with adults. Despite this character trait, he has enough of an understanding to realize that he does not have any true friends, but he does not know why. We have many tearful rides home at the end of the day with him telling me variations of the same story. “I was trying to play with so-and-so, but they ran away.” I think his awareness that he somehow doesn’t fit in makes him dread the beginning of a new school year. Which causes him to start stimming more, craving more sensory input, using baby talk, or imitating animal behavior. In and of itself these behaviors are not necessarily unbearable. The other spectrum of stressed Cullen behavior is extreme moodiness, shortness of temper leading to anger, self-inflicted pain, and occasional depression. These behaviors are one that we spend the most time coaching on.

Cullen gets in trouble a lot at school, but his intentions are always good. He thinks he has figured out some facet of the delicate social system that is an elementary classroom, only to find that he only caught a small glimmer and has offended another student or, heaven forbid, the teacher. So we are stuck in a situation where we want to reward the effort, while establishing a consequence (even if it is just a firm talking to) for the poor outcome. Yes, he was trying to exercise his social skills and make a friend, but reading time was not the proper time to choose to do it. I can imagine that parents of neurotypical kids have a clear-cut path to consequences when their child misbehaves. I imagine that because when our other two boys do something wrong (which happens almost never) it’s not tied to any kind of behavior we’ve been trying to strengthen in them.

Now you know a little bit about our Back to School experience. Three weeks before D-day (first day of school) Cullen’s undesirable behaviors started popping up in full force. I had been preparing to start the GAPS intro. I stockpiled bone broth, fermented sauerkraut juice, ordered starter yogurt cultures, and scavenged for soup recipes. (I spend a lot of my free time in my kitchen. Thank goodness for crockpots!) One week later I was ready to start the Intro. Stage 1 includes soup. And that’s about it. We could eat boiled meat (organic, grass-fed or nitrate free) and well cooked gaps-legal stage 1 veggies (broccoli, squash, cauliflower, carrots, onions and leeks). Not a whole lot of variety there. The first 3 days we ate pureed soup, before I started adding back the pieces of meat and then veggies in broth. All the while increasing the dose of probiotic sauerkraut juice in each bowl. We’ve now moved on to egg yolks, yogurt (homemade), and soft-boiled eggs. I can tell you he is getting pretty sick of bland boiled food, but he has been such a trooper. He cleans his plate and complains very little.

Within the first few days I thought I noticed a little calmer demeanor and a definite regression of the baby talk and nervous hyperactivity. However, the sensory input cravings seemed to be worsening. I can’t walk into a room without finding him sprawled out with as much of his body as possible touching the floor, couch or bed. He will not sit still, but his movements are slow. There is more gentle rolling and wiggling than spastic jumping or bouncing. The nutritionist tells me that the deep-seated sensory issues will be the last to go, but that he is making progress. Now at the end of the second week I feel like he is even calmer, and he is rude less often (unless it relates to a misunderstanding or seeing someone eat food that is not allowed for him right now.) He is not sneaking food or taking forbidden items when offered. At the bank last weekend he had a conversation with the teller:

Cullen: What are those?
Teller: Those are chocolates. Would you like one?
Cullen: No, no thank you.
Teller: That’s weird. Most kids always want one.
Cullen: I’m on a very restrictive food plan. It’s not forever, but it’s for now.
(sniffsniff) Proud mom right here!

He started second grade today. This year I tried to keep him as calm as possible. I did not give him long lists of things he should and shouldn’t do. He picked out his first day clothes.. I could tell he was stressed though when we had an issue with which shoes to wear and if he should wear socks or not. He chose his new TOMS sans socks. I walked him to his classroom and he did everything else. Put his lunchbox (with a thermos full of meatball soup) away, hung his backpack up, found his desk and then sat there quietly with his hands folded until the teacher started class.

As I walked away I knew that I would worry about him all day. Some days I feel like he’s alone without a translator to help him communicate to those around him. I feel guilty, like I am not doing enough to teach him. It’s a slow process, but thankfully I am seeing a little relief and the comfort that everything Mike and I are doing is helping make Cullen independent, courteous and a good human.

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In the Kitchen, Recipes

Grain-free Chicken Fried Steak

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Chicken Fried Steak

2-4 cube steaks, grass- fed. If you want a better cut of beef you can ask your butcher to tenderize any cut you prefer.

1/2 – 1 cup of Honeyville Almond Flour, this is the finest ground almond flour I have found and it makes a big difference.

Sea salt & black pepper

2-6 eggs, organic and free range

1-2 tablespoons bacon fat

DIRECTIONS:

1. I like to use pie tins but any two shallow baking dish will work. In one beat two eggs at a time and season with salt and pepper. In the other cover the bottom with almond flour and mix in salt and pepper to taste.

2. Dip each steak into egg wash and then into almond flour. Repeat egg wash and almond flour for thicker coating.

3. In a large skillet heat bacon fat to melt. Place steaks into pan and cook 5-6 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

I save my bacon fat drippings in a mason jar in the fridge, but if you would rather use another type of fat I recommend ghee, butter or coconut oil, although butter will burn easily and the other two may change the flavor.

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Journal

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.

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In the Kitchen, Recipes

Lemon Squares – Grain-free & dairy-free

I have been experimenting with baked goods, and outside of the actual GAPS cookbook there are not a lot of recipes that are “legal” for our food plan. I’ve tried muffins and they are a little on the dry side, and don’t feel like a treat, although they are great snacks. I won’t even go in to the whole bread debacle (I have given up bread, it’s not gonna happen). Lemon squares were one of my favorite things growing up, and I hoped that without the need for baking soda I could tweak my recipe to be legal. After several attempts.. Mission accomplished.

Lemon Squares

CRUST
2 cups blanched almond flour*
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoon ghee OR virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil (melted)**
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (gluten-free, organic)
1 pastured egg

TOPPING
1/4 cup virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil (or pastured butter if tolerated)
1/4 cup raw honey
3 large eggs
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (I like to use Meyer lemons) Usually about 3-4 lemons.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease a 9×13″ baking dish with ghee or coconut oil.
  3. To make the crust, combine almond flour and salt in a Food processor and pulse briefly. Add ghee, egg and vanilla extract and pulse until mixture forms a ball. Press the dough into prepared baking dish. The crust will be only on the bottom, it will not extend up the sides.
  4. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until lightly golden.
  5. While crust bakes, make the topping. In a blender combine the coconut oil (or butter), honey, eggs and lemon juice. Blend on high until smooth. Remove crust from oven and pour topping over hot crust.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden.
  7. Cool in baking dish for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 2 hours to set.
  8. Cut into bars and serve.

OPTIONAL
I have added a raspberry puree to these for a slightly more tart version and it was delicious. It’s a great option when raspberries are in season.

RASPBERRY PUREE

1 package of raspberries
2 tablespoons raw honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Puree raspberries in a blender until smooth.
  2. Pour through a medium-fine strainer to remove the seeds.
  3. Discard the seeds and place the raspberries into a saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Add honey and vanilla extract. Stir and raise heat to medium-high to bring mixture to a rolling boil stirring frequently for 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the honey.
  5. Remove pan from heat and place in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  6. After you have poured the lemon topping into hot crust, pour raspberry puree into the lemon mixture. It should keep mostly separate so drizzle all over. Continue steps above for baking.

*Honeyville has the best almond flour. Bob’s Red Mill is too coarse and leaves a grainy texture in baked goods. Honeyville is less expensive too, so order it online and store it in your fridge.
**Coconut Oil is solid at room temperature most of the time. My grandma brought back a jar from Arizona and it had completely melted. It has not solidified again, and I am using it for baking as it is so easy to pour into measuring cups and incorporate. It is the Spectrum brand, so I am not sure if it is always liquid or if this was just a fluke.

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Journal, Learning Adventures

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.

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