Life in the Sunshine State ~ Wasn’t So Sunny!
Having a baby can be overwhelming but often the stress is compounded when almost everyone who crosses your path shares their differing views and opinions on pregnancy, birth and parenting. Although well-intentioned, it can become quite daunting for the mom-to-be or new mom when bombarded with advice regarding:
• What and when to feed your child
• How often you should play with your child and what games are the most educational?
• Is your child napping enough or even too much?
• Do you let your child cry him/herself to sleep?
• Are you playing with his/her siblings enough?
• Are you taking care of yourself?
• Is your child sick? If so, what do you do about it?
Although it is hard to take in so many differing views on childrearing from others, there is a friend I have now, that I wish I had and could have listened to back then. As I recount my story of becoming a mother the second time around, you will see comments in blue from that friend and long time, holistic RN – “Nurse Mo” who will act as the voice of reflection. In other words, she’ll point out what I might have done differently had I known then what we both know now. Don’t get me wrong, life gives us what we need to learn and grow. However, if telling you about the pitfalls I encountered (and having Nurse Mo interject her professional insights and comments) helps you avoid the trials, tribulations and heartaches that I went through, then my mission has been accomplished. Additionally, at the end of this blog, you’ll see a list of my own reflections.
Life in the Sunshine State…
“If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile, if you like to waltz with potatoes, up and down the produce aisle…have we got a show for you!…”
Jackson’s little hands were flapping away as he sat in his bouncy seat. Even at 9 months old, he gets so excited whenever the television comes to life with Veggie Tales. I can’t help but chuckle. He’s so darn cute, and it’s such a relief that he’s so easily entertained since his 2 year old brother, Kendall keeps me busy chasing him around our small house. And, it’s Sunday morning…the weekend. So, Lee’s home to help me as we’re all getting ready for church. Definitely a good start to the day!
We had moved to Jacksonville, Florida from North Carolina 4 short weeks after my second son Jackson was born. I was so excited because my parents lived there as well and they’d be able to help me when my husband, Lee traveled for work each week.
When I was pregnant with Jackson, we decided that I would walk away from my career in banking to stay at home with the boys since the price of two in daycare was more than a mortgage payment. I thought I was well-prepared since I had worked at daycare centers throughout college. But, no one forewarned me about the actual reality of being a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I knew I was going to have to change diapers here and there, and feed them. But, I also thought I was going to have all the time in the world to play with the boys, catch up on my “soaps”, get some reading in, invest some time into new friendships in our new town, and maybe work on some hobbies. But, oh no! Between nursing Jackson, feeding Kendall, changing diapers what seemed like constantly, playing with the boys, and running back and forth to the doctor’s office for one or both of them (not to mention going to the doctor for myself…that’s another story entirely), my life during the week was focused solely on being a mom, just trying to get from one minute to the next. Dinner for me during the week? Well, thankfully, my parents lived about 5 minutes away, and could help keep me sane…and cook dinner!
Dad was the Minister of Music at their church, so it was a no brainer to get involved there. By default, music has always been a big part of my life. So, Lee and I both got involved in adult choir. Besides, it offered free babysitting for about an hour a few hours every week! Between that, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, children’s choir, and every other program we could enroll Kendall in, Jackson spent a great deal of time getting to know the nursery workers. In fact, they had even become his babysitters at home when we needed them from time to time.
Even though the respite during Sunday School and the worship service was brief, it was always a joy to go pick the boys up from nursery. Kendall’s teachers absolutely loved him. Lee and I were always so proud when they would tell us how he was so well-behaved, and that his manners were impeccable. We couldn’t help but pat ourselves on the back! Lee and I worked diligently with him on saying, “Yes ma’am, No ma’am. Yes, sir, No sir.”, “Please”, “Thank you”, Excuse me”. After all, we did live in the South! Manners were a must!
One particular Sunday morning, Lee went to pick Kendall up from his classroom and received the usual accolades. So, I headed to the baby room to collect my youngest Jackson, awaiting the stories about the silliest things he did to make them laugh, how they loved to snuggle with him in their arms. It felt so good to know he was in such good hands!
As I arrived at the door, the lead teacher approached me and whispered, “Jill, is Jackson deaf?”
I immediately burst into laughter and responded, “Oh my goodness, no! When Veggie Tales comes on the TV, even if he’s in a different room, he immediately gets excited!”
“Okay. I was just checking. He didn’t seem to pay any attention when a toy chest fell over in the room making a really loud crash, even though all the other babies started crying. It just peaked my curiosity.”
On our ride home, I told Lee about what she had said, and he joined me in laughing about it. When we got home, as I was changing Jackson’s diaper, Lee clapped really loudly close by. Jackson immediately turned his head in that direction.
“See? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with his hearing,” Lee said.
With that, we put the issue to rest and didn’t give it another thought.
Notes from Nurse Mo – It is difficult for parents to hear comments from teachers, friends or relatives indicating their child might have a problem. In hindsight though, Jackson’s hand flapping, perseverating on a TV show like Veggie Tales and the selective hearing he was exhibiting could be interpreted as early symptoms of autism. However, without his parents Jill and Lee observing additional indicators such as poor eye contact, lack of speech, poor social skills, etc., they and even many pediatricians might easily categorize those initial indicators as “quirkiness”, slight delays or “something we have to watch”.
I do not believe in over-diagnosing children. However, I do know that the earlier a child receives appropriate interventions when exhibiting these early warning signs, the better their chances are for recovery. It’s so hard to go back in time and say “what could we possibly have done differently?” But let’s just imagine for a moment we did have a magic wand and could go back to that time (and bring the knowledge we have now with us). – If that were the case, here’s what I would have suggested to my good friends Jill and Lee:
- Begin to remove all sources of dairy and gluten from Jackson’s diet. Why would you take 2 such important food groups out of a growing child’s diet, you might ask? It turns out that some children lack a certain enzyme called DPPIV (which a group of autism researchers say is destroyed by mercury and other toxins). This particular enzyme breaks down the protein from casein (found in dairy) and gluten (which is the protein in wheat, barley, oats and rye) into amino acids. But when a child is lacking the DPPIV enzyme, then instead of breaking those proteins down into amino acids, they break them into clumps of proteins called peptides. These particular peptides can then cross the blood brain barrier and mimic neurotransmitters causing an opioid-like effect. Can you imagine what a child must feel and act like if they have a substance in their brains and bodies similar to opium? Hence, you might see strange behaviors such as hand flapping, “tuning out”, fixating on certain objects or even having a higher than normal pain threshold.
When foods containing casein and gluten are removed (I recommend doing one at a time), you will often see a “drug withdrawal” affect in the children. This can manifest as crankiness, irritability, tantrums, etc. Supplementation (mentioned below) can help minimize these. Although unpleasant, I encourage parents to look at this withdrawal as temporary and a positive sign as it indicates the drug- like effect of the opioid producing foods may have indeed been a culprit in causing some of the speech and behavioral issues. The good news is, when the children go through that withdrawal phase (2-3 days) they often emerge on the other side with more mental clarity, less aggression or agitation and in certain instances, their speech improves or starts!
- I would have also encouraged Jill and Lee to begin supplementing Jackson’s diet with a few specific nutrients such as a good comprehensive multi vitamin and mineral supplement made for children on the spectrum. This should contain higher than normal levels of B6, B12, Zinc Magnesium, etc., all important for optimal brain function.
I’d also recommend adding a high quality probiotic, Vit D and Omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in fish or krill oil.
- Lastly, at least for this initial phase I would have strongly recommended that they suspend vaccinations for a period of time. I know how polarizing this issue is at the present time. However, there are many published peer reviewed studies that indicate for some genetically-vulnerable children, vaccines can cause inflammation in the brain, affect the digestive, immune and neurological systems and indeed contribute if not cause symptoms of autism. For a more in depth explanation of this topic, see the article Emerging Science and Common Sense Combine to Prevent Autism.
I would also encourage you to check out the great work of Robert Kennedy Jr. on this issue at the World Mercury Project.
If I knew then what I know now AND had access to the resources I have now…
Although I thought it ludicrous, I would have researched hearing issues in infants, just out of curiosity. I’m not sure if that search would have changed anything, but it likely would have at least given me information to “file away” in my mind…which would have served me well as time progressed.