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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.


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