It takes Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom

Each day I pick up Charlotte from preschool, I immediately check her lunch box. She has recently started attending 3 full days of pre-kindergarten and now eats lunch and takes naps at school. The transition has been exceptionally smooth and I find that if I stock her lunch full of her favorite foods, I’m pretty guaranteed to see only crumbs left in her Planet Box.

Last Wednesday I found her precious salmon cakes in the protein compartment completely untouched. I got little information from her teacher’s aide about why her lunch wasn’t finished, and it was ultimately Charlotte on the car ride home who provided me with the key piece of information that I needed.

When she shared from the backseat that she had enjoyed a smoothie at school today, I pressed further. When I asked her what was in the smoothie, she promptly reported strawberries, raspberries, and yogurt. Yogurt? I began scanning my brain for the last conversation I had with her school staff about dairy. Had I made it clear that she couldn’t have dairy? I probably didn’t remind them this school year. So worried about gluten and grains, I completely forgot dairy! Swirls of guilt and confusion set into my thoughts and they were only made worse by what I saw when we got home.

I asked Charlotte if she had experienced a tummy ache or if anything hurt. She told me she felt fine, but while I watched her watching her favorite movie, Dora Explorer Girls, I saw the regulation and predictability around her behavior that we had recently gained slowly evaporate. As hard as she tried, she couldn’t sit still. Sensory seeking behaviors like pacing around the table, pushing on the edge of the table with her foot, and inverting herself in weird positions into the couch cushions were telling signs that things were not right in her body–all of a sudden.

A few minutes later she was arguing with her sister and communicating less. What she was saying wasn’t making sense. Her delicious Paleo dinner sat untouched, and I predicted a difficult night shift for myself, as Chad was out-of-town. Sure enough, at some point in the middle of the night, I woke up to find her pacing around my room in the dark, argumentative and upset about going back to bed.

Thursday morning I woke up feeling overwhelmed and upset. We had a full day ahead, and I was dysregulated myself–struggling with PMS and interrupted sleep. I was feeling angry and distressed, wondering why everything in my life has to be so hard.

And then I stopped. 

I found the strength that is found in clear and healthy thoughts, and I pulled out the mental tool box I have developed to help myself in these situations. I meditated a bit in the morning, said the Serenity Prayer several times, and then made a plan to help Charlotte.

When we arrived at our Occupational Therapy session a few hours later, I explained the situation to our wonderful therapist and asked for a restorative and regulatory session to get Charlotte’s nervous system under control. I took a brisk walk during her session to regulate myself and when she emerged, I could already see by the way that she sat down in the chair next to me that she was restored on many levels. I thanked our therapist profusely, and we went about our day with very few issues. The next day I spoke to her school and asked that dairy not be served to Charlotte. I asked the staff to substitute the gluten-free cookies that I had provided as an alternate treat.

I’ve often said that when Charlotte’s routine changes, it’s like a switch is flipped internally. She becomes dysregulated, withdrawn, frustrated, and just more autistic than we normally see. This was the first time I had ever see it happen with food. It was scary and empowering at the same time. I thought back to The Autism Revolution, which I continue to reread in parts every couple of days. The following quote stood out to me about our recent situation. From page 107 in Chapter 5 Help the Body Mend the Brain:

“…that autism may be more of a ‘state’ that can change than a ‘trait’ that is fixed and unchangeable. Change can come very quickly when a blockage is somehow removed or a previously unworkable connection is made.”

As parents we know these workable connections so well. In the form of eye contact, verbal processing, clear and understandable questions and answers, or even a lack of repetitive speech or nonsense talk, it’s when we reach our kids and see them respond. It’s exhilarating and inspiring. We keep at it and work toward more growth, improved communication, and the holy grail of self-regulation.

It’s my belief that when the workable connections break down, the child needs our help to restore order. No one else knows what they need like we do. From twisting into pillows in the couch to screaming at me in the middle of the night, I knew that Charlotte was calling out for help.

It’s a big responsibility. It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and lonely.

Parents of special needs children must wake each and every morning and recommit to helping their child get exactly what they need using varied skills and strategies–carefully planned meals, critical but objective observation, appropriate and efficient communication with others who deal with the child, as well as walking a tight rope schedule that challenges the child to be a part of the outside world while preventing their total load of stressors from reaching the dreaded tipping point.

My victory over yogurt last week taught me that in addition to all of things listed above, the skill of taking care of myself is a crucial step in regulating Charlotte. After pushing through PMS symptoms, anger, and guilt I was able to get to a place of problem solving and solutions.

It’s taken me years of difficult experiences to build a tool box full of helpful strategies and support, but over time I am learning to find the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can and most importantly, the Wisdom to know the difference.

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A Dose of Validation and Inspiration

Charlotte’s journey through Autism continues to teach our family powerful, life long lessons about how to manage our health. As we work to improve Charlotte’s overall health and reduce her stress, her Autism and sensory processing symptoms are minimized. She continues to emerge victorious from an internal battle of stressors and toxins that were working diligently to take her body down. 

I started this blog last year when I knew that I had this important story to tell. As I began to research our relatively common circumstances with such a relatively simple intervention, I expected to see many Autism and Paleo success stories. But to this day, ours stands as one in a lone few in the vast pages of a simple Google search.

When we began to treat Charlotte’s Autism with a Paleo diet, I searched for a community of sorts, a niche within the Paleo community that could give us a pat on the back, provide some science to back our success, and generally help us feel that we belong somewhere.

When I couldn’t find it, I created it, and when Robb Wolf updated his website, I noticed a spot for Autism success stories and knew that we belonged there. I scripted our story, provided a link it to this site, and submitted it in about 20 minutes, as not to lose my nerve. And as I follow the numbers, I am relieved to find more and more individuals come to this blog every day seeking a commuity within a community that provides support and information to connect the dots in their child’s health and do all they can to solve the mystery that is Autism.

Our personal story may be enough to inspire you to try Paleo for the sake of your child, but I am still a realist and I know how difficult it is to silence the skeptical voice of your pediatrican or relative, especially if you are new to Paleo. I continue to listen carefully in podcasts and blog articles for studies, science, or some level of proof of how Paleo helps Autism so that I could illustrate just how powerful and effective this intervention could be for you and your family. In addition, I really wanted to give you some fancy scientific words that you could bust out at the next function when your child’s bunless burger and fruit salad seem out place.

My prayers were answered. When I saw the Mark’s Daily Apple post entitled Autism: A Brain or Whole Body Disorder in my email in box, I got chills. Finally, somebody was talking to me. An instant cure for isolation in abyss of the Autism community was a load of information directly relating to our life was spelled out by Mark Sisson.

Paleo/Primal leader, Mark Sisson took an empathetic and straightforward approach in this powerful post, reaching out to those of us who are effected by the epidemic of Autism, while discussing complexity the conditions.

Mark lays out some developing science and theories, referencing a book called The Autism Revolution written by Martha Herbert, a Harvard pediatric neurologist. I ordered the book and now am on my second reading with pages and pages of notes that validate our journey. I’ve learned so much about why Charlotte’s health has improved, why her symptoms have improved, and most importantly how to continue to help her.

Dr. Herbert’s strategies center around the idea that Autism as a symptom of the entire body and all of its systems. She provides science and research through the stories of individuals, like Charlotte, who have shown improvements in their symptoms as a direct result of improvements in their overall health.

If you choose to read the book, you may find that Dr. Herbert’s style and message is similar to what you will find here on this blog. On page xii of the introduction, she refers to her work as “a book of success stories that makes sense biologically.” This instantly resonated with me as my goal for Peace Love Paleo is to eventually become a community of many more success stories, not just ours. Like no other book or article I’ve ever read, her thinking and research clearly lines up with our experiences and successes.

Dr. Herbert describes Autism “not a genetic tragedy, but rather an unfolding and unprecedented challenge related to many other health and environmental crises”. She wants to help you “understand that your child’s brain is not broken or impaired but challenged, overwhelmed, and obstructed.”

In addition, she works to instill a sense of gratitude and encourages you, as the parent, to “see your child as a teacher who will bring out how extraordinary you are and see too how much you can do when faced with an extraordinary challenge.” This is like music to my ears.

As we’ve learned in the past few months, she demonstrates how nutrients need to be an available resource to handle whatever challenges may come along in our children.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is searching for some readable science to back the connection between Autism and Paleo, needs to be inspired by stories of triumph over this disorder, or just wants to learn more about what Autism really is.

This book and Mark’s post will help define the focus of this blog. My plan is to present their information to you in usable and digestible chunks over the next few months. If you are coming off of a summer like I have, you need to be restored, inspired, and validated. I will do my best to give you tools to make that happen.

If I haven’t said it lately, thank you for being a part of this community within a community. Your comments and feedback inspire me to continue to share our story and give you what you may need to stay inspired and encouraged. Please keep the comments, questions, and stories coming. It’s not an easy road we’re traveling. Let’s continue to seek comfort in each other’s experiences and resources like Dr. Herbert’s book.

TGIF

Thank God it’s Fall.

This summer we faced challenges that forced us to take a hard look at our expectations, our lifestyle, and our reality. We had to dig deep, reevaluate and refocus on the health of our family.

We didn’t go off the rails with food. I wish we could say that having a few cheat meals or non-Paleo parties taught us that our health is a fragile state that cannot be taken for granted. It has nothing to do with food. While staying squeaky-clean Paleo we learned the hard lesson of how stress can be just as toxic to the body as gluten-filled pastries or a plate of pasta.

It is with relief and gratitude that I write this post to share how we weathered the storm of a stressful and dysregulated summer and made it to a place where we can continue to share our experiences in the hope of inspiring your journey toward better health.

When I reread the post where I regretfully signed off of this blog for the summer, I can feel the underpinnings of stress and anxiety in my words. I can sense the unrest that was setting up shop in our world and the waves of challenges that were forming. The girls’ dance recital, Chad’s emergency surgery, and other emotional stressors in the month of June began to shake our rock solid sense of control.

Reality

Parenting a fairly well-regulated, mainstreamed child whose ASD symptoms stood safely in the distance became upended with the change of seasons. It started with Charlotte’s nighttime wakings and like a switch that was flipped on her last day of preschool, restlessness took hold at night. Limited sleep descended upon all of us.

It was the first hint that the excitatory neurons that cause her ASD behaviors were unsettled and disorganized and had come out to play in the summer months.

Charlotte’s typical mildly defiant nature was replaced with regressive behaviors in unusual and unpredictable patterns. A lack of effort and defiance at ballet class, a loss of skills at swimming lessons, and screaming and tantruming at occupational therapy sessions were windows into the stress and disorganization she was feeling inside.

This unsettled and disorganized state is familiar to us. Charlotte tends to have more ASD symptoms in times of stress and change of routine. What was different about this period of dysregulation was how the change in her behavior effected the dynamics of our entire family and each family member individually.

I can tell you with certainty now that stress spreads. Like a virus that doesn’t respond to your best herbal treatments, it creeps into the thoughts and behaviors of all family members showing symptoms like conflict, exhaustion, pouting, and insomnia, not to mention the marital and sibling discord.

Without the distractions of school and activities the stress is constant–unending from daytime to nighttime and back to daytime again. Can Mommy get a break?

I was faced with the daunting need of my own flailing mental health while managing a household that was clearly but temporarily off track. It was all so familiar and traumatic. Like 2008, but with bone broth, salmon, and grass-fed beef instead of Zoloft and Ativan.

Choices

It was on our family vacation that my insomnia set in, and I recognized my adrenal and mental health issues were at a point of no return. As much as I tried to undo the anxious and negative thoughts that had gotten me to a place of unrest, I couldn’t undo the nighttime wakings and unsettled thoughts about Charlotte and her future that had set up camp in my consciousness.

I had the needs of my kids in my face 24-7, and I was beyond the point of yoga and meditation to help myself and my family. I considered going back on my meds as a quick fix. Numbing the pain would be helpful to my daily functioning, but I knew they would also blunt my creativity and passion for fighting through this challenge.

Digging Deep and Finding the Light

I’ve done it before and knew I must do it again. I reread my favorite self-help author Brene’ Brown and got inspired to Dig Deep. I found comfort and restorative energy in reading other blogs of special needs parents, learning all I could about Autism and regression, and continued to eat clean and get as many nutrients as I could find.

I got smart about the challenges that Charlotte was facing. I really wanted to combine all of her challenges into one big ball or misery and exhaustion, but I forced myself to peel apart the behaviors and address each one separately and deliberately. I made social stories to present acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in a visual format.

I began to feel like there was an overlap in the issues and feelings that Charlotte and I faced–a unsettledness that changed from day-to-day, a general feeling of not doing enough with our bodies and minds to feel fulfilled. I built on the exuberance and excitement that Charlotte felt on our family vacation to the mountains, and I got us outside as often as possible. I plugged into Paleo philosophies that were new to me–beach trips and bike rides, and as many trips to the pool as I could manage. We ventured out to nearby lake for fishing and playing, and we all found nature peaceful and calming like nothing inside the home could ever provide.

Toward the end of the summer, we began to find a rhythm within ourselves again. I had more energy to keep the girls entertained, and I began to understand that boredom was the bane of our existence. A more stimulated Charlotte was a better behaved and more regulated Charlotte. Everything and everyone felt better. It was counter-intuitive to everything I was working toward, but I let go of a strict routine, structure, and predictability, and let adventures and experiences help everybody. I tested my theory and took both girls on a road trip by myself right before the start of school.

I was amazed at the children that I saw before me. A full day of new experiences–from the beach to the zoo and out to dinner, their behavior was manageable and acceptable. I was in control again and having fun. I could feel my cortisol levels dropping as we connected and healed.

Learn and Grow

There were so many times when I wanted to come to this blog and write/scream/vent all of feelings of anger and frustration at the state of my life. How could I let this happen again? What had I done to deserve this state of stress and misery?

I knew you didn’t have the answer. I knew it was within me. I had some growing to do, and I was the only one that could help me with that. I went back to what worked in the past and built on it. Living Paleo has taught me to find strength and positive energy in things that come from natural sources–a good meal, a talk with a friend, and a walk around the block build patience and trust that lead a well of happiness and gratitude at the end of a long road.

The rhythm of the school year is upon us and I’m already seeing the familiar behaviors of motivation for learning, play and a good night’s sleep to finish the day. Boredom and restlessness have been replaced with inspiration and excitement.

While I’m happy to see this long and challenging summer come to an end, I know that we are all richer and wiser for the experience. I will take these powerful lessons and turn them into tools to stay healthy next summer. We will plan to stay busy and active, get outside everyday, approach behavior and sleep with a new perspective, and focus on staying relaxed and connected.

Life’s challenges are seasonal–always changing and deeply rewarding. This particular season taught me so much about my own health, the depth and power of my own strength, and the gifts that are my children.