Can you please forgive me, Dear Readers?
I wish to extend a sincere apology for neglecting this blog for so very long. I was blessed to have been asked to blog and edit for other websites over the past couple of years and as a result my personal blog here had to take a back seat; for that I apologize. I have a feeling that you all will understand, simply because I know YOU lead a life just as busy as mine.
In this coming year I am beyond excited to be able to carve out more time to blog HERE and share some exciting news with you. I have so much to share…for instance, did you know I am now homeschooling my amazing Twice Exceptional son now? Have I told you that I own a small home-based business now (see my website: www.youngliving.org/leighawilcox) and teach classes about using Young Living Essential Oils for health and wellness? Would you like to join me at an amazing conference in Chicago in May to learn about treating Autism Spectrum Disorders biomedically? I’ll be speaking as a panelist at AutismOne on using Young Living Essential Oils for ASD symptoms and I would love to see you there.
The “Worthy Links” (to the left) are undergoing an update, so if you see a link that doesn’t work or want to recommend I add a new site or blog – please let me know. I’m excited to be back and look forward to blogging here and interacting with all of you!
Great news! Even though my book ALL BETTER: A Touch-and-Heal Book is out of print in hardcover edition, thanks to Moving Picture Books it is now available for digital download for just 99 cents. It is easy to download for viewing on your iPhone, iPad or iTouch (or on your Mac or PC, too)!
Additionally, it is offered as part of a DVD called “Silly Discoveries” for $12.99.
Have fun watching your little ones help Puppy and his friends feel “All Better!”
Friends & Colleagues!
Great news came in the form of a picture book contract last week! My co-author, Summer Gibson, and I signed a contract with Skeezel Press for a picture book manuscript titled About Ella: Understanding Albinism. We are thrilled to be moving forward with this project and have plans to launch it next summer at the 2012 NOAH bi-annual conference in St. Louis!
Please stay tuned for additional information in the coming months!
*****Note: This post was originally published on October 7, 2010, on the former Dallas Moms Blog.*****
Connections make life rich. Each of us seeks to surround ourselves with people who have similar priorities and goals. Sometimes it is thanks to rather dire situations that we truly connect with others who change our lives forever.
Jenny McCarthy, while on tour for her new book, Love, Lust & Faking It, took time out of her schedule Wednesday night to have a drink with a local group of moms (and a few dads, grandmothers and sisters) following a book signing at the Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble in Dallas. Why? She graciously honored a connection that many local “Warrior Moms,” like me, have with her.
Let me be honest: Autism can be a very lonely place for families to journey. Especially in the beginning, after first receiving a diagnosis, many of us are so overwhelmed by responsibility (“I caused this” thoughts), shame (“I can’t control my own child” thoughts) and grief (“my child may never…make friends…have a meaningful, fulfilling job…get married…” and on and on kinds of thoughts) we don’t realize, (some of us for weeks, months or years) that we’re far, far from alone.
Jenny’s first book about her family’s personal journey with Autism, Louder Than Words, sparked some much-needed media interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and changed that “loneliness” for countless families battling ASD across the world. Jenny’s candid, heart-felt accounts of her son’s Autism and their family life in Louder Than Words garnered respect and attention from people from many walks of life. Her book tour talks with big hitters like Oprah and Larry King brought light and hope to many of us struggling with the Autism loneliness that sometimes clouds our wishes, thoughts and dreams.
When Jenny sat with Oprah on the Louder Than Words book tour and described her all-out-battle to recover Evan from Autism, Oprah graciously called her a “Warrior Mom.” From that day forward, women all over the world fighting for the health and well-being of their children living with ASD, had a new “team” name thanks to Jenny and thanks to Oprah! Jennifer Keefe, a DFW-area mom had connected with and a group of like-minded friends sharing their journeys with ASD and decided that very day to name their group “Warrior Moms” in honor of Jenny and her dedication to healing children living with illnesses associated with their ASD.
Jenny’s second Autism book, Healing and Preventing Autism, co-authored with Dr. Jerry Kartzinel, specifically addresses biomedical treatments for children with ASD, in my opinion pushed our “team” up another notch. This easy-to-read book continues to raise awareness with the general population and offers fundamental information on biomedical treatments to help Warrior Moms in the trenches. Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds, is a powerful tribute to the parents fighting to heal their children on a daily basis.
After my son Ethan’s Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis, I was quite fortunate to find like-minded local mothers fairly quickly. These mothers and I connected and continue to connect in ways that have truly changed my life. Over the past 4 years I’ve met several members of a group of moms who meet regularly (in person and online) to exchange ideas on biomedical treatments, thoughts about other ASD therapies and suggestions for gracefully living a life infused with ASD…these are true Warrior Moms. With these moms I feel connected.
These mothers “get” why I worry for my marriage and “get” my concerns about my son’s social and emotional well-being. They truly “get” why my son didn’t sleep in his own bed through the night until very recently. They “get” why Ethan is on a strict GFCF (Gluten-Free & Casein-Free) and low-sugar diet with 15+ daily supplements and medications. They “get” it all because they, too, LIVE with ASD 7 days a week 24 hours a day. But more powerful than that – these fellow Warrior Moms (and a few amazing Warrior Dads) “get” my drive and passion to read more, learn more, implement more and do MORE to make sure my son is as healthy (and happy) as possible and that the world he lives in will be more and more gracious and accommodating to his needs and differences as time passes.
We share such a bitter-sweet bond. Without Autism we Warrior Moms may have never met, but I send BIG thanks to God on a regular basis that we did meet. I simply wouldn’t be as strong of a mother, researcher, mommy-doctor/nurse/therapist and teacher as I am to Ethan without my fellow Warrior Parents – Jenny included!
So, while I was certainly star-struck by Jenny at Barnes & Noble and during her more private Warrior Mom Drinks/Q&A (she’s absolutely gorgeous and 100% authentic in person), I also felt right at home, comfortable and fully connected in a room of 50+ kindred spirits. Thank God that we are all in this together. Jenny accepted a toast in her honor by Jennifer Keefe and answered a few questions; some were related to cutting-edge technologies, some were personal questions about Evan and some were related to her plans for the future. Did you know that Jenny is going to have her own TV show next year? I’m eagerly anticipating the show and can tell you that Jenny has quite a nice fan base of Warrior Moms, certainly here in the DFW area, but I expect across the world!
In this journey, which I will admit still feels a little lonely every now and then, I thank God that I have my incredible Warrior-Mama friends to help guide me, focus me, lift me up and keep me positive and open-minded. I had a delightful night out with my fellow Warrior Mom (and Dad) friends: Amy, Arch, Erika, Gary, Jennifer, Jen, Julie, Laura, Laurel, Nagla, Nance, Sunny, Teri, Vicki and many others.
I also thank God for Jenny’s down-to-earth, unabashed passion and dedication to this worthy cause; she is a Rock Star Warrior Mom!
I am truly blessed by connections.
[Note: This post was originally shared on the former Dallas Moms Blog; since the post went up, Now I See the Moon has been read far and wide and is currently listed as Amazon's #3 Book for Special Needs Parenting! If you have not already read it...I strongly encourage you to do so!]
Aug 2010 - During the Autism Society National Conference, Elaine Hall, author of Now I See the Moon: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle (HarperStudio, 2010), and founder of The Miracle Project, took time out of her schedule to meet with me. It was a true pleasure to interview this petite, vibrant woman who exudes kindness and contentment.
A former film and television coach for children, Elaine worked with the likes of Dylan and Cole Sprouse from the Suite Life of Zack and Cody, long before they became “Zach and Cody.” (My son, Ethan, is a big fan of these handsome, talented boys!) Elaine’s work as a “baby wrangler” helped prepare her for motherhood, but when she could not biologically carry children, Elaine turned toward her Russian heritage to adopt a boy from a Russian orphanage. In Now I See the Moon, Elaine details this difficult, yet moving journey to find Neal, bring him home and raise him. When they arrived back in the States, Neal was just shy of 2-years-old and not well; it took a good 6-to-8 months just to nurse him back to health. Not long after that, Neal’s Autism diagnosis took center stage. Elaine shares in the book, “Now comes the reckoning. I am not ready for it. I do not accept that anything is really wrong with Neal. I see his soul. Neal’s soul is whole. Why would anyone imply that he is broken and needs fixing?” In reading Elaine’s words, I felt her pain…I relived my own.
Once Elaine came to terms with Neal’s diagnosis, she began a quest to find ways to reach him and bring him into her world. It was not until she entered his world that they truly connected as mother and son. When I met with Elaine, she shared a story with me which is also in her book; a story about pulling Neal through parking lots, even though he would resist time-after-time; so much so she sometimes felt she was dragging him to the car. One day, she slowed down and allowed Neal to guide her to stop and examine his particular fascination with the cars in the parking lots. Elaine recalls, “Now, following his lead, I stop with him, kneel down, and stare at the hubcaps. What I see is the most beautiful thing: the sun falling on a hubcap creates a starburst of brilliant, shining shards of light. They are magical, mesmeric.” As Elaine retold this story to me at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, I teared up and apologetically wiped at my eyes and nodded in understanding. But, Elaine didn’t mind my tears…we connected then and there. The truth is, when I force myself to slow down, my sweet son – Ethan, like Neal, is able to astonish and astound me with profound understanding and appreciation for the beauty in the world surrounding us. Like Elaine, I feel truly blessed to be a mother of such a special child!
As Now I See the Moon progresses, Elaine shares about the challenges that Autism brings to her family; she is candid about her marriage and frank about what happened to friendships when her sole focus became helping Neal and tending to his therapies and needs. Elaine shares about working with Dr. Stanley Greenspan to learn to better enter Neal’s world. With deep sadness in her eyes, Elaine asked if I was familiar with Dr. Greenspan’s work; his passing was felt across the ASD community this past spring…I could literally “feel” Elaine’s pain when she shared about how powerful his impact was on their lives. In the book, Elaine details working with Dr. Greenspan to create a home program for Neal with coaches (often theater friends Elaine trained) enabling Neal to make slow – but sure – connections. With many other therapies peppered in over the past 14 years, Neal – now 16-years-old – is doing incredibly well. He has become a phenomenal hiker and communicates well by typing and signing.
Elaine’s love for singing, dancing and the theater, paired with her passion to help children with Autism, turned into The Miracle Project; aptly named if you ask me. Elaine credits prayer and a friend’s help to obtain a special needs grant which came through at the ideal time. For the initial Miracle Project, Elaine spent hours and hours to train volunteers to follow the lead of students with Autism for 11 weeks, combining sensory and emotional needs with theater training. Working together, Elaine and the volunteers focused on the students’ interests and gifts to create a unique and beautiful theater production. When the second Miracle Project was set to start, HBO asked to make a documentary about it…and so a miracle (another miracle) was born! I feel I should share that initially, before I had the opportunity to speak with Elaine and read more about the Miracle Project, I mistakenly heard the title of the documentary and had visions of a very awkward, difficult-to-watch High School Musical. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The documentary, “Autism: The Musical” wowed audiences and won 2 Primetime Emmy awards in 2007-2008. And, best yet, the Miracle Project continues today in California under Elaine’s thoughtful guidance. It is a beautiful connection between children and adolescents living with ASD and caring, giving volunteers interested in entering these kids’ worlds and helping them find joy in song, dance and theater. In fact, dedicated people are now implementing the program in New York and Elaine looks forward to seeing it reproduced (under her guidance) in cities like Dallas, too. I would love for Ethan to be able to partake in something so powerful!
Additionally, “Fly,” a new CD, is available in association with the Miracle Project. The title-song “Fly” was written by a non-verbal teen living with ASD and, on the disk, different celebrities paired up with children living with ASD to record songs. Elaine’s hope is that typical kids will see that all of these kids living with ASD got to record songs with some great A-List names (think Jack Black and Kyra Sedgwick, among others). “Autism is cool,” is Elaine’s message!
I encourage you to visit each of the links within the post to learn more about Elaine: The Miracle Project, Fly, Elaine’s blog and Now I See the Moon. I fully enjoyed Elaine’s book and highly recommend it. Further, I encourage you to watch the interview Elaine gave on Good Morning Texas while in the DFW area in July 2010. Her genuinely loving and happy attitude is contagious, isn’t it?
*Note: This post was initially posted on the now discontinued Dallas Moms Blog on October 20, 2010.*
If you’re anything like me, your worries for your children don’t stop at today or tomorrow or even next week or month, they extend well into the future. Whether you’re raising a child with or without a disability, you’re probably actively making important plans for the future. Those of us raising children with special needs are often quite uncertain as to what the future will hold for our precious kiddos. Much of my concern about Ethan’s future (now 7-years-old) relates to how we might better help Ethan find success in higher education and later in establishing and maintaining a rewarding career. I know that many parents raising children like Ethan, with Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, share these concerns. We all see tremendous potential in our kids and simply want them to succeed and find joy in what they choose to do in life!
For that reason, I was thrilled to hear about the cutting-edge nonPareil Institute.non Pareil (nP) is taking a novel approach to working with adults on the spectrum in an on-the-job training program for technology- and gaming-related careers. The name “nonPareil” means “unparalleled.” nP is the first Institute of its kind.
Many times young adults on the spectrum have an innate knack for technology, but too often are not encouraged to build on this interest as they transition from high school into college or into the work force. nP takes this acute interest and natural skill with computers/technology/gaming and offers a different instructional and work environment which promotes acceptance, builds self-esteem and supports dignity.
According to Gary Moore, President and co-founder of nP, since much of the neurotypical world is not extremely accepting and accommodating of adults with Autism, there is a high rate of depression and suicide. Many young adults with ASD, even though they are bright, capable and eager, are unable to score and hold down “mainstream” jobs (like filling salt and pepper shakers in restaurants).
I can see why mainstream jobs could prove challenging in at least two ways. First, some of our young adults on the spectrum are simply not equipped to handle the intricate social system of some work environments nor are the work environments accommodating of these individuals’ diverse needs. Secondly, jobs (like salt/pepper shaker filling or bagging groceries at the supermarket) are far from stimulating or rewarding to these individuals. We all desire to work in jobs that fulfill us, right? Why would we expect anything different from individuals on the spectrum? Simply put, we shouldn’t.
That is why nonPareil’s approach to “education” is so refreshing. The students, ranging in age from 18 to 50+, work together in small group sessions led by nP’s other co-founder and CEO, Dan Selec, to build fundamental technical skills and knowledge. Everyone at nP values the students’ differences and the instructors focus on building upon the each individual’s strengths and abilities – as opposed to accentuating their disabilities.
Dan dreamed up nP in 2007. He started the Institute in 2008 to expose students to different technologies and tools in order to help them find their niche. Dan shares that nP implements a “mission of love and technology” that “meets students where they are and teaches them right there.” Both Dan and Gary are parents of children diagnosed with ASD. Their love and respect for this population is palpable; what they are doing for this group of adults is noteworthy, courageous and inspiring.
Once students have a foundation of knowledge and skill, they are encouraged to work independently on projects. Many students are currently working on designing iPhone and iPad apps and creating game maps (aka – new levels) for existing computer and video games. One nP student is close to making her first iPhone app sell…she is responsible for the entire project, including design, programming and art!
At nP, Dan and the other instructors work to gently guide students but ultimately allow them to decide what they wish to work on. When they’re creating a product, Dan helps them see how society might view it. Ultimately though, the power is in the students’ hands as they are encouraged to “bring their vision of what they want into the world,” says Dan. This I love! When I look at our society’s major advancements from the past to the present, it is often the forward-thinkers and out-of-the-box brilliant minds who have been instrumental in designing necessary change and advancements. nP is educating, nurturing and mentoring some of society’s out-of-the-box brilliant minds, right here in the DFW area!
nP has recently been recognized as a revolutionary new model for a self-sustaining non-profit organization. The games and apps sold by nP students while attending the institute will eventually go toward sustaining the program. Students pay a monthly tuition to attend nP classes and lab time held on the SMU Plano campus. In the current location, nP has about 20 students presently enrolled, but can accommodate up to 50 students.
With a large expansion planned for 2011, nP will be able to expand beyond 50 students and will be able to offer students more daily hours on the equipment. But, in order to make that happen, more funding is simply a must. Click to read more about the expansion plans or to learn how to make a much-needed donation.
At nP, smart students – many of them afraid of failing at yet another typical school or work setting – are allowed to succeed. More importantly, they cannot fail! It is students’ individual strengths that guide the direction of their program. When they leave nP, they will be armed with: work-force experience in a career which encourages creative self-expression; a community of co-workers with similar interests/goals; and a taste of sweet success. You have to admit – that’s powerful!
*Note: This post originally ran on the now discontinued Dallas Moms Blog…the information is still vitally important for parents, so I wanted to share it here! *
According to the Encarta Dictionary, a toxin is: a substance that accumulates in the body and causes it harm. I would venture to say that most people know that we encounter “toxins” on a daily basis. What you may not know is how frequently we encounter certain toxins and what effects they can have on your children.
Not long after our son, Ethan, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2006, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD,) I started searching for tangible ways I could help him. As I delved into the research, I learned about biomedical treatments. Thanks to Jenny McCarthy and lots of very dedicated and brilliant medical doctors with Autistic children themselves, biomedical treatments have become more popular and better understood in the past few years.
Prior to Ethan’s formal diagnosis I toyed with diet changes and found that he is sensitive to gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye and barley.) For many kids, gluten and/or casein (the protein found in milk and dairy products) act as poisons in the bodies of susceptible children. Today Ethan eats a completely gluten-free diet (along with a number of other necessary restrictions.)
With the help of Dr. Seshagiri Rao, a wonderful local DAN! doctor (Defeat Autism Now!) we ran lab tests a couple years ago to determine how Ethan’s various systems were working. Astonishingly, we discovered that he had a terrible yeast-overgrowth in his intestines, was extremely deficient in some Neurotransmitters with an over-abundance of others, and was showing very high heavy-metal readings of Mercury, Lead and Arsenic.
We also found that his zinc-to-copper ratio was extremely out of whack and uncovered a number of other deficiencies which needed to be treated. Over the past two years, we have also unearthed a bacterial overgrowth, an Amino Acid deficiency and discovered that Ethan’s body does not produce enough Glutathione, a key antioxidant. Even though he appeared to be a “healthy” child, Ethan was ill on so many levels, and the illness was manifesting itself through his behaviors! Here we were a typical middle-class American family with a healthy diet and access to standard American medical care via a PPO. How could our sweet boy be so very sick?
I began to compulsively research how this could be. Further, I explored all available options for helping Ethan’s little system heal. Much of what I have learned along the way is knock-your-socks-off-scary. I’ve come to the disturbing conclusion that we now live in an extremely toxic world. I think every parent needs to be aware of certain toxins which may be damaging an entire generation of children. Families, especially those with susceptible children (think ASDs, Asthma, Allergies, ADHD, etc.) need to consider putting safeguards into place. Sadly, these kids’ systems are inefficient and often unable to process out the nasty toxins.
Here are 12 “everyday” toxins I believe you NEED to know about to protect your loved ones:
Lead: Though it was banned from paint and phased out of automobile fuel in the 70′s, lead is still a concern for modern families. Airplane fuel consumption, metal melting, auto body finishing, cement manufacture and incineration all routinely release lead into our atmosphere. (Note: we lived just south of the DFW airport while I was pregnant with Ethan and until he was about 3 ½ years old.) Also, we must not discount the numerous reports of imported toys testing ridiculously high in lead levels in recent years.
Arsenic: Added to chicken feed to kill parasites and promote growth, Arsenic accumulates in the chickens (which we eat) and is passed into their excrement (which is later used as fertilizers on other farms) so it is then passed back into the aquifers. Conversely, not only are we getting it in our chicken meat, we are also drinking it in our water and ingesting it via contaminated crops (like rice) grown/farmed in our contaminated water supply. That’ll make you think a little longer about your next “Chicken and Rice” dinner! Knowing all of this, I now “invest” in organic, free-range chicken meat.
Mercury: a.k.a. Hg, Mercury is considered the most toxic, non-radioactive element on the planet and is a verified neurotoxin. Yet, our country alone releases an estimated 200 metric tons of mercury into the environment each year. Once released into the atmosphere, it returns to earth as rain and pollutes every body of water. For me, Mercury raises concerns on several levels: 1) Fish consumption, 2) Dental Amalgam Fillings, 3) Flu Vaccines. While a “safe” level of mercury has never been truly identified, the US EPA recommends no more than 0.1 mcg/Kg of body weight per day.
• Most fish have 0.2-0.3 mcg of Mercury per gram of meat. You do the math–one 6oz serving of fish could easily calculate to total several days’ worth of “recommended 0.1 mcg/Kg” mercury in one sitting, for an adult; the assault to the system of a child would be even greater.
• Secondly, Dental Amalgams (which I had while pregnant with Ethan,) release mercury each day as a result of chewing. (Yes, that’s right…chewing!) Say a person has 8 amalgam fillings, an estimated release of about 104 mcg of mercury vapor each day would flood their system, which is well over the “recommended” EPA daily exposure.
• Finally, many people don’t realize that mercury is still used as a preservative in most flu vaccinations. Recommended by the CDC for pregnant women, babies, toddlers and young children, yet these flu vaccines contain a known neurotoxin. Please consider that the mercury in flu vaccines, along with other nasty additives, is injected directly into one’s bloodstream essentially leaving the body no way to “filter” the mercury out before it does irreversible damage to very delicate systems. Ethan had a nasty regression at the age of 4 from a flu vaccine. Solution? If you must get a flu shot while pregnant or give one to your young child–demand–and I do mean demand, a Thimerisol-free vaccine. (Thimerisol is 49% mercury and is used in many flu shots to this day, including the H1N1 vaccines which have received so much attention in the past year.)
Just a couple more surprising sources of Hg to consider: light-up shoes and shirts, plus there are even small amounts of Mercury in most high-fructose corn syrups. Ethan had to part with some really cool Sketchers this month because we just can’t chance exposing his body to more Mercury if one of the light mechanisms gets broken.
Phthalates: Used to soften plastic and make it more flexible, Phthalates are found in such things as soft plastic water bottles, soft vinyl toys, shampoos, hair sprays, perfumes, deodorants and various pharmaceuticals. Phthalates are known hormone disrupters which cause sperm and genital problems in males. Next time you buy a water bottle on-the-go, consider that it has released phthalates into your water, especially if it has experienced any heat on the way to your hands. Invest in reusable stainless steel water bottles and glass storage containers for your left-over food to protect your family and help the environment, too.
Flame Retardants: a.k.a. PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are known to disrupt thyroid function, cross the placental barrier and pass through into breast milk. Flame retardants are commonly found in children’s pajamas, in furniture foam, in carpet padding and are even found in cell phones, computers and TV monitors. Our children are often sleeping on mattresses with PBDEs and wearing PJs with PBDEs…so they’re breathing the fumes for 9+ hours every night! Then, they spend many waking hours in classrooms and/or homes with computers, TVs and cell phones. Additionally, PBDEs are being found in our water supply and getting passed along to farm-raised fish. We now only buy organic cotton PJ’s for Ethan and when it is time to replace bedding we’ll purchase an all-natural organic cotton mattress. Though these options are much more expensive than their PBDE counterparts, we think they’re worth it.
Bisphenol A: a.k.a. BPA, found in hard plastics including many baby bottles, the lining of tin cans, food containers and many dental sealants. BPA is associated with breast and testicle cancer, diabetes, hyperactivity, obesity and low sperm. Be aware–since babies’ livers are so new, it is estimated that 3-6 month old babies are likely to accumulate 5x more BPA than adults, from comparable exposure. The Obama administration has recently gone public with questions regarding the safety of using BPA. Additionally, some companies have shown concern in recent years and now create BPA-free products, like BornFree Baby Bottles. Sure wish I’d known when Ethan was a baby how very damaging BPA can be.
Teflon: a.k.a. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid,) is used to prevent food from sticking to cooking surfaces. This chemical is actually classified by the EPA as a “likely carcinogen.” How many of you are preparing your meals with an invisible side of a “likely carcinogen?” We recently got rid of all of our non-stick cookware. Non-PFOA cooking options to consider for your kitchen: stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic titanium, and porcelain enameled iron.
Polyvinyl Chloride: a.k.a. PVC, often used in flooring in American houses. A study in NeuroToxicology in Feb. ’09, found a direct relationship between PVC flooring in a mother’s bedroom during pregnancy and the future development of an ASD. A simple word to the wise: consider alternative flooring in your master bedroom and the kids’ rooms, if possible. Hardwood and tile floors are increasingly more popular with families concerned about toxins in the home.
Styrofoam: A polymer of styrene, Styrofoam is made from benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Styrene mimics estrogen and disrupts hormone function. Absorption of styrene is increased by higher fat content of food, by alcohol, by lemon juice and by the heat of the contents. (Think about your morning Latte. Did it come in a Styrofoam cup, at a high heat, with cream in it?) Not to say that you should never again treat yourself to a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea, but it would be wise to carefully monitor your exposure. Also, ground meat is usually placed on a Styrofoam tray and wrapped with Phthalate-ridden plastic. Tote reusable coffee cups with you and ask your butcher to wrap your meat in butcher paper.
Pesticides: Dursban (chlorpyifos) is one of the most widely used insecticides and is one of many nerve gas derivatives commonly in use in our society today. While the EPA declared that it “posed unacceptable health risks” in 2000, it was never banned. Some companies have withdrawn it from residential sales but it is still widely used in schools, daycare centers, hospitals and crop fields. As such, food is now identified as a major source of exposure to pesticides in young children. This is why we buy locally grown organic foods whenever possible. “Organic” simply means that the food was not processed with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetic engineering or irradiation. Non-organic foods are processed with thousands of chemicals, many of which have never been adequately tested for toxic effects, especially in varying combinations with one another. We have a local company come in quarterly to help us handle our “pests” in an all-natural fashion so I don’t have to fret about allowing Ethan to play in our backyard.
PERC: a.k.a. Perchloroethylene or Tetrachloroethylene, is used in the dry cleaning industry. Over exposure to PERC can cause impaired memory, confusion, drowsiness, vertigo, irritability, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting; continued exposure can cause tremors, numbness, coma and death due to respiratory paralysis. If you must dry clean your clothing, look for companies using CO2 based or silicone based techniques instead of PERC. When you do bring your dry-cleaned garments home, remember to leave them covered (in your car). Then hang them outside, take the plastic off and allow them to air out for a couple of hours before bringing them inside.
VOCs: a.k.a. Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs are often used in paints and solvents. By definition, “volatile” simply indicates that these chemicals readily evaporate into the air. In this way they pollute our environment and when trapped within the confines of a house or building, can irritate and harm the people who breathe in the fumes. Non-VOC paints are more natural, often created from other organic compounds. As such, they not only smell better but they are far less likely to worsen pre-existing conditions like allergies or chronic respiratory problems. Our last home project required several coats of paint and we went with a Non-VOC option and have been quite pleased.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list of toxins American families are raising concerns about, and I am far from being a medical doctor or an environmental expert, I felt this information was too useful and important not to share. Much of the information shared above I learned at a DAN! Conference hosted by the Autism Research Institute in Dallas in October ’09.
Dr. Stuart H. Freedenfeld, Medical Director of the Stockton Family Practice and Autism Treatment Center in Stockton, New Jersey, gave a very informative talk called “Defending Your Child from a Toxic World” to a room full of stunned parents, doctors and caregivers. Though I very nearly left Dr. Freedenfeld’s presentation that night feeling completely overwhelmed and panicked due to this over abundance of truly nightmarish information, I took something Dr. Feedenfeld said to heart and would suggest you to do the same.
To paraphrase, the doctor encouraged everyone to take things slowly and make changes at a pace with which you’re comfortable. Don’t beat yourself up for things you’ve done in the past which “may have” contributed to a health problem. If you think there might be a problem now, err on the side of caution and make the changes you can to create a safe, healthy environment for your family. Thank you, Dr. Freedenfeld, for teaching me how to “defend” my family and encouraging those of us in your presentation to pass the knowledge along.
If you know of other toxins that you feel are a true concern to American families, please leave a comment below because this is by no means an all-inclusive list. Let’s use this as a tool to inform one another. I hope you can use my notes to “clean up” your family’s environment as much as you see fit and I look forward to learning from you. For us, “project clean up” is a true work in progress and happens in gradual steps. While we still haven’t altered everything I’d like, I’m proud of the changes we have made and feel confident that each change has helped my son become healthier and stronger.
Last year at this time, I had just started writing for the Dallas Moms Blog and was excited by some social progress Ethan was making with his peers at school (thanks to two very busy Italian plumbers). As I refect on Ethan’s progress (and work on a new post about Ethan’s progress regarding social awareness this year for AutismSpot.com to be posted tomorrow) I wanted to re-share this post from February 10th last year!
With Valentine’s Day this Sunday, relationship-talk is abundant. Everyone seems to have something important to share about creating lasting relationships–and I’m all ears. Since my son (Ethan, 7 years old) lives with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), an Autism Spectrum Disorder, he often has difficulty with forming and maintaining friendships. The truth is most kids and adults with AS have deficits related to social skills and communication. In our house, we are almost continuously immersed in friendship discussions in one form or another to help Ethan acquire skills which develop organically in the majority of his peers.
Don’t get me wrong, my guy is one heck of a talker, he’s highly verbal and loves a good chat. His “communication deficits” have more to do with understanding non-spoken elements of communication like body language, facial expressions and utilizing fundamental pragmatics of language.
He tends to have difficulty realizing when friends are tired of hearing him talk about certain topics or when a friend wants him to stop doing something bothersome or irritating. We work to understand and embrace these difficulties in our house and try to find inventive ways to role play or use daily situations as conversational springboards to help Ethan learn more about successfully communicating with those around him.
Thankfully, Ethan also attends a phenomenal Social Thinking Group (based on the Social Thinking Curriculum developed by Michelle Garcia Winner) with other kids and several very dedicated therapists at Help, Hope, Solutions in Plano. In this way, Ethan is constantly learning new social thinking skills at home, in therapy and at school. It is the school part that is hard on all of us, simply because my husband and I can’t control anything that happens or help Ethan problem solve on the playground, in the lunch room or during any of the other social times built into the school day.
Imagine my delight when I recently discovered that by giving Ethan his own hand-held Nintendo DS game player for Christmas, we have actually facilitated conversations with “neurotypical” peers at school (appropriate conversations at that!) Over the past month, since Ethan received the Super Mario Bros. game as a gift from his Aunt and Uncle, he has been forming bonds with friends at school and creating opportunities to interact with new kids at lunch and during recess.
He has shared with us that two classmates share his love for the 25+ year-old-video game. I personally witnessed him utilizing the characters, the game levels and winning strategies with one of the boys when I dropped in at lunchtime while I was volunteering for the school’s Scholastic Book Fair. Who would have ever guessed that I would love two miniature, super-human, Italian-American plumbers so much? This Valentine’s Day, I unashamedly admit–I ♥ Mario and Luigi!
Do you have any unexpected loves you would like to share this week leading up to Valentine’s Day? Have you ever stumbled across something unexpected but ever-so-appreciated nonetheless? I’d love to hear about your startling discoveries and surprising loves.
Update: As of 2011, Ethan still loves playing Super Mario Bros. and has actually begun playing on a Nintendo Wii purchased with his birthday money last fall. For a post about our decision To Wii or Not To Wii, please click through to see my post for AutismSpot written last November!
In the past several months, I have been consumed by my work at AutismSpot.com (as the Assistant Editor) and had been writing weekly for the Dallas Moms Blog, until about a month ago. Add that in with caring for Ethan and writing + marketing my many manuscripts – I simply had to take a hiatus from this blog. My sincere apologies accompany my thanks for your patience.
With the former Dallas Moms Blog discontinued (and with the archives wiped clean), I want to share some of my favorite DMB posts here. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them in the coming weeks/months (some of you will be rereading them, some of you may be reading them for the first time) but either way, I hope you’ll feel free to share them with friends and family you think might enjoy them.
Happy Reading, Friends!