Autism and the Battle with Mysterious Meltdowns

Having two boys on the autism spectrum, I have come to anticipate meltdowns. These are different from temper tantrums or hissy fits (these ones, I’m prone to). There are many articles delineating their difference, and through the years I’ve learned to correctly identify whatever it is I’m dealing with, and thus respond accordingly.

More importantly, I’ve become better attuned to the brewing stage of meltdowns. I’ve made the effort to identify triggers in order to avoid them and to understand what’s going on when meltdowns do happen.

Nonstop Meltdowns

However, there are meltdowns, and there are long spells of seemingly aggressive, violent, and self-injurious behavior. We had this with Cameron, who’s now 9 years old, from 3-6 years of age. These were outlier episodes. Cameron is very chill. When he was a toddler and first exhibiting signs of autism (they only emerged at 1.5 years – he had always been on time/ahead with his milestones before then), we initially kidded around about him being so cool, like he didn’t have time for cutesy and silly behavior that was typical of kids his age. If he paid any attention to you, it was like being noticed by that perfect but aloof guy in a high school romance trope. That he was very handsome (he is; that’s not just a mother talking) certainly completed the cliché. That was a fun, entertaining way to look at it, except that it turned out to be autism.

Anyway, for about two weeks every year, Cameron would have this spell of him crying and angrily thrashing around almost nonstop. Both of us would come out of those episodes with minor cuts and bruises. He’d be fine or back to his regular ways after, but I’d be licking my actual and metaphorical wounds in despair long after. Don’t worry; the licking is figurative. I’ve happily noticed though that those weeks of marathon meltdowns hadn’t transpired in the last couple of years.

And the Fun Continues

Last year, his younger brother Sawyer had his own autism diagnosis. Oh, we’d known he was on the spectrum long before the official diagnosis, but we thought we’d get the official certification as well so we could be advised by a professional, and, of course, so he could be eligible for PWD privileges.

Right away, the developmental pediatrician told us that Sawyer was incredibly intelligent – and this was a boy who was pretty much non-verbal. Side note: I hate using the term for my boys because they do have language and they would use it to ask for stuff they want. They can identify things like champs, but couldn’t figure out how to use all those words they know in a practical way. It’s just easier to throw the non-verbal label out there to manage other people’s expectations.

In any case, the doctor told us that Sawyer’s autism was mild and that he manifested many signs of giftedness. She recommended a regular preschool instead of SPED. Okay. I have always been committed to homeschooling, but I got excited about sending the boys to school. I had already picked summer classes for the boys to join – School Readiness for Sawyer and Life Skills for Cameron. And then the pandemic happened. At the very least, that stupid virus was a monkey wrench thrown into the new course we were to take on our autism journey.

Autistic and Gifted

The thing about Sawyer is that we could tell he was very smart. He taught himself how to read and write really early, like Marguerite, their big sister did, but he had been more challenged in that he wasn’t even conversing. He is extremely curious and interested. He would get into everything and want to try everything we were doing. It’s like the opposite extreme of Cameron’s coolness. Sawyer is red hot in his buttinski-ness. He has always had an air of mischief about him. He also had a very volatile temper. He laughed easily and got mad easily.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, he seemed to be in a perpetual rage, alternately crying and pouncing on those around him. We all fell victim to these attacks, but I was most frequently on the receiving end. It was a lot like trying to tame a bobcat, except more heartbreaking.

Meltdowns on Steroids

We tried to figure out what was going on with him. He didn’t seem to be in pain. Sometimes he’d laugh after screaming angrily. As much as I hate to say it, it often felt like a demon possession. He would thrash around on the floor in abandon, kicking his legs, uncaring of hurting others or himself. He’d ask to be hugged and carried, and then ambush us in the middle of being comforted. I was frankly at my wit’s end. Cameron’s episodes seemed like leisurely walks in the park compared to Sawyer’s.

We persisted in finding an explanation for the behavior. We all had theories coming out the wazoo. My mom thought that he was frustrated because he was so smart but had disabilities that hindered his learning. I thought that he was frustrated about not being able to communicate better in a verbal way (in his fits, he would often scream out a spate of random words, but, at the same time, he was also often successful in expressing himself, e.g. “I’m sad!” “Help me!”). Mark thought that he was experiencing restless legs (growing pains?) and remembered getting them himself at around Sawyer’s age, and they had been bad enough that he would cry because of them. We also thought that it was a sensory thing, that he was reacting to a stimulus that we just couldn’t detect yet.

Calming Tricks and Hoodoo

We had tried a diverse range of calming methods. Mark would roll Sawyer up in a soft blanket like a burrito. He would also tirelessly massage his son’s limbs.  I made a calming roller blend and calming play dough with lavender and bergamot essential oils. He definitely received lots of bribes from aunts and grandparents who wished nothing but to get back our mischievous but amusing little imp.

Sawyer’s birthday was on January 26, and while he was beginning to calm down, those lulls were often traitorous, presaging an ambush that left scratches and bruises on Sawyer and his hapless target. Understandably, his presents this year mostly had to do with calming him down. My sister gave him a much nicer bedtime projector lamp than the one we had (it was tacky; we moved it to the garage before Christmas where it projected red and green stars in the dark). My cousin got him kaleidoscopes and a fidget popping toy.

My mom got the kids gummy melatonin (not as a present), but we’ve only used it once to underwhelming results. It wasn’t for regular use, but we were trying to go back to an earlier bed time, and then, of course, there were those punishingly sleepless nights with Sawyer’s meltdowns. He refused to take one for some reason, by the way, while Cameron and Marguerite both did go to sleep  early but woke up in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll give it a go again when we encounter sleeping issues.

I’m also going around the house now to scope out the right ceiling beam from which to hang the boys’ therapy swing. My sister had given it to Cameron on his birthday, but we have yet to install it. Obviously, we’re getting all the tricks we could possibly conjure out to make sure we are well equipped to deal with a repeat of these episodes.

Of the tools we have used, I can say that the play dough, the popping toy and the lamp have been effective. The lamp’s effect can vary, however. It lulled Sawyer to sleep while it fascinated Cameron so much that he sat in front of it and watched for a long time.

These days, Sawyer’s episode is dwindling down. He’s still given to crying when he doesn’t get his own way, and I think his habit of holding his breath until he’s very red in the face has gotten to be, well… a habit that we have to distract him from. He has also learned to curb his impulse to grab and kick, and it does seem that whatever was causing him to fling himself down in a self-inflicted wrestling power bomb has gone. I’m not going to speak too soon and say that the episode is over, but I am praying that it is.

Anyone on the Same Boat?

Have you had any experience with this kind of episode? Do you know with certainty what caused it? What action did you take? I hope an informative, helpful, and supportive discussion about this can be started in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I’m coping, it’s with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Don’t judge.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the calming play dough that I made:

 

From Vicks to Katinko to Essential Oils (Plus Homemade Laundry Soap)

I recently saw a clip of Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy joking about Filipino moms’ tendency to cure everything at home. While I don’t resort to Vicks VapoRub for every malady like his did, it was definitely a staple at home when I was growing up. It was used a lot on me as I had a running cold (allergies it turned out) for most of my… oh, why limit it to childhood – for most of my life. That’s still the case up to now. I’m snotty in the morning, and my nose is sensitive to any disturbance – external (whatever’s in my environment) or internal (strong negative emotions). The urge to follow suit in the Vicks dependence is strong, except now, there’s Katinko. It took over Vicks VapoRub’s reign. I use it for pains, cough and cold, gas, etc.

As a true Katinko fan, of course, I got the ointment, the liniment, and the stick, but I’ve relegated them to the second line of defense. As much as I love Katinko, I know its ointment/balm is petroleum-based and it has synthetic ingredients in all its forms. In looking for a more natural alternative, I came across essential oils. This was about a decade ago, before the essential oil hype raged around the world.

I’ve always been interested in botany and herbalism. I can attribute the interest to various factors. First and foremost, plants and fungi are just so fascinating (right? *uncertainly* :D). Second, I was exposed to plant-based home remedies growing up.  I drank juice or tea from ampalaya (bitter gourd) leaves for my asthma, lagundi (Chinese chastetree) for coughs, calamansi (calamondin) for colds, and coconut water for UTI. I used acapulco (candle bush) for my dog’s episode with mange (it was an airborne problem, not mites), and you can safely assume that I squatted over a steaming pot of guava leaves tea in the days after giving birth. Third, my great-grandfather was an herbolario (herbalist, although many herbolarios were also witch doctors), so you could say it’s in my blood. I’ve always flirted with the idea of running an apothecary myself. Yes, in this century/millennium. I like the idea of making healing salves, balms, ointments, poultices, tinctures, teas, and (my daughter’s preferred term) potions all from natural ingredients. I know I have to do formal studies to run an apothecary. I don’t think my degree in foreign languages will cut it, lol. When I finally learn how not to be distracted, maybe I will formally study herbalism. In the meantime, however, I’m building my own FARMacy and using items from my garden for immediate remedies.

In any case, I thought essential oils fell right in with this lifestyle choice. When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I got even more into it. I came across various articles extolling the benefits of essential oils for special needs individuals. I started using oils to influence mood, encourage sleep, and stimulate mental clarity. Still connected to our autism diagnosis, essential oils figured as well in my bid to detox the family. Apparently, the commercial hygiene and home products that we use are rife with toxins, so I endeavored to start making my own from scratch, using oils and other natural, wholesome ingredients.

Considering my interest in essential oils, you’d have thought I immediately signed up with one of the dominant brands. Unfortunately, I have a problem with the idea of multi-level marketing, so I didn’t for a long time. I used different brands for years until I detected the better efficacy and general superiority of a couple of brands. It came down to two options, but I eventually chose Young Living as my essential oil brand of choice. I really liked doTERRA too, but most of the people I know were signed up with Young Living, so I decided to bite the bullet and sign up too. I figured if I was going to be using YL oils for virtually everything, I might as well get them at member rates.

Now, I likely won’t flourish much in the business side of YL because, first, I suck at selling; second, I suck at recruiting; and third, I don’t really have the time to devote to building a business. That’s not going to stop me from making a half-pantsed effort now and again though. You’re obviously getting a sample of some such effort right now.

All I can do is write about my experience with oils, how delighted I am with the benefits, how thrilled I am to be able to make my own products and know with certainty what’s in the stuff we use, how excited I am to share the oils and the knowledge with my loved ones, etc.

For now, I’d like to show you some of the essential oil blends I recently made. These are mostly rollers, blends I use for helping boost the immune system, for soothing itches, for repelling mosquitoes, and for combating allergies. There is also the spray blend I use to discourage aphids or to freshen up the smell of the room, plus a jar of homemade laundry detergent.

For the roller blends, it’s just fractionated coconut oil (which I prefer to virgin coconut oil, because it is more easily absorbed by the skin, doesn’t clog pores, and stays liquid no matter the temperature) as carrier oil and drops of essential oils. The spray, on the other hand, consists of distilled water and essential oils. For the laundry detergent, here’s the recipe.

You can make this by the gallon, of course, but it doesn’t have preservatives or other stabilizing agents, so I only make what I’ll be using for a week or two and then make another batch.

It gives me such fun, not to mention a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, to make things from scratch. Essential oils make the endeavor better for all the benefits they offer. You can count on me sharing more recipes for essential oil-based products here from time to time.

As wonderful as essential oils are, there’s a learning curve to using it. It’s important to know the basic safety protocols before you even start. For instance, use of certain oils is discouraged for certain ages. There are also important diffusing guidelines you should know before you start. What about pets? Are essential oils safe for them? Arm yourself with the fundamentals and you can reap the benefits of essential oils without courting risk.

If you’re interested in getting into essential oils, or you’re curious and want to know more about them, or you’re a fellow enthusiast and would like to chat about them, reach out to me here. Or we can chat in the comments section. Your call. 🙂

Foraging the Garden – Unlikely Edibles, Part 2

You’re stuck at home with nothing fresh and healthy in your fridge or cupboards. First, resolve to modify your grocery list (jk!), and then, look out to your yard for inspiration. When I go to my garden, I see quite a few things that I can use to add nutritional value to our meals. It’s not quite the “grocery garden” that I intend for it to be, but it’s getting there.

I enjoy gardening. I like to cultivate plants from seeds and cuttings. I get such a thrill from seeing green sprouts burgeoning out of the soil or green buds developing on stem nodes. Flowers have me doing a happy little wiggle, not only because they’re lovely, but they usually also mean that fruiting is at hand.

As much as I love plants that I grew myself, the excitement that a volunteer brings is something else. I will ruthlessly yank crabgrass from the soil, but with any other weed, I manifest a strange fascination. I’m always willing to let a volunteer grow more sturdy and then replant it in a separate pot, waiting to see what kind of plant it would turn out to be. More often than not, these weeds are medicinal, usually offering what could count as leafy greens as well. There have also been instances when volunteers turned out to be plants I would have grown willingly myself. For example, a papaya seedling suddenly showed up in a pot beside my dragon fruit plant. In another instance, a purple periwinkle (vinca) grew in a crack on the garden wall.

There is a popular volunteer, however, that tends to get overlooked since it’s common to see it as ground cover. I’m referring to the pansit-pansitan (pepper elder/ shining bush/ man to man). It’s characterized by shiny heart-shaped leaves and spikes with dotted tips, which are supposed to be their flowers. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), it also bears tiny round or oblong fruits, ridged, first green and later black. I’ve never seen a pansit-pansitan with fruit, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Its presence is so ubiquitous that I tend to ignore it.

Pansit-pansitan is incredibly medicinal. It helps with various ailments from skin problems to diarrhea to gout, et cetera. And, as I’ve learned from various gardening groups I belong to, it makes for good eating too. So, I decided to try it out. I went to the garden and snipped the bigger leaves, washed them, and then included them in a salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a chopped up onion, tomato slices, and lettuce, plus the pansit-pansitan. I then drizzled it with a dressing concoction of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon essential oil, ground black pepper, and sea salt.

Now, as mentioned, I harvested the pansit-pansitan from my own garden. I know it’s clean since I garden organically. My main fungicides are baking soda and ground cinnamon, and my pesticide is a garlic-chili spray I made myself. I nourish the soil with natural fertilizers like vermicast, epsom salt, fermented fruit juice, et cetera. Don’t get your pansit-pansitan from the side of the road and other questionable spots.

Another word of caution involves use of essential oils. Not all of them may be ingested orally. Make sure you’re familiar with the list of edible oils before putting any in your food.

I’m interested to learn more about wild edibles. I would really love to suddenly find pako (fiddlehead fern) in my garden, but that’s probably not going to happen since I don’t live in a rainforest (I used to!).

Anyway, I’d love to hear about your own foraging stories. Please share if you have any. Hasta luego.

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