Archive for the ‘Family Issues’ Category

Muslims, Methodists and Me

September 13, 2013

 

PEACE

 

I have had a fairly broad religious education. I grew up in the 1950s in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, and played primarily with Jewish friends as a young child.  In fifth grade, I had the privilege of being admitted to an independent girls’ school, where I helped fill the quota of two spots allotted to Jewish students.  When I moved away five years later, my space went to another Jewish student.  In my Episcopal high school, I attended chapel daily, sang in the choir, and still know three verses to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” In graduate school at a Jesuit college, I met my first nun. I’ve studied both the old and new Testaments, and can recite many psalms and Biblical passages.

However extensive my experiences, I was not prepared for the profound religious connections I had in 2013.  This year I was embraced, both spiritually and physically, by two amazing groups: Muslim parents in Kuwait launching a center for their young adult children with disabilities and a Methodist ministry sponsoring an autism conference closer to home.  If you have been following my blog, you know about the former. The latter occurred this summer on the top of a mountain at a heavenly place called Jumonville, a retreat center an hour from Pittsburgh, where, on a clear day, you can see three states!

“Do they know you’re Jewish?” was one of the first questions many people asked when I told them about my invitations to go to Kuwait and be the keynote speaker at this year’s Autism Initiative.  “I think so,” I said, wondering if it mattered.  It didn’t.  No more than my being female, having green eyes, or being over 60.  In fact, it mattered so little that, at times, I felt closer to these warm, loving people than I did to many of my own faith.  What did matter was that regardless of our beliefs about God, we had the same basic values, philosophy and goals toward people with disabilities: that every individual is deserving of respect and love, and the opportunity to thrive, not simply survive.

What surprised me was that no one proselytized, and that many asked questions about Judaism, attempting to broaden their own religious education.  A few times I was embarrassed at how little I knew; most of all, I was proud of my heritage and its teachings that we all worship one God.  When I looked at the faces of the men and women in traditional garb in Kuwait, they looked indistinguishable from those of the religious Jews in my childhood neighborhood.  We were, if fact, distant cousins whose ancestors, many centuries ago, had wandered in the desert together.

The biggest message was that of acceptance.  Few I met were ashamed of or embarrassed by their kids.  No one watching the interactions among these families – mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins – could have any doubt about the total inclusion of their relatives with special needs in the warm loving embrace of their families.

On the top of Jumonville Mountain I witnessed the same loving acceptance that I saw in Kuwait.  Prayer was a major healing tool in both locales, and science confirms its power.  While unconditional acceptance of our family is an enviable trait that many of us strive hard to attain, a tough question that kept nagging at my brain is this, “Are they maybe TOO accepting of their children as they are? And can unconditional acceptance interfere with seeking out therapies and treatments that can enhance potential?

I have spent a long career promoting a healthy diet, nutritional supplements, daily movement and exercise, glasses, environmental accommodations and more recently assistive technology.  These are, in many cases, life-altering interventions. I will never forget the non-verbal Kuwaiti young woman with autism who, given an iPad, was communicating within minutes. Then there is the untoilet-trained ten-year-old with alternating diarrhea and constipation, who had normal bowel movements after three weeks on a gluten- and casein-free diet.  And what about the sociable, verbal 30-year-old man with Fragile X syndrome who could not walk a straight line or catch a ball until fitted with prism lenses that corrected an eye turn?

Religion, no matter which one, and the latest medical science are indeed compatible partners.   I am grateful for these invitations, and in retirement look forward to continuing to delve into some of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

Stress

February 17, 2013

Stress from Google

Everyone is stressed! The fewer the stressors, the more opportunities for learning and development for children of all ages. Our goal is to identify and eliminate as many stressors as possible.

Environmental – Our homes and schools are full of stressors.
o Toxic Chemicals – Lead, mercury, antimony, aluminum, and other “heavy metals” reduce immunity, and interfere with the body’s ability to perform its many functions. Lead is “old news” and we know that any amount is unsafe for cognitive development. Every child should have lead levels tested.
Mercury, antimony, and aluminum are the “new” toxins that are also showing up in the bodies and brains of children with all types of delays. Their sources are power plants, ground water, petroleum plants, dental amalgams from the mother, vaccines, flame retardants, cookware, and other unlikely places. Read more about these metals here  and here.
Green your building with non-toxic materials for flooring, paint, cleaning supplies, building products, art and office supplies.
Chemicals from disinfectants, cleaners, building materials and other supplies “off gas” and when a person breathes them, they are toxic to the body. They are especially harmful to people with compromised immune systems, and those who have asthma.
The standard benchmark for design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings is LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Find a green building in your city, learn who greened it and consult with them.  Here is a handbook on how to green an existing building.
o Air Pollution – Open the windows when possible. When too hot, make sure air conditioning equipment is clean and not moldy. Use HEPA (an acronym for “high efficiency particulate air”) indoor air filters throughout building. HEPA filters can trap a large amount of very small particles that vacuum cleaners recirculate back into the air.
o Fluorescent lighting – Replace with bulbs that do not make noise or flicker. Use bulbs that offer the right color of lighting. Read this article on lighting.
o Noise – Play soft, gentle music, such as Mozart, which is the same rate as the human heart beat. Read more information  on “The Mozart Effect.”
Biological – Our bodies are toxic waste dumps too. Reduce our exposures.
o Water – Good hydration is essential for learning. Ensuring that our drinking water is pure is one of the most important steps we can take for children with developmental delays. Water should be available and offered frequently. Use water filters throughout the building.
o Diet and Nutrition – What kids are eating can be the determining factor between health and sickness. This is especially true for children with developmental delays. Sugar is one of the most damaging of all products ingested. Read more about it here.
Encourage families to cook and not eat “fast food.” Help them understand the importance of a varied diet of natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables, good quality protein and good fats.
Research is showing that eliminating some foods from kids’ diets helps their development and learning tremendously. Many foods are shown to cause ear infections. Two types of foods that are particularly problematic for kids with delays are those containing gluten, the protein from wheat, and casein, the protein from dairy products. Read about gluten and dairy in many websites containing “gfcf.”
Children with Down syndrome have especially high nutritional needs. A company that specializes in the care and feeding of those with this genetic syndrome is Nutri-Chem, in Ottawa, Canada. The founder, Kent MacLeod, a pharmacist has written a book on the importance of diet and nutritional supplementation: Down Syndrome and Vitamin Therapy.
o Allergies – Many kids with developmental issues have allergies, not only to airborne particles, insects, and other environmental pests, but also to foods. Some allergies are life-threatening and immediate, such as shellfish and peanuts. Others are troublesome, causing fatigue, rashes, respiratory and digestive problems, and are delayed, taking hours or even days to show up. Read about the different kinds of allergic reactions here.

Physical – The physical body needs a good sensory diet and sleep to reduce stress.
o Movement – Use every opportunity to move to learn. Little children’s bodies learn by moving and using their senses of touch and having their muscles and joints take in sensations. Two good books about the importance of movement in learning are, Smart Moves: Why Learning is not all in Your Head, by Carla Hannaford, and Physical Activities for Improving Learning and Behavior by Cheatum. Obtain the workbook “Begin Where They Are,” with therapy activities, from http://oepf.org/product/begin-where-they-are-0.
o Reflexes – Over 100 different reflexes are programmed into the body to get the body moving appropriately. If demands on the body are premature, before the reflexes are fully integrated, then delayed development can be the result. Learn about reflexes through an intensive training session. Learn more about reflexes at http://masgutovamethod.com
o Vision – While some children have eyesight problems that can be corrected by glasses, others have vision issues, such as the two eyes not working together, in conditions called exotropia, esotropia and strabismus. Motor activities that are the foundation for vision development and the body must be strong to support binocular vision. The relationship between vision and learning can also be a training session for those at the center. To learn more about vision, read this.
A book explaining the role of vision in learning is How to Develop Your Child’s Intelligence by Getman.
o Hearing – Listening is to hearing as vision is to eyesight. Although a child can hear, his brain may not process what it hears. Several “listening programs” are available to help children give meaning to what they hear. Look here for understanding of this area.
o Sleep – Everyone needs uninterrupted sound sleep for their bodies to heal and repair. Pre-school aged children require 11-12 hours of sleep per night. Young children with disabilities might need more if they are contending with health issues. Help parents and teachers understand their kids’ need for rest periods. Read this.
Educational – Schools are often unknowingly a source of stress too.
o Inappropriate curriculum – All children learn in a predictable developmental sequence, just as they learn to walk before they run. We discourage teaching rote concepts such as the alphabet, counting and naming to young children. These skills will emerge when a child is developmentally ready. Here is an article on this subject.

o Non-ergonomic furniture – Sitting in small chairs when the trunk and head are not stable only results in compensatory techniques like tilting the head and rotating the hips. Replace hard, wooden chairs with soft gym mats, beanbags, cushions and pillows to help children develop core strength.

Emotional – Families have so many situations that add stress.
o Unreasonable expectations – This stressor is tied to the one above related to an inappropriate curriculum. Children want to please adults, and when they cannot comply with expectations, they become discouraged. Make sure that requirements are consistent with a child’s developmental age.
o Worries and fears – Some kids like being around many people; others find crowds difficult. It appeared that many of the children we saw were somewhat fearful of having so many adults watching and prodding them. Observations should be limited to one or two adults at a time until a child is comfortable emotionally.
o Family Issues – Today’s families, especially those with multiple children with disabilities, are under a great deal of stress. They need support systems to help them cope. Offer parent and sibling support groups where adults and children can share their experiences and learn from each other.

Behavioral – Treating symptoms is never the right answer.
o Medications – Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs all have side effects which can cause behavioral symptoms as benign as restlessness and irritability, and as serious as rashes, seizures and fevers. They can also interfere with sensory processing, such as cause double vision and tactile defensiveness. Instead of treating symptoms, look for natural alternatives to prescription drugs, and search for underlying causes of illness, such as food allergies and toxicity,.
o Screen Time – While young children are attracted to the bright colors, sounds and movement of objects on computers, iPads, and iPhones, these two-dimensional objects are not good for development. To learn, children need to touch and see objects in three dimensions, not on flat screens. Please consider replacing electronic toys with playthings made out of natural materials. For non-verbal children, speaking with real people is superior to speaking to a machine. Psychologist Jane Healy is the expert on brain development and screen time. Please refer to her books, Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds — and What We Can Do About It, and Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence.

Summary
Even with loving, supportive parents and teachers, the our lifestyle and environment add stress to the lives of our children with developmental delays. Start with the physical environment, and reduce exposures to noise, light, toxins and sensory overload. Every time you replace a product, purchase one of higher quality with fewer toxins. Gradually, stressors will reduce, and the home and school will be more conducive places for learning and growing.

Kuwait Revisited: Offering Help to Those with Severe Disabilities

January 3, 2013

Kuwait Dubai Jordan and Erika's wedding etc 441Kuwait Dubai Jordan and Erika's wedding etc 241artists

Right before Christmas, I returned from my second mission to Kuwait. Now that the holidays are over, I want to share my impressions. I made my first trip there in May, when I was invited to assist with the launch of Center 21, whose motto is “putting the able in disabled.” This enormous undertaking is the brainchild of devoted parents who want their son and others to continue to learn and grow despite the fact that they are no longer eligible for educational services. Center 21 will provide therapeutic and recreational services for the thousands of young adults with disabilities in that tiny country squished precariously between Iran, Iraq, and Saudia Arabia.
The Hosts
Lamia and Nabil and their children Abadi, Saud and Nadia, opened their home and hearts to us. Abadi, the inspiration for Center 21 remembered me, and followed the adult strangers around like a puppy dog, high fiving us over and over again. He was clearly communicating his welcome! His younger siblings, one in college, the other a high school senior, soaked up our knowledge, learning from us at every opportunity. One of Center 21’s volunteers, Fawzi, was our driver, tour guide, technology consultant, and caterer, anticipating and taking care of our every need from sightseeing to late dinner. My team of experts instantly fell in love with our hosts’ warmth and generosity. They made this venture so comfortable and enjoyable that it hardly seemed like work!
The Team
This trip had one repeat member, my long-time friend and colleague, Aubrey Carton Lande, occupational therapist, award winning musician and horsewoman. Accompanying Aubrey and me on our excursion was Mary Rentschler, a specialist in Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI®). Completing this international team were Scandinavian neuro-developmental optometrists Thorkild and Lena Rasmussen, whose unfathomable job it was to evaluate and prescribe treatment for the undiagnosed vision issues rampant in the special needs population. As team leader, my prodigious responsibility was as case manager, educator and priority-setter. What a humbling challenge for us all!
The Mission
Whereas in May our emphasis was on visiting schools, government agencies and private organizations, this trip focused on providing individual assessments and services that could improve the quality of the lives of those with special needs. We set up serial evaluations with each expert, followed by group explanations of the role of each area in remediation, and the importance of continuity, support and follow-up by the families. In addition, similar to our previous trip, we delivered an evening conference in a magnificent ballroom, followed the next night by small group discussions on prioritizing therapies, sensory diets and reflex integration.

The Culture
Whoever would have thought that a nice Jewish girl from Pittsburgh would come out of retirement to hang out, joke with, and consult to Muslims in Kuwait? We bonded as humans with common goals and philosophies that instantly overrode our religious, educational, language, fashion and cultural differences. When speaking with parents, sometimes with a translator, my brain quickly disregarded the traditional dress worn by some, seeing only the love in their eyes, and the fear in their hearts. Kuwaiti parents are no different than my clients in the States.
The Disabilities
After working for over 40 years with families of those with special needs, I thought I had seen it all. But nothing prepared me for the complexity of the issues facing these Kuwaiti families. While the country is oil rich, it is resource poor. When a young child receives a diagnosis, little remediation is offered. “Take your child with a disability home and love him,” most families were advised.

We met many individuals age four through the mid-twenties with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, and global developmental delays. Because Center 21 is planning to have an outpatient facility providing occupational and speech therapy services to all ages, younger kids were included in our case load. Many parents had not one or even two children with diagnoses; several had three of eight or so children with serious disabilities under one roof. Only the loving care of live-in nannies from countries such as the Philippines and Nepal helped them cope.
Just like their American counterparts, families in Kuwait are grateful for and blessed by all of their children, regardless of ability. However, because prenatal testing is not performed in Kuwait at the drop of a hat as it is in the US, children with genetic syndromes are common, especially in families where marriage of cousins is not uncommon.
In the United States an estimated 92% of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies, according to Dr. Brian Skotko, a pediatric geneticist at Children’s Hospital Boston. In the absence of prenatal testing, the United States would have experienced a 34 percent increase in the number of Down syndrome births between 1989 and 2005, Skotko estimates. Instead, 15 percent fewer such babies were born during that time, representing a 49 percentage point difference between expected and observed rates, according to Skotko’s research review. Add to that other screenings, such as those for over 200 other known genetic syndromes, such as Tay-Sachs, that occur in specific populations, and the number of genetically different births is reduced even further.

The Children
Each expert spent more than an hour with about 20 children, a few of whom I introduced you to in my previous blog. For the repeats, we had the opportunity to delve more deeply, and to carve out a prioritized plan. Here are some of the complex cases we saw:

  • Dallal is the 16-year-old non-verbal young lady I introduced you to in my previous blog, who frequently rips off and breaks her glasses. In May, I had suggested a less strong Rx, blatantly practicing optometry without a license. Because she continued to reject even the weaker prescription, this summer her father decided to abandon the glasses altogether.
    The examining optometrist determined that Dallal’s eyes turned out, a condition called exotropia, and that even the lower Rx stressed her brain to keep her vision binocular. Dr. Lena thus recommended no lenses at all, and replaced her glasses with some motor activities designed to strengthen her neck and adjacent muscles, thus allowing her eyes to work together more efficiently. In addition, Aubrey worked with Dallal’s parents to design a sensory room that provided her with deep proprioceptive input and calming activities to lessen her frequent agitation.
  • Abdullah, also 16 and non-verbal, has journeyed outside of Kuwait with his devoted parents in efforts to improve function and skills. His calm demeanor and healthy appearance are unusual for a male with an autism diagnosis. His mother shared that he benefitted greatly from a gluten- and casein-free diet, and had undergone a detoxification program. Yet, he experienced both extreme tactile and auditory defensiveness that prevented him from relating to strangers.
    Addressing the tendon guard and Babinski foot reflexes calmed his extreme tactile defensiveness. Mary is hopeful that with continuous work, he will become available for other reflex repatterning techniques and eventually be ready to engage positively and communicate with others.
  • Mohammed is a teen with Down syndrome who looks more like nine than his 15 years. He has a winning smile that makes those around him melt. Totally loved and over-indulged by his family, he is courteous and compliant. He can tie his shoes, speak in sentences, and even read and write a little.
    His glasses prescription for extreme myopia was also found to exacerbate his visual skill development, and was reduced. Work on his large motor skills quickly improved his grasp of a writing implement and his speech. Discussion about the importance of immune system boosting foods and supplements and a referral to Nutri-Chem and the book Down Syndrome and Vitamin Therapy by Nutri-Chem’s pharmacist founder, Kent MacLeod, rounded out his program.
  • Achmed is one of three boys with autism in a family of eight. His exhausted mother shared matter-of-factly that in addition to coping with her sons, she is the only daughter of a mother on daily dialysis, and is having some health problems of her own. Referencing the work of one of my heroes, Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, the alarm went off in my head for mercury poisoning. Klinghardt implicates mercury whenever a family has multiple children with autism diagnoses. I asked Achmed’s mother about her dental status, and she began to weep, showing me a mouth full of silver amalgams mixed with gold crowns: a veritable petri dish for disease. We discussed the importance of working with an expert in detoxification who knew how to remove mercury safely. Without biomedical intervention, this family cannot get well.
  • Yasmeen is a four-year-old whirling dervish with a single eyebrow that crosses her forehead. In an hour’s time she never stopped moving or emitting a high pitched scream. She eats corn flakes with milk for breakfast, spaghetti for lunch, and pizza for dinner, snacks on crackers and cookies all day, and washes everything down with milk. She has a brother nine months old who is covered in eczema. Her young parents, who are biologically related, were told that their daughter is autistic, and that nothing can be done for her. Last year her teacher suggested casting her arms and putting mitts on her hands to prevent her from self-abusing and touching others. Now that these torture devices have been removed, her hands are so weak, that she cannot use them functionally.
    Yasmeen, like Achmed, is physically sick. I have no doubt that she is gluten and casein sensitive, and is ravaged with a combination of toxins, gut bugs, viruses, parasites and metals. All the sensory therapies and external interventions in my tool chest are impotent in trying to improve her function. We must start with nutrigenomic testing such as offered by Dr. Amy Yasko, to see what type of genetic abnormality this family is carrying, and offer supplements to correct the faults. Somehow, some way, we must improve her diet and get some nutrition into her. This case is urgent; the younger brother is another statistic waiting to happen.
  • Hussein is a young adult with severe cerebral palsy. He has little use of any of his limbs, and very poor head and eye muscle control. One of his legs is permanently perched in his lap, with the knee bent. He does not speak, but appears to understand what others are communicating, according to his sister, who is his advocate. He wears diapers, and is totally dependent upon caregivers for eating and moving from place to place.
    Reflex work on Hussein’s feet left his muscles uncontracted for the first time in his life. He was able to release his leg to an almost normal position. He smiled broadly. His sister started to cry, and promised to continue the prescribed therapy daily.

The Causes
Why so many severe cases with such complex needs? Maybe it started with exposure to the chemical soup from the Gulf War oil fires, compounded by unknown viruses and bacteria, and exposure to heavy metals, mercury and who knows what else, that tweaked their genes in a unique way. Add an extremely aggressive vaccination schedule, the ubiquitous presence of American fast-food restaurants, and stressors such as a well-meaning early intervention program that gets kids walking before their bodies are ready, and you have the “total load.”

The Healing
In the short time we had, we introduced that concept that the body’s top priority is staying well, and that speaking, relating and learning had to take a back seat to digestion, respiration and detoxification. We spoke of the success many families we knew in the U.S. experienced when they combined biomedical intervention with sensory therapies to heal their children with autism, and to improve behavior in those with genetic syndromes and global delays.
When anyone seeks medical help at a hospital, the first step after hydrating and stabilizing the body is running tests to determine what is wrong. We urged our Kuwaiti families to follow this model. We distributed test kits from the Great Plains Laboratory to measure the basics: gut function, the presence of dangerous metals, bacteria, viruses, and parasites, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, immune system markers and more. Hopefully, parents will take the time to collect the necessary hair, stool, urine and blood to open the door to healing.
The Future
As soon as possible, we plan to set up an online network so that parents can communicate with and support each other. Furthermore, we must also appoint case managers to provide continuous education and training. Without support and frequent check-ins families can easily become discouraged and drop out.
Nabil has suggested that we return in February to follow up and continue our work. Whenever we go back, careful monitoring is essential. We need to enlarge our team to include more vision specialists, as well as experts in assistive technology, psychology and counseling.
I would also love to host representatives of Center 21 to visit the United States and see model day, residential, vocational, biomedical, sensory, vision and other programs that they can emulate in Kuwait. If you know of a program I should include in the itinerary, please let me know.
The Payoff
I can think of no more rewarding work than what I have been blessed to do this year. Stay tuned for a continuation of this journey. Lamia, Nabil and their children, Fawzi and his beautiful family, Achmed, Mohammed, Dalal, Abdullah, Yasmeen, Hussein, and the others we saw are my new extended family. I wish them and you a healthy and happy 2013.

Do YOU Need a Pediatrician?

November 27, 2012

 

Over the holidays I spent time with some friends and their grandchildren.  Two little boys, one a year old, and the other three, struck me as unusually healthy, vigorous, and happy when compared to the other whiny, pale, runny-nosed picky eaters at the dinner table.  I later learned that both were born at home, neither had ever seen a doctor or been vaccinated, and that both chow down the organic broccoli, carrots and squash that their parents grow in their urban gardens.  Just a coincidence or can we assume a cause-and-effect relationship?

Almost every day, I receive a request for the names of pediatricians who are flexible about vaccinations.  The abundance of demands is in reverse proportion to the paucity of doctors who are willing to consider each child’s individual needs.

When I told a friend about these amazing kids, her response was “disgusting!” Her fully vaccinated grandkids have each had several serious bouts of croup, unexplained viruses and several hospital visits, “Why is it disgusting?” I asked.  “They need a doctor,” she replied. “Why?” I asked. “They just do,” she replied. Hum… Do they?

In my 2006 article on how changes in society and medical practices have contributed to the autism epidemic, I cite, among other factors, the over-dependence on antibiotics, vaccines, insurance-covered managed care, and fast food. If families choose “old-fashioned” immune-boosting solutions such as homeopathy, fruits and vegetables, along with a clean lifestyle replete with long, uninterrupted sleep, movement and love, is that sufficient?

When I was growing up, my college educated parents knew a great deal about art, literature and history, and little about medicine or how the body works. In the fifties, Dr. Spock was the only available resource for distraught parents whose baby had a rash or fever, cried inconsolably, or didn’t sleep. We depended upon our personal pediatricians to help us when Dr. Spock’s advice failed to alleviate suffering.

Today, few have a pediatrician who even knows their name. At the same time, newsletters and TV shows bombard us daily as Drs. Oz, Mercola, Gupta, Hyman and other experts on health and well-being educate us about eating our greens, ingesting essential fats, moving daily, and other dietary, nutritional and lifestyle issues.

Many parents I know, including those of the robust little boys I observed, have made the conscious decision to boost their children’s immune systems with minimal medicalization and good food, and to trust the body’s wisdom to heal itself. They minimize stress from environmental toxins, inappropriate demands, and lifestyle choices. They recognize the detoxification role of fevers and rashes, and the early signs of chronic immune dysfunction: food allergies, raw or bumpy skin, and “colds,” and treat them naturally. Their libraries hold books like medical heretic Dr. Robert Mendelsohn’s, How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor, Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, by Zand, Rountree and Walton, Dr. Randall Neustaedter’s Holistic Baby Guide: Alternative Care for Common Health Problems and Dr. Aviva Romm’s Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health.  These great references advise parents on home treatments for routine childhood illnesses, allergies, and fevers, with clear-cut instructions for determining when a child needs medical intervention. They are my favorite baby shower gifts.

Healthy eating and other immune-boosting choices are the way informed parents assure good health.  Just like they choose to fix a drippy faucet themselves, but call a plumber when the basement is flooded, they are also smart enough to recognize when they need expert medical help. Then they could always go to the nearest “urgent care center,” a brilliant modern convenience.

Think hard before caving in to fear-mongering about disease and childhood illnesses.  Do you really need a pediatrician for a “well-baby” check-up consisting of a weigh-in and vaccination lecture, or can you trust your intuition that your child is thriving?  The wise pediatrician who trusts the wisdom of the body is going the way of the local department store, as documented on a recent Sunday morning news show. Gimbel’s, Higbees, Rich’s, Horne’s, Marshall Fields are all gone! Only Macy’s survives.

If you feel you still need a pediatrician, try to find one who supports health instead of treats illness. If your child is healthy, AND you are following healthy lifestyle, AND you know the signs of a medical emergency, ask yourself if YOU need a pediatrician. Maybe you don’t!

Wonder

October 9, 2012

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid….I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds.  I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go… It’s like people you see sometimes, and you can’t imagine what it would be like to be that person, whether it’s somebody in a wheelchair or somebody who can’t talk.  Only, I know that I’m that person to other people… To me, though, I’m just me.  An ordinary kid.”

These are the thoughts of August (Auggie, to friends and family) Pullman, a fictitious boy who has endured 27 surgeries to correct extreme congenital facial anomalies of unknown origin.  Wonder is the remarkable first novel by R. J. Palacio that takes us with him to a private middle school, Beecher Prep, where he enters fifth grade after home-schooling for his elementary years.

The school is named for Henry Ward Beecher, a nineteenth century abolitionist defender of human rights. (How appropriate!) Beecher wrote that “greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right using of strength.”  “He is the greatest, whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”

After Auggie’s parents make the difficult decision to send him off to Beecher Prep “like a lamb to the slaughter,” we learn about his heart and strengths through other, including his parents, sister, Olivia (Via, to friends and family), his principal, Mr. Tushman (yes, a little contrived), teachers and classmates.  Is it painful? Maudlin? A little. And, it is heartening and inspiring.

I have met thousands of families with kids like Auggie.  To them, their child with autism, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, is anything but ordinary.  Like Auggie’s parents, they see each and every child as a “wonder.”

This is beautiful story with many “talking points.”  It is book for all ages: one to be read to older elementary school kids, by middle and high school students, and by adults interested in human nature.  I recommend it strongly.

Picking Beans at Round Hill Park

September 19, 2010

 

 

I’d passed the sign hundreds of times:  “Round Hill Park.”  Some day I’ll check it out, I’d promised myself.  That day was last Tuesday.  I spent a gorgeous late summer morning and early afternoon picking organic beans.  Thousands of beans.  Fistfuls of beans.  Green, yellow and purple beans. 

Joining me were Bryan Ritti, farmer, and COO of FarmsCorps, Inc., a social enterprise created to support aging farmers, local food banks, and regional agriculture organizations.  This summer he and Chelsea Attwood have co-managed the farm operation at Allegheny County, PA’s Round Hill Park, an oasis south of Pittsburgh, just off of Route 51, near Elizabeth.  Bryan spent two years in a monastery, so the solitary life of a farmer is natural to him.  Like many of today’s new breed of young farmers, he is smart, dedicated and passionate about living  off the grid  and off the land.  For lunch he devoured raw kale on homemade almond bread and chased it with a just-off-the-vine super ripe tomato. 

Also picking was Lauren, an educator from the Outdoor Classroom. She is also a gleaner for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, one of the lucky recipients of the bounty produced at Round Hill’s cultivated acre of fruits and vegetables. Organic kale, okra and string beans are a far cry from the rotten apples I saw the last time I volunteered at a local soup kitchen.  Thanks go to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) for this outcome.  PASA, one of the largest state organizations supporting farmers and a sustainable  lifestyle is remarkable also.  They provide mentors for young farmers like Bryan who have chosen farming as a vocation.

So why am I  spending a day picking beans?  First, it is a delightful way to soak up, instead of supplement, my deficient Vitamin D. Second,  Bryan and his contemporaries interest me because, I believe they hold the health of the next generation in their hands. 

Today’s new farmers live and breathe the mantra of “Eat fresh and local.”  My car sports a bumper sticker with that message.  In season food that has traveled only a short distance tastes better.  Food that comes from your neighbors supports your local economy.

Bryan and other twenty- and thirty-somethings are the parents of the next generation .  It is THEIR health that will determine the health of their children.  If they are toxic from pesticides, PCBs, phthalates, mercury, lead and aluminum, they will dump their personal toxic loads into their unborn children.  If they are health conscious, eating organic vegetables, using natural personal care products and cleaners, avoiding fish and other products with heavy metals and watching their electro-magnetic fields, their offspring will be healthy.  It’s that simple!

Bryan and his buddies have big plans. FarmCorps, a not-for-profit modeled on the Peace Corps and Americorps.  It collaboratively provides the critical labor needed for farmers to increase scale and diversity of production.  As a social enterprise project of New Sun Rising, FarmCorps serves local farmers while providing experiential learning and training opportunities in sustainable agriculture – from agri-tourism like the exhibit at Round Hill Park to farm succession. Crops produced in specialized FarmCorps programs are donated for public benefit as a part of FarmCorps’ aim to serve southwestern Pennsylvania through strengthening the local food system.

Inherent in FarmCorps’ mission is providing training and vounteer people power for the aging farmer families. Hopefully fewer will not have to yield to pressure of real estate developers to sell their family farms and succomb to suburban sprawl. With the lofty goal of providing services in all 50 states, FarmCorps is just getting organized.  When I suggested to Bryan that his farms would be viable potential homes for workers with autism, he lit up like a Christmas tree.  “Putting marginalized populations to work is one of our goals,” he said. 

In the next year, DDR is going to be exploring connecting with organizations  like FarmCorps to delve into opportunities for inclusion of adults with disabilities.  In addition, we will be meeting with trend analysts to determine how to connect with tomorrow’s parents to investigate avenues for educating them about having healthy babies. 

In the meantime, shop locally, eat seasonally, and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather.

Saying “Good-bye” to My Mother

June 1, 2010

 

When my mother died on May 12th,  DDR lost one of its strongest supporters.  Martha S. Heyman was a social worker at heart. She majored in sociology at Wellesley College, because she loved learning about people and hearing their stories. That is a trait I inherited from her. 

While she never received a social work degree, she spent a lifetime volunteering for and donating to social service organizations, helping those less fortunate than herself.  Whether it was counseling young mothers on how to dress for a job interview, improving the skills of disadvantaged minorities, or running a consumer hot-line for those encountering impediments to fixing leaky roofs or mechanically deficient cars, she was the ultimate advocate and philanthropist.  What a role model I had for starting DDR!

The most life-changing event for me in growing up with this “do-good” mother, was the day she came home with some completed vocational interest inventories.  At the adult day care center where she assisted, she was disturbed at the lack of activities available to the residents.  She had decided to poll them and brought the tests home for me to help her tabulate.  Her goal was to initiate some activities based on the interests of those attending the center. 

What fun I had helping her score and tally the results! At age 12, I was very impressionable. This, I decided was what I wanted to do for my life’s work!  Later, as a junior in high school, I plowed though college catalogs for hours (no Google then!) searching for a place to train.  Simmons College in Boston offered a double major in psychology and mathematics, preparing its graduates for careers as psychometrists.  Perfect!  Much to my mother’s dismay, I rejected her alma mater in favor of a non-liberal arts education.

After 30 years of diagnostic testing, founding DDR was a natural. While somewhat skeptical that I could run a non-profit, my mother was supportive financially and personally.  Every year for the past 15, she gave a significant donation, which allowed me to carry on the social service work that she so dearly loved.  Furthermore, because I needed additional education to run an organization, she encouraged and underwrote my masters in business.  She was so proud to attend graduation ceremonies when I received my degree at age 50.

My mother was continuously distraught that neither my brother nor I had a “real” job. For her that meant getting paid a “real” salary, and getting “real” benefits, such as health insurance. At the same time she clipped job announcements from the classified, and networked us with potential employers, she also bragged that although neither of her children was gainfully employed, that we both were making the world a better place. 

While my brother and I caused her a great deal of worry, my granddaughter Penelope brought her nothing but pleasure and pride.  I wish she could have seen this amazing three-year-old march up to her casket, describe a painting she made for her GG (for great grandmother), and then sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat!”  The painting depicting the two of them (with hearts “because I loved her”), flowers and a butterfly is at the top of this blog.

Life was a painful place for Martha Heyman.  She felt others’ pain profoundly, and somaticized it as her own.  Hopefully, she is now in a better place, free of pain.  Today, I am eternally grateful to her for all the legacies she left, including DDR.  Without her generosity, this organization simply could not have existed. 

Rest in peace, mom.

What Does "Keeping Kids Healthy" REALLY mean?

November 4, 2009

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The TV bombards us with ads promising that vaccines and pharmaceutical products will “keep you and your family” healthy during the flu season.  Are there alternatives?

I just gave a talk at a local school on “staying healthy.”  Parents came armed with notepads, ready to hear my favorite natural solutions to sniffles and coughs. They went home with those.  However, I started with a question:  Does “healthy” necessarily mean, “not sick?”

Philip Incao, MD, a physician in Colorado, describes health as “a beautiful sunny day with a brilliant blue sky and no clouds in sight.  At any time, if our Spirit is strong, then, like the sun we can dissolve the clouds that come our way. Sometimes too many clouds form at the same time, or a cloud becomes too large and obscures the sun’s light. If we don’t pay attention to these messages, the clouds can grow and merge into a huge thunderstorm. After the rain, the sky becomes clear again.”

I really love this description.  I can visualize my spirit making those clouds go away. I am also well aware of times when I have not paid attention to the messages and I have endured some thunderstorms!

Here are some of the points from my talk. 

Main ingredients for a strong immune system:

  • Nutritious, unprocessed, organic food in season,
  • Clean, filtered air and water
  • Daily and ample sleep/ exercise/ sun / nature

Impediments to staying healthy:

  • Toxins from foods, environment
  • Lifestyle stressors in job, family, friends
  • Issues of inconvenience and changing long standing habits

Here is a list of specific foods and supplements that boost the immune system. Thank you to Lisa Rudley for helping to compile it.

Foods  “Warming” foods. Less raw; more well-cooked for winter.  Soups and stews. Seasonal fruits – apples, pears, persimmons, vegetables – root veggies- onions, turnips, squash, parsnips, beets, radishes, greens, kale, collards, cilantro, parsley. Limit sugar!  Read Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.   

Supplements

Vitamin A – Important for vision and mucous membrane integrity.   RDA 1,000-2,000 IU for children,

Vitamin C – 2-4 grams per day or to “bowel tolerance.”  

Vitamin D3 – Adults need 5,000 IU when midday sun exposure is not possible. Infants need 1,000 IU, and older children need 2,000 IU. – Need good oils for absorption.

Vitamin E –  Anti-inflammatory effects and increases resistance to infection. Use only natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol), not the synthetic form (dl-alpha-tocopherol). A mixed tocopherol form of vitamin E is best because children need the gamma as well as the alpha forms. 100 mg for children under two and 200 mg for children aged 2-12.

Omega-3 fatty acids – As fresh, wild, cold-water small fish or their oils in capsules or liquid form.   Salmon, cod, mackerel, sardines. Flax & Hemp seeds for vegans.

Zinc – 25 mg zinc per day, but if you continue zinc for an extended period of time also take copper to prevent a deficiency (10:1 ratio of copper to zinc).

Colostrum – Immunoglobulin IgA coats the intestinal lining preventing attack by pathogens. Lactoferrin locks onto iron releasing it to red blood cells and depriving bacteria of the iron they need for reproduction. Lysozyme destroys microorganisms on contact. Cytokines boost T-cell activity and stimulate production of a baby’s own protective immunoglobulins. Polysaccharides bind to bacteria and block their attachment to mucus membranes. Take two capsules twice a day through the winter months.

Mushrooms: Activate white blood cells and stimulate antibodies. Reishi (ganoderma), maitake (grifola), shiitake (lentinus), polyporus, and tremella.  Use dried or in tablet, powder, or liquid extract form.

Homeopathics:

Influenzinum – One dose each week for 4 weeks (9C, 12C, or 30C) if you are exposed to the flu.   

Osccillococcinum – 3 X a day for 2-3 days

In today’s fast-paced world we “need” our kids to be “not sick.”  If they have to miss school, one of us has to miss work, or grandma, a friend, or other relative has to fill in.  It’s inconvenient, and in using a pathology model, means that something has gone amiss. 

If we trust our bodies, though, “sick” actually means our immune system is working well.  By coughing we bring up mucous; fevers help clear out toxins; rashes mean detoxification. In fact, in the “olden days” getting sick was a bi-annual house-cleaning ritual! 

Dr. Alan Scherr of the Northport Wellness Center on Long Island suggests that we give kids “well days” instead of “sick days!”  I like the idea of putting health into the positive.  Staying home is respectful of your body’s working to stay well. 

Nature is the greatest healer. Take a walk through the leaves. Hike, sit under a tree by a stream. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our children is to “SLOW DOWN,” says Susan Johnson, MD, a California pediatrician. Remember, doing “nothing” is often the best!

 

 

 

Giving and Getting

January 4, 2009

Owner wrote:

Giving, Getting and Gratitude 

During the holidays, our thoughts turned to the three “G”s: giving, getting and gratitude. When we sat down to our Thanksgiving dinner, many of us declared our gratitude for the abundance in our lives. In December, we showed our thanks by giving gifts to those we love.

Here are some ways that families of children with developmental delays and those working with them can make the three G’s special in 2009.  Give:

The Gift of Laughter

My life is full of females. I am working with a several young women on finding their passion, hosting a female exchange student, and just returned from a wonderful visit with my daughter and two-year-old granddaughter. Why would I fit noisy girls into an already full life? Because they are gifts. “My girls” give me the intangibles of laughter and fun. Children of all ages and abilities make us laugh.  Although some days it seems we only give to them, they too give us so much to laugh about. The healing power of laughter cannot be under-estimated. Laughter jogs your insides, releases endorphins and is definitely the best medicine. 

The Gift of Yourself

  • Mentor – Helping someone learn something new, find herself and become self-reliant is of the most rewarding experiences you can have.  The gift of mentoring is almost selfish. I believe that the mentor gets much more than he or she gives.
  • Volunteer – Volunteerism offers so many opportunities. Go to www.volunteermatch.org  to see the range. Even our youngest, most disabled kids can participate. Make volunteering a family tradition. One family I know works in a soup kitchen every Thanksgiving. If your schools require community service hours for graduation, make sure the activity is personally meaningful.

 The Gift of Time 

One of the best gifts we can give is unconditional time. Time is a precious, non-renewable resource, and wasting it can be regrettable. 

  • Spend time, not money – Remember the smells of Christmas cookies, paper mache, and candles burning. These are unforgettable memories that are stored in our senses forever. Give someone a coupon for an hour spent listening or playing a game of checkers. Give a teacher a break by chaperoning a field trip. Give kids a shared activity of their choice without cell phone interruptions. 
  • Wait on Academics – At this time of year educators may ask parents to give a child with delays “the gift of time.”  This aphorism means “wait another year before kindergarten or first grade.” Those who have done it will tell you it is the best decision they ever made!

The Gift of Philanthropy

The Council of Foundations www.thegivingfamily.org  offers a book entitled The Giving Family, by Susan Price, which recounts ways families of all means can instill the value of helping others. With an estimated $12 trillion transferring into baby boomers pockets from their parents’ estates in the next 20 years, family foundations are possible. Price recommends engaging children in giving at an early age by

  • Holding a Family Meeting – Discuss allocation of designated funds and let each family member suggest a favorite charity. Consider the arts, religion, science, drug abuse, hunger, environment, animal welfare or women’s rights.
  • Engaging Grandparents – Ask your parents to collaborate with your children about how they are contributing to their futures.  Offer matching funds for kids’ contributions with money earned from chores and allowances.
  • Using Celebrations – Many young men and women are celebrating their b’nai mitzvahs by collecting money for charity instead of receiving unnecessary trinkets. Creative ideas I had heard about include a sponsored walk around the world, donations to a group providing educational scholarships to needy, bright minority students and an investment club. With the estimated $2,500 spent on gifts, one father leveraged that amount into $500,000. The kids then decided where the money should go.
  • Giving Globally – Although, in general, giving to local agencies make it easier for kids to see results, here is one special international non-profit I love. Heifer International www.heifer.org allows giving families to purchase a gift animal or seedling that helps those less fortunate become self-reliant. For as little as $10, you can choose among ducks, goats, geese, chicks, pigs, honeybees and other animals from Noah’s ark. Last year my daughter gave everyone a share of a Knitting Basket: two llamas and two sheep famous for their income-producing wool.  Over time this gift multiplies to help entire communities break free from the grip of poverty and hopelessness.

 The Gift of Letting Others Give to Us

When we let others give to us and accept their generosity graciously, we give them a gift in return. Thank you all for giving so much to DDR. I am so grateful for all I have learned from you. Your year-end gifts are most appreciated.  Rest assured that we will use them to help families find the best help for their children. Happy New Year!