Autism and Pumpkin Pie

Remember everything you said you’d never do before you became a parent?  Yeah… that.

This past Wednesday, in my mad quest to buy red lentils, I forgot to buy the other ingredient I needed.  So, I asked my husband to go to the store and buy me some pie crusts.  He came home with two lovely, but tiny six-inch pie crusts.  I prepared the pies same as always, but wasn’t sure what to do with all the extra filling.  I didn’t want pumpkin flan, and I didn’t have it in me to send him back to the (packed) store again, so I started rolling out another crust, this time from scratch.  With no regular salt on hand, I substituted kosher salt.  By the time I was finished I had two small pies, one regular size pie, and one spare homemade pie crust (that yesterday became a mozzarella and provolone Quiche).

I like cooking, but cooking is… strange, almost mythically strange.  Some ingredients are vital.  Others can be omitted or changed without anyone noticing.  And quite often two ingredients that you would never expect to work together taste amazing.  Good cooking is part art, part science experiment, and the tastiest food requires keeping an open mind.

Before my husband and I had kids we were emphatic about certain things.  There were all sorts of things we were never going to do.  Then the reality of life with an autistic kid set in.  He finally potty-trained (later than I care to admit), and after that, it was “Now what?”  It’s been a constantly evolving process of “What else can we do to make life more manageable for our family?”

And as it turns out, when you’re desperate enough, you’re willing to entertain ideas you thought you wouldn’t.

It was a huge decision to put our son on Prozac and a huge surprise when it actually helped.  Michael went from regularly having tantrums (both at home and at school) to being much calmer.  His teachers and therapists can’t even believe he’s the same kid.  His bad behavior had become so commonplace, that one day he overturned a desk, and we didn’t even get a phone call.  I found out later that evening while reading his communication notebook.

However, even as his behaviors have improved, his attention span is still very short and his social skills continue to need a lot of sharpening.  As he gets older, tasks become harder and require more effort and concentration.  Although he’s eight, his attention span is roughly the same as his three-year-old sister.  Things like chapter books are difficult for him, and homework typically takes over an hour every day, with most of that time spent on redirection.  Also, he frequently self-injures from running in circles.  Though he has a cognitive behavioral therapist who tries to teach him how to relax and focus, it’s really not enough.  It’s become increasingly clear that he’s going to remain in the self-contained classroom, in part because he needs constant redirection.

Having seen firsthand just how helpful the Prozac is, we went back to the psychiatrist this morning, and had another conversation about medication, this time for ADHD.  We’re not doing it yet, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time.  I’m nervous about it.  Hope is tricky because it’s so necessary… but it can also make the fall that much steeper.

You change a lot when you have a special needs kid.  Some days you feel like the old woman in the shoe, with white hairs multiplying at an alarming rate.  Other days you feel like you have a handle on things, even when they don’t go according to plan.  Instead you learn to keep your mind open.  Life is easier when you don’t panic every time you run out of salt.

You learn that most things are small.

*I am absolutely NOT endorsing any particular treatment for autism.  I don’t think there is any one cure, and each family needs to find what works best for them and their child.  I’m also not endorsing the deliberate wreckage of tasty baked goods.

**Photo Credit: Freezing A Moment Photography

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72 Responses to Autism and Pumpkin Pie

  1. raeme67 says:

    I use to be so against medication, but my son is so improved on it, that I can not deny that it is sometimes is needed. You keep doing what is best for your family!

  2. rebecca2000 says:

    I am glad that you found something that worked for him.

  3. Julia Kovach says:

    “You change a lot when you have a special needs kid.” That sentence brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful and sensitive read. Thank you for stopping by my blog. It is such a git to meet you. xoJulia

    • Thanks Julia. I’ve been trying to write this post for months and totally unable… until the pumpkin pie, oddly enough.

      • Julia Kovach says:

        Not oddly at all, my friend. Sometimes the most important pieces of writing take the longest time and the most tears. And our triggers? Like pumpkin pie, they are unpredictable and sometimes hiding deep in our heart. You’ve done a wonderful job of it. Take care and blessings to you and those you love. xoJulia

  4. Life is easier when you don’t panic every time you run out of salt.
    This is such an amazing conclusion, both for the post and for life. I spent much of the weekend panicking about missing salt, only to see at its end that nothing was changed by my panic. (OK, so it’s possible I only really saw that while reading your post. Thanks for that.)

    • As much as I like shoving pie in my face, even a ruined pie is not the end of the world. And I used to spend holidays in a panic, but I guess I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m usually missing/forgetting things. (Not kidding. I’m really not the most organized person, and I’m eternally jealous of folks like Martha Stewart.)

  5. Peaches says:

    But salt is necessary for casting circles! (kidding..sort of..I think. I don’t cast circles.)

    This was, in all seriousness, an incredible read. Thank you for writing it.

  6. El Guapo says:

    Like you said, it’s about finding what works for your son and your family. No one can or should fault you for that.

    Wrecking baked goods on the other hand…

  7. They thought Thing One was autistic for a while – she does have many tendencies. Then it turned out she was just weird. But weird in a good way. She was in PPCD for two and a half years (preschool for kids with disabilities) because she had a major speech delay, some motor delay, and she still has issues with sensory stuff (the kid is so picky and people are all like, well, just make her eat a vegetable. Yeah, you try, genius. Watch her puke it back up all over you.)

    Other people just don’t get it, I know, and my children are much healthier than most. Keep up the good fight.

    P.S. She took till four to potty train. And she’s “normal.’

    • I thought so, based on something you had said in another post. Yeah, I too love it when people tell me to just make my kids eat. I certainly don’t make them alternative dinners, but both of my boys will regurgitate food if forced to eat. And my other son also took until four to potty train, even though he’s considered “typical” too.

  8. Carrie Rubin says:

    Glad to hear your son has found some benefits. It’s never an easy decision to put a child (or ourselves for that matter) on psychotropic medications. Some do wonderfully on meds; others not so much. Years ago my son had to go through a couple different stimulant med trials. They didn’t work, so we didn’t keep him on it, but I remember how hard it was for me to see him have to take them. Still, I’m grateful we have the option, because some children really do need those medications.

    • Yeah, I’ve seen kids do really well on them. Despite that, I never thought I’d put my own kid on medication, and then contemplate a second medication as well. The one thing that makes me feel a little better about it, besides the obvious benefits, is that his dosage is really low.

  9. dear Love &Lunch,
    It’s interesting how much having a child opens up your thinking. They come out, their own person and everything. With their own journey. How shocking. And fabulous, too. If you can substitute salt, you figure out that things can turn out even better than expected.
    Thank you for your wonderful honesty♥
    Love, Lis

    • They do seem to come out intent on traveling their own journey. We think that somehow we can decide everything, but really the minute they start walking… it’s their life, and we’re just along for the ride. Thanks for your comment, Liz.

  10. Learning to not panic is a skill we could all do to pick up. You are doing a fabulous job, and your kids are very lucky to have you.

  11. You are brave, and loving, and diligent. Your son is blessed to have you.

  12. Medicating and diagnoses get thrown around so casually that it’s easy to forget that they can, in fact, be incredibly powerful tools and, just as they’re called, medications.

  13. RFL says:

    Loved this post. Most things are small. Your love and devotion shine through in each word, and your children are very lucky to have you.

    • Thanks. I was thinking about entering it in the Yeah Write contest this week, but can’t decide… We are definitely not superheroes. All we do is get through each day. Some of those days are super easy, and some of those days are hard.

      • RFL says:

        You should enter it, it’s a powerful piece. That’s all any of us can do, but with the challenges you face, you are a superhero to me and no doubt to children.

  14. It’s amazing how our perspective of what’s truly important in life changes once we have kids. You are a great mom who only wants the best for her child. And you know deep in your heart that your fierce love for him is strong enough to help you weather any challenges ahead.

  15. Mooselicker says:

    Women who know how to cook = Good

    Although, I do like waiting on women. I’m a natural caregiver!

    You’re doing a good job. The fact you’re so open about everything means you’re aware and always willing to take advice to make things better. I’m not a parent, but I know a good one shares whatever they can about their children to the world because they’re proud.

  16. jimmydevious says:

    Indeed, every autism is its own pie crust, and not every filling, or every amount works quite the same. The only constant is the selfless Mommy “bakers” who never stop experimenting. The patience required, near superhuman and admirable.

    Hope you and your had a marvelous and peaceful Thanksgiving. 🙂

    • This is true, and one day you’ll probably be taking on that same role. The role (and effect on) siblings shouldn’t be under-estimated. BTW, thanks so much for coming here. I really do appreciate it, and I hope you had a good Thanksgiving too!

  17. Kiki says:

    Thanks for writing this. I don’t have experience with autism up close and personal, and I appreciate the honesty of sharing a little bit of what this is like for you. Sounds like you guys are making the decisions as they come, and doing the ones that are right for your family.

  18. I love how you related parenting to cooking – and it’s so true, the key ingredients are unique to each person! Well done!

  19. I am not a parent, but I love to cook, and I can understand how important some key ingredients are, while some are ok to let go, or substitute for others, just like in life. Love this post!

  20. iasoupmama says:

    My philosophy about cooking is that the recipe is a guideline. I follow some guidelines more closely than others (when baking, for example) and some more loosely (my favorite soup recipes are ones I make up as I go). And my philosophy for parenting is pretty similar. I have four kids who are four completely different people. What works for one doesn’t always work for another and it always takes a bit of experimentation before getting it sometimes right.

    • Like you, I also find the rules of baking are for more strict than the rules of generalized cooking. And it’s so true that what works for one kid doesn’t necessarily work for others. Can you please should this message to all of those perfect parents who only have two kids, and claim they’ve never even raised their voice?

  21. You’re jealous of Martha Stewart? To me, you ARE Martha Stewart. Making your own pie crust? Then remembering it’s in the fridge/freezer and using it for a quiche? That’s pretty awesome in my eyes!

    I love how you equate cooking (some things are vital, others can be omitted or changed) to the trial and error of methods and medication that work with your son.

    Great piece.

  22. Bee says:

    I’m neither a parent, nor do I cook, but I am not a stranger to medications and panic. Thank you for the reminder not to panic whenever you run out of salt. It often feels like I run out of salt all the time and it’s this huge catastrophe, which of course, it isn’t.

  23. I love the honesty in this post. My son has special (medical) needs, so I can relate to the ups and downs. The hope and the fall especially. Hugs to you, mama!

  24. Emma says:

    This was an eye opener. My child, so far, is normal. But I have a special needs husband (now ex) who requires medication (schizophrenia). Without it he cannot function. You sum up situations like this beautifully. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Yes!

  25. outlawmama says:

    You can really cook. Quiche? That’s pHd level cooking. And I love this post for all it says about you and about the changes that motherhood has brought to you. I could identify with so much of it.

    • My real claim to fame is that I can cook venison (and it actually tastes good). Quiche is pretty easy and doesn’t take terribly long.

      Yeah, parenthood changes all of us SOOOOO much. And it’s always good to see you too!

  26. Azara says:

    This is what it’s all about: “What else can we do to make life more manageable for our family?” And is this a big thing worth sticking to even though it’s hard, or something we can let go? You’re so right: most things are small.

  27. mamamzungu says:

    “Life is easier when you don’t panic every time you run out of salt.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s a hard lesson to learn and it seems we come by it when we are constantly “running out of salt” so to speak. Anyway, this was a great post. I can’t imagine the strength and perspective you find when the child you love has so many of the struggles you didn’t. But you have a wonderful way of looking at it all. I really admire what I know of you through this post!

  28. 50peach says:

    I understand why you included the disclaimer, but so wish we didn’t have to. Medicating ourselves, medicating our children – it’s a case by case basis, and entirely up to those involved. Those that don’t like it can mind their own beeswax. 🙂 Love the piece, love the pies, love the parallels. Well done!

  29. You are so right that life changes when you have a special needs kid. Glad you are finding things to work in the kitchen and elsewhere!

  30. dilovely says:

    Good for you… such wise and considered parenting. As a teacher, I have seen medication revolutionize kids’ lives – and I’ve also seen it make things worse – so I’m glad you call it a “huge decision”, and especially glad that it helped!

  31. Angela Ryan says:

    Yes … life is easier when you don’t panic every time you run out of salt. You should write a book based on this idea. It could probably be a big best seller like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” From the posts I have read from you thus far, it certainly appears you have gained a lot of wisdom since becoming a parent.

  32. Ginny Marie says:

    Such a great post on parenthood…and wisdom for anyone, really!

  33. TriGirl says:

    I like how even though the pie crusts were not what you expected you were able to make them work–relating that to how life is with your son 🙂 Kind of reminds me of the “Welcome to Holland” essay.

  34. Running from Hell with El says:

    This was a really lovely post and I liked the way you addressed the medication issue non-judgmentally. It’s such a hard thing to decide, and it’s absolutely a case-by-case process. The key is that you don’t enter into the decision lightly and it’s so obvious that you have your son’s best interests at heart.

    We made the decision to medicate our son only after exhausting all other remedies and for him, the difference has been like night and day.

    Best wishes to you and your family!

    • It is a hard thing. You really don’t want it to be a first choice, but people do have real actual hormonal and chemical imbalances that can be helped with medicine. I know exactly what you mean about wanting to exhaust all the other remedies first, but man… When you find something that works, whether it’s a therapy or a medicine, the difference is AMAZING!

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