Posted in Other Things

What Is Autistic Shutdown?

My son is out of the hospital. I cannot express the joy my family felt two days after Christmas when the doctor told us we could finally take him home. It really was a miracle. We had thousands of people praying for him, and we, too, had asked God for his intervention. Imagine our surprise once we heard him speak again for the first time in a month.

I am writing this post with the hope that one day it will help other families with autistic children recognize what an autistic shutdown actually is. Because when it happened to our son, we did not understand it. We thought we had done something wrong and we blamed ourselves. In truth, autistic shutdowns do happen, and they commonly happen to high-functioning autistics, much like it did to my son.

Symptoms of Autistic Shutdown

  • Catatonia
  • Lack of self-care (includes hygiene, food intake and elimination)
  • Unresponsive to external stimuli
  • Non-communicative (complete mutism)
  • Staring at one spot
  • Withdrawing from social situations

The way it happened with our son was that one day, early November, he suddenly stopped. He stopped talking. He stopped looking around. He stopped doing anything for himself. He ate, but minimal. He held his elimination process until late at night when everyone had gone to bed. Most of the time, he sat in his bed and stared. If we tried to move him, he would stiffen. If we asked him questions, or talked to him, there would be no response. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts unable to break free from the state he was in.

We initially thought depression was at the center of it all, but other than a few statements he had uttered before his shutdown, we had no other indication that could be the cause. Then we thought he might be experiencing some other form of mental illness. We had gone as far as trying our best to fix it ourselves, like we had done throughout his life. I mean, we are talking about a kid who grew up with many people around, wrote short stories, wrote music, learned how to swim, won a gold medal for Speech Arts at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, took part in recitals, went to college, and was thinking about getting a job.

So for us, we have never seen this behavior before and that is why we had to get him to the hospital as soon as we could. We wanted to know what was happening to our son.

Medical Assessment

Once at the hospital, medical doctors ran tests to rule out the most likely causes for his state. Blood and urine tests all came back negative, which was great, but we still did not know what was causing the catatonia and mutism. Doctors ordered a CT scan to detect if there were any anomalies residing in his brain. It came back clean. At that point, doctors sent my son to the mental health unit of the hospital, where he stayed until his discharge.

Metal Health Assessment

Of the half-dozen psychiatrists who saw my son over a one-week period, three had formed opinions. One suspected he was bipolar, which did not make any sense to my wife Luana and I. My son had never shown emotional instability, where his highs were highs and his lows were lows. The second doctor believed my son suffered from depression. Again, we did not see any sign of it, considering months before his shutdown he was smiling and laughing. He would have his off days, but not to the point where every day was darkness to him. We would have known it. We were speaking frequently with him throughout the day. Finally, the third psychiatrist suggested my son was battling schizophrenia, news to which Luana and I felt like a cinder block had struck us in the head. No way was he schizophrenic, we thought. Yet, it was not until several days later that Luana found the symptoms to schizophrenia are much like those of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Nonetheless, the psychiatrist prescribed a treatment of Olanzapine.

My son had never been on any medications throughout any part of his life, no less, anti-psychotics. The first 10mg dosage caused vomiting and diarrhea. The doctor lowered the dosage to 5mg daily. The expected result was that if he suffered from a psychosis (i.e. bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia), we would see a big difference with him. It did calm him, where he no longer resisted medical aid, but he had not broken from his catatonic state. That was what we were hoping, and it did not happen.

He was on the medication for three weeks before the attending psychiatrist requested a family meeting with us to discuss next steps. In that meeting the doctor said, the medication was not working and would like us to consider ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy). The only exposure I had with ECT was with the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the nurses used it as a form of punishment for when patients were not cooperating with their treatments. Naturally, I had my reservations. I learned, however, the treatment would work if, again, my son were suffering from a psychosis, from which Luana and I did not believe he suffered. Further to this, as one of the nurses explained to us, it would take a series of six to eight ECT sessions, to start, for the treatment to be effective. Even then, there may be monthly maintenance sessions my son would have to go through after discharge in order to ensure the symptoms of the psychosis do not return. Luana and I left the hospital devastated. For a week, we had no idea what to do.

Our Treatment Plan

Around this time, Luana began reading about Lorazepam, a benzodiazepine meant to treat anxiety disorders. In independent clinical studies, the medication showed a marked improvement in autistic patients suffering from catatonia. The only drawback was that the medication was highly addictive and withdrawal could trigger seizures that could potentially prove dangerous or fatal in some patients. When we discussed this medication with the psychiatrist, we first expressed our concerns with ECT, that we wanted to exhaust the medicinal route first, leaving ECT as the last resort. Next, we worked out a treatment plan, signed a consent form, and requested to have 6mg of Lorazepam administered daily to our son over a 72-hour period.

At the same time, I wrote a personal appeal for prayer to all my friends and relatives on facebook. I felt it important to have as many people praying for our son as possible. I released the news to the public and sure enough, the post went viral, garnering shares from people all over the world. This was all happening the day before my son received his first dose of Lorazepam. Luana and I had shed so many tears over the weeks that the only thing left for us to do was what we were doing the whole time, and that was praying. The verse in the bible that comforted me the most was this one:

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16 KJV).

An Awakening

The afternoon after my son received his first dose of Lorazepam, Luana and I went to visit to see how he was doing. One of the nurses who had cared for him all these weeks stopped us in the hallway. She said that she had never seen him act the way he did before that day. He was smiling, speaking, and playing cards. It was as if something woke him up from whatever state he was in and he was participating in life again. All the nurses were talking about him, too. Because not only had they never had an autistic young man who was catatonic in their ward before, but they also had never seen such a stark change in someone, as it happened with our son.

The psychiatrist quickly called us the next morning wanting to have another family meeting. We were at the hospital within the hour. He asked us what we wanted to do next. This was a couple of days before Christmas. We did not even have to think about it, since we had already discussed it before our meeting. We said that we wanted our son to stay in the hospital a few more days for observation. Luana and I wanted to make sure our son had healed from his catatonic state and he would still be talking once we brought him back home. The doctor agreed, and two days after Christmas, the hospital discharged my son.

My Son Today

Wednesday will be two weeks that my son left the hospital. During this time, we managed to wean him off the medication ourselves by promoting a diet rich in GABA. Now that we have confirmed anxiety was the cause for his autistic shutdown, we are teaching him techniques that allow him to control his mental wellbeing on his own. Deep breathing exercises, resting, reading are de-stressor activities he now enjoys doing. Identifying the cause of the anxiety is still on our list of things to do.

We also found he is not yet ready for crowds or people, at least, for long stretches of time. He does well with short visits, but anything longer than half-an-hour seems to cause him to regress into a protective state of staring and mutism that lasts upward to an hour. Twice this happened with him so far since he has been home.

He is looking after his hygiene, but not without prompting from us. We had to show him how to shower again, brush his teeth and comb his hair. He has yet to allow us to cut his hair or trim his beard, which we believe is a sensitivity issue due to his autism.

We discovered as well that he has a more pronounced desire to maintain a daily routine, something he was lacking last year due to all the changes that took place in the family schedule. For example, he came down to have breakfast yesterday morning without changing out of his PJ’s, because his clothes he needed to change into were not in their usual place.

Lessons Learned

Overall, the autistic shutdown my son experienced has taught our family some valuable lessons I would like to share with you.

  • Our autistic son thrives on predictability and routine. Should anything change, we would have to let him know in advance in order for him to adjust to the change.
  • We keep the home quiet of blaring sounds and noise. For me, this was difficult. I am Italian and everything with me being Italian is loud. I have had to usher in a quiet peace in the home, which now is having a wonderful effect on my son. A soothing environment promotes wellbeing.
  • Luana is slowly introducing GABA-rich food into our diet. GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is one of the body’s primary neurotransmitters that calm the central nervous system (CNS) of anxiety. Cherry tomatoes are high in GABA.
  • Sleep now is a big thing in our family. At about 8:00PM, our family begins to wind down. This process also places our son in a frame of mind of wanting to go to sleep. The more rest he has, the better the next day will be.
  • He will have good days and bad days. I have learned this, and there is not a thing I can do about it except accept it.
  • Too much external stimulation lowers his ability to cope. I found that like a computer, my son’s brain could only deal with so much before it stops accepting things to process. I have had to learn to do one thing with him at a time. He does not multitask, at least, not for now.
  • We ask him one question at a time, as well. We give him ample time to respond, and we do not answer the question for him, unless he has trouble expressing his words.
  • We now speak to him with simple language and simple sentence structure. When we add multiple ideas in a sentence, we lose him. Therefore, one idea at a time, in the simplest terms, seems to work with him.
  • As parents of an autistic child, we ought to know what his limitations are. Regrettably, our son does not know his own limitations. He may want to push himself beyond what he can handle, or do, and find himself at the edge of another autistic shutdown.
  • We have replaced many of my son’s anxiety-driven activities (i.e. video games) with those that enhance a calm state of mind. Family board game nights and card games tend to bring us all together and give us a chance to bond. In the summer, we will be looking forward to a family vacation.
  • We learned a lot about people while my son was in the hospital. There are those who placed blame on us for what happened to him. There are those who promised to visit him and did not. There are those who said they visited him and did not. Some people even went out of their way to tell us what was wrong with our family, not realizing their own families may one day have a similar situation happen to them, and they will be looking to us for comfort.
  • And there are people we could not live without, who surprised us with their support, who comforted us with their kind words toward our son, who gave of their time to visit him when he was in the worst of conditions, who hugged, consoled and encouraged us when we were in a place we would not want anyone else to be in. To those people, I give you our gratitude and appreciation, for you have brought our family incredible joy we would otherwise not have had, had you not been there for him.
  • Most importantly, Luana and I thank God for being there every step of the way. While the storms of trial swirled around us, God was our rock, our fortress and our salvation. He comforted us when we needed comfort, blessed us when we looked for answers, and guided us when everything appeared the darkest. God, through Jesus, gave us the hope we needed to move forward. He was the one who provided us with the strength we so truly searched. He, above all else, showed us the greatest compassion.
Posted in Other Things

Now Available!

Jack Flacco is pleased to announce his latest book WHEN FORGIVENESS IS ENOUGH: MAKING SENSE OF GOD’S CALLING is now available to purchase:

When the apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, Jesus answered seventy-seven times. This was to illustrate God’s forgiveness is boundless, without end. A week after that conversation, God gave his only son as a sacrifice to save many from the penalty of sin.

What would it be like to forgive as God forgives? Is it possible to erase from memory someone else’s slight, in spite of the lingering bad feelings brought on by bitterness?

God’s calling to forgive one another is just the beginning. His desire is to overwhelm people with his spirit so that a hardened heart may melt to become loving and generous. Above everything else, God wants a relationship with every person who hears his word. In this practical guide, Jack Flacco recounts the events that led to his transformation and explores techniques that has allowed him to overcome hatred, envy and resentment.

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Posted in Other Things

How Do You Enjoy Life?

Before I begin, I cannot say how thrilled I am to welcome summer. Because of this, I will be taking the next several months off and will be coming back in the fall with all-new articles. Until then, you can catch me on Twitter where I am updating my “Year of Thanks” tweets, and on Instagram where I am posting photos of life as it happens.

In the meantime, this is what is on my mind this week:

What is it that makes some people jolly and others miserable? In fact, let me turn the question on its head. Does money buy happiness? After all, is that not what everyone looks to when thinking about being satisfied?

I am sure that if you think about it for a moment, money is the furthest thought on your mind when it comes to happiness. Right? We all want love, joy, peace, comfort, none of which we can attain without first understanding what happiness is.

Ah, but I hear someone say, “Money will certainly buy me comfort—a new sofa, a new bed, a new car, house, wardrobe.”

Yes, I agree, but for how long? Once the newness fades, then what? I can see why some folks end up in a cycle of going to work, buying stuff, paying the bills for the stuff they bought, and going out to buy other stuff to protect their stuff. Meanwhile, as the home becomes fuller, life becomes emptier.

This is why I would like you to think about this next question. Take your time and really think about it. If you want, you can leave a comment—or not. It is entirely up to you. This is all about you, and you really do not have to share a thing.

So here is my question:

How do you enjoy life?

Again, take your time to think about it. It all has to do with the perception of happiness. What do you perceive happiness being?

I will start it off. For me, happiness is spending time with my family, sharing experiences with friends, and praying and listening to God. Add to that good food, travel, and fulfillment with everything else that I do, there you have a perfect composite of me enjoying life.

Now, what about you?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Collecting

I’m a collector. I collect anything that I feel has value. As an example, I collect headphones. Don’t ask me why. I just do. I own a pair of Sony noise canceling headphones, a pair of Sennheiser earbuds and headphones, and I’ve lost count of how many Apple earbuds I have in my possession. Last time I checked, I only have one pair of ears I carry around with me every day. What can I say? I like listening to my music my way.

Sennheiser HD 202
Sennheiser HD 202

For a time, I used to collect movies. I know it sounds strange, but it’s what I used to do. I couldn’t walk out of a video store without purchasing something. I own the entire Lord of the Rings collection. I also bought multiple versions of the Godfather collection, including the restored version, which I think is great. But if you’ve seen the Godfather a billion times like I have, the gold tones in the film are rather distracting. I can’t tell you how many different versions of the Alien collection I own either. Somewhere along the line I went crazy purchasing every set I could find. Yeah, I’m a fan. Now, don’t think I’m heavy on the drama, fantasy and sci-fi genres. My vice is owning all of the movies to the Bring It On collection. What can I say? They’re hilarious.

As silly as it sounds, I’ve gone insane with my music collection, too. How do I describe buying anything associated with Led Zeppelin without seeming like a lunatic? I own their earlier works, their box sets, their remasters, their remasters of remasters, their solo works, their tribute albums. I would go as far as stating I’m a Led Zep die-hard fan, but I won’t. I think my cloud collection speaks for itself. Additionally, I collect oldies albums from the 50’s and 60’s. What can I say? I like listening to those old tunes.

Greek Style Fries
Greek Style Fries

Topping off my list is my silly collection of food photos I’ve been snapping whenever I take the family out to eat. I have a lot of those. Call me OCD. I find food photos to be not only great images to salivate over, but also an awesome springboard to jump start meal ideas. I know. I’m strange. But I can attest they make great conversation pieces.

Okay, one more. I collect photos of a particular tree shedding its leaves in the fall. Once a year, I visit a specific spot in the woods to take the photo. I have many. I’m not sure when my fixation started, but it has kept me busy.

I think that’s it. I collect other stuff, too, but nothing as extravagant as Jerry Seinfeld’s collection of Porsche. Wouldn’t that be something? Where would I put them all? Don’t ask me.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

Do you collect anything?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

What I’ve Learned

I typically don’t write about God. I try to keep my topics light and free from controversy. I’ll write about other things instead, like morals, the law and what is right. But about the G-word, I’m never quite sure if I say too little or if I say too much. And I find it risky because I don’t want to alienate readers who read my blog for entertainment purposes only.

The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible

However, there has been a development in my life. Last year this time, I had promised myself that I would read the Holy Bible from cover to cover. To keep me on track, I went ahead and entered a chronological reading plan into my phone that would remind me daily of my goal. I say chronological because there are various reading plans out there that allow a person to start reading the word in various ways. I chose chronological because I’ve always wanted to gain a historical perspective to the writings than simply reading it for literature.

With that in mind, I’m happy to say that as of December 31, last year, I completed my goal of reading the Holy Bible from cover to cover.

What can I say about the whole thing? I can only describe it as an experience.

I learned there is a God.
I learned God would not give me a test he doesn’t think I can handle.
I learned that no matter how many times I sin, God would forgive me.

I learned about faith.
I learned about hope.
I learned about love.

I learned that I mean something to God and he will do anything to save me from the penalty of my sins.
I learned that as smart as I think I am, God is smarter.

I learned to be patient.
I learned to be kind.
I learned to love.

I learned what real peace is all about.
I learned to sleep better at night.

I learned a lot more, but those are the big ones. Apart from the experience of historical reading, I gained a huge understanding regarding human nature. For instance, I found a whole book called Proverbs chalk full of golden nuggets of wisdom dedicated to dealing with human nature. One of my favorite sayings I picked up from the book is “Go to the ant, you sluggard.” It means those who are lazy should have a look at what the ant does. The ant harvests in the fall to live through the winter. It also means, like an ant, I should always stay busy. Hard to get into trouble when I’m busy.

Yet, of all the things I’ve learned, I think loving God and loving others is the most important. I don’t want to sound preachy, but to me it made enough an impact to promote a change in how I act—a change noticeable in my writings and to others.

At least, I hope it’s noticeable.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

Have you ever wanted to read something cover to cover but never had the opportunity to do so? If so, what?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Keeping on Track

During this time of year, I take some time out of my busy schedule to assess where I am and where I want to go. This assessment encompasses not only my personal life but also my writing life. Part of this exercise includes me looking at my life as a five-year plan, and in some cases, a ten-year plan. I began doing this a few years ago when I needed structure to my life—something I severely lacked before I started writing.

Create and keep a schedule
Create and keep a schedule

I can’t say what I do is easy, but it does yield fruit. I’m disciplined now and more attuned to what I believe my life mission is in the grand scheme of things. I’m not saying this to make it seem as if I have everything figured out. On the contrary, if I have anything figured out, it’s my name and where I was born—and maybe where I go when I die. Other than those little things, I’m at the mercy of the wind.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing all this is that I’d like to share with you three key things I do to keep on track for the year. Don’t expect miracles if you’re going to implement any of this stuff in your life. I can tell you it is not as easy as I make it out to be. But, it is worth the try, if you’re in the mood to make a change for a more goal-centered life.

Schedule downtime—That’s an odd way to think about getting things done. Isn’t scheduling downtime the exact opposite of getting things done? Well, not really. What you want to do is prevent burnout. I’ve been there when all I could think about was what I wanted to do, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I read somewhere that the body functions on a time cycle, and if the body doesn’t get the rest it needs, it will rebel by throwing itself in bed. That happened to me. There was a time I became ill with a flu or fever every single year since I was a kid. Nowadays, that doesn’t happen. I take one full day off from being online, writing and chores to be with the family. It’s a full day of familial bonding that has since kept me healthy. The downtime also stimulates my creative juices, clearing my mind and readying the week for my reappearance. By the time my day off is over, I’m set to tackle anything thrown at me.

Work hard—Given I’m a proponent for taking a day off every week, the other side of the coin is making up the time by working hard during the other six days of the week. Working hard doesn’t mean sweating hard, though. It means doing more with the finite time you have available. If that means finding alternate ways to produce more than you are capable of, then it means you’re working not just harder, but smarter. The ultimate goal is to get the things you would have had done in seven days with six days instead. Tricky, but doable. In the context of writing, I schedule everything. My novel writing is part of my schedule as is my site writing. Responding to comments on my site, Twitter and Facebook is in there, too. At the end of the week, all that hard work will have paid off once I look at my accomplishments and realize just how much I produced.

Put it all down on paper—An interesting thing happens when you write things down. You remember them. I think there must be some sort of relational action thing going on in the brain when I write things down. I seem to remember those things and I can remember what they look like written on paper. The idea is a strange one, but I will have to say this really works. Do you really want to accomplish your goals? Write them all down on paper. Years ago, I had the idea in my mind of what I wanted to do—write a trilogy—then went ahead and wrote the titles down on paper. Suddenly, seeing the titles there made them more real. I hadn’t written any of them, but they were real to me. I did the same thing with my other parts of my life. If I wanted a new car, I’d write it on paper then I knew there was no turning back from achieving my goal. Again, write everything you want down on paper. It does make a difference.

Last thing on my mind is this: When a trial hits, you hit right back. Don’t surrender. Stay true to the course. There is nothing in this world that ought to prevent you from achieving your goals. To use the cliché: Live the dream. No one else can do it for you.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

What goals do you want to write down that would make it more real for you to achieve success?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Firsts

I find it hard to believe The Dark Knight came out nine years ago. I remember sitting in the audience thinking it was one of the most amazing movies I’ve ever seen.

Why so serious?
Why so serious?

I also find it difficult to comprehend how much time has passed since Titanic came out. Has it really been nineteen years? Incredible.

My wife tells me we’ve been married for over twenty years. Well, she doesn’t need to tell me, I already know. Yet, when I think about it, it doesn’t seem as if time has passed at all.

Where have I been since I first heard Katy Perry‘s massive pop album Teenage Dream hit the charts? That was five years ago.

Then there is the time Friends went off the air. That happened twelve years ago.

Everybody Loves Raymond
Everybody Loves Raymond

And let’s not forget about Everybody Loves Raymond. I remember lying on my couch eleven years ago watching the final episode.

Is this how I mark time, by the passing of entertainment units? It seems like it.

Although, I beg to differ. I remember the first time I told my wife I loved her. The next thing she did was hop on a train back to Nova Scotia. Was it something I said?

How can I forget the time when my first child came into the world? We were in tears. Nope, I wasn’t watching a TV show at the time, and I don’t remember a swelling soundtrack playing in the background.

My first car was a Honda Accord. The memory of that day, when I went into the bank to ask for a loan, is still in my head. The interest on the loan was eleven percent. I thought the bank at the time had given me a great deal.

The first time I landed my dream job was such a pleasure that my family and I went out celebrating. It was also the first time I could afford to pay for everyone’s meal.

I can’t forget the first guitar my dad had bought me when I was a teenager. It was an imitation Gibson Les Paul. I played that thing so much that I had worn the frets to a state of non-existence.

Whenever I think of summer, I think of the first time I had gone in the deep end on my own. It was also the first time when I had almost drowned. After that incident, I learned how to swim, and have never forgotten.

I read somewhere that a person’s greatest fear is speaking in front of an audience. My first experience addressing a large crowd was when I was fifteen years old in high school, running for Ninth Grade class president. I stood on stage behind a podium, pointed a finger at the entire student body, which was close to five hundred kids, and said, “I want you to want me.” The entire assembly erupted in laughter. That phrase was from a song made popular at the time by Cheap Trick. It was also the first time I had felt absolute embarrassment.

But you know what? I won that election. One of my teachers later said to me, aside from having moxie, that if I could get up there and make a fool of myself like that, I certainly belonged in politics.

I guess when it comes to memories my entire life is not a set of vignettes centered around entertainment, even if I sometimes think it to be that way. No, I enjoy reminiscing with family about our firsts, our seconds and thirds, what we’ve learned, and if we had the opportunity, what would we do over.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t change a thing of my past. If I did, then I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

Do you remember any of your firsts? What do you like about those memories?