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 to pray. 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 Monday Mayhem

Zombies and Mental Illness

Zombies are undead eating machines. They kill, consume and hunt for victims. They have an insatiable appetite. Their goals are simple. Kill and eat. Is it a wonder zombies have a reputation of being one of the most feared creatures in Horror?

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

Monday Mayhem has always been about the other side of madness. It will always be about zombies, aliens and the craziness attached to an apocalypse or invasion. In short, Monday Mayhem is more about humanity’s reaction to perceived threats than anything else is that may prompt discussion.

In that vein, let’s discuss the similarities between zombie behaviors and known mental illnesses.

First off, let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m not saying those with mental illness are zombies or represent the undead. I’m simply outlining traits I’ve noticed in zombies that also appear in those suffering from mental illness. I have the highest respect for those stricken in such a terrible fashion, and I wish nothing but the best support and aid for their full recovery.

Schizophrenia—Definition from Wikipedia:

“Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown in thinking and poor emotional responses. Common symptoms include delusions, such as paranoia; hearing voices or noises that are not there; disorganized thinking; a lack of emotion and a lack of motivation.”

Zombies tend to roam around aimlessly for long periods without accomplishing much. They need an external stimulus such as a human scent for them to press forward with a goal. They lack emotion when wandering about in their dormant state.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)—Definition from Wikipedia:

Narcissus by Caravaggio. Gazing at his own reflection.
Narcissus by Caravaggio. Gazing at his own reflection.

“Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process.”

Zombies are self-centered monsters with nothing on their mind other than themselves. They can’t see the destruction they cause when they’re on the hunt for victims to satiate their selfish appetite. Once they find a victim, they’ll consume them until there’s nothing left of their soul.

Major depressive disorder (MDD)—Definition from Wikipedia:

“Major depressive disorder (MDD) (also known as clinical depression, major depression, unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder; or as recurrent depression in the case of repeated episodes) is a mental disorder characterized by a pervasive and persistent low mood that is accompanied by low self-esteem and by a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities.”

Zombies by nature are dark. Their mood ranges from gloomy to brooding. They’re dead inside. They’re a shell of their former selves. In spite of frequent kills, when they don’t have what they want, they withdraw into themselves. They lack joy.

Bipolar disorder—Definition from Wikipedia:

“Bipolar disorder (also known as bipolar affective disorder, manic-depressive disorder, or manic depression) is a mental illness typically classified as a mood disorder. It is characterized by episodes of an elevated or agitated mood known as mania, usually alternating with episodes of depression. These episodes can impair the individual’s ability to function in ordinary life.”

Zombies have wild mood swings. Their highs originate from the thrill of chasing and catching their victims. Once they lack a victim to destroy, they shut down into a state of moaning. They lack balance in their lives.

These mental illnesses immediately caught my attention in regards to similar behavior patterns in zombies. I could have also listed Avoidant personality disorder, Perfectionism, and Münchausen syndrome, but for lack of space and time, I did not.

I feel sorry for the zombies because they have no control over how they act or feel. One minute they’re quiet and the next they’re out to destroy anyone getting in their way. In their world, they’re the only ones that matter.

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Can you think of other mental illnesses that correlate with behaviors zombies exhibit?

Posted in Monday Mayhem

Zombie Virus

Visiting the hospital the other day made me wish I’d fallen victim to a real life zombie virus. As I roamed the corridors, a man sporting a seemingly healthy complexion passed my wife and me around the corner. Negotiating the maze of hallways, we saw the man pass us by again. This was no accident, I thought. As we slipped into the nurses’ station, he had passed by once more behind us. It’s with some apprehension I thought he was following us. Yet, that wasn’t the case. He simply was tracing the same route minute-by-minute, regardless if we were there or not. He was a true walker.

Are we safe?
Are we safe?

This strange episode left me with the idea that we’re searching everywhere for the zombie virus to appear but instead, perhaps, we already have it flourishing in our society. We just don’t know about it.

In this edition of Monday Mayhem, I want to explore two common diseases and one psychological condition that correlate to symptoms matching those of zombie physiological behavioral patterns. This may get gory, so be forewarned.

The Common Cold—Also known as nasopharyngitis, rhinopharyngitis, and acute coryza, the common cold has over 200 strains at its disposal to which it can render us helpless in no time. Between ten days and three weeks, the virus can wreak havoc with our immune system, causing fatigue, loss of appetite, headache and muscle ache. Fever tends to happen with infants and young children. The common cold falls under the coronaviruses umbrella of bugs, the same family of viruses responsible for SARS. Similar to many of the zombie viruses written about in fiction, the common cold’s ferocity of transmission makes it a good candidate for an apocalyptic mutation, less the bite, of course.

Coronavirus (Photo credit: CDC)
Coronavirus (Photo credit: CDC)

Flesh-Eating Disease—Going by the medical name necrotizing fasciitis, the disease consumes tissues and layers of skin transforming everything in its wake into a rotten mass. During the course of its growth, the epidermis takes on a dark appearance. If left untreated, the infection can spread rapidly throughout the body, which would then lead to death. Not a trivial matter, much like a zombie virus, this disease shows the effects of death on a living being. I’m not about to post photos of what the disease looks like in full bloom, consuming a human body. The only difference with a zombie virus is the victim’s ability to retain cognitive reasoning.

Catatonia—Although not a disease in itself but a syndrome, catatonia presents an interesting set of symptoms that one may speculate comes directly from a zombie book. Patients of the condition exhibit peculiar motor movements such as stiff posturing, posses and grimacing. They also demonstrate purposeless actions when entrenched in a state of catatonic excitement, making it one of the most dangerous mental states in psychiatry. Brought about by other mental illnesses (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia), catatonia bears striking similarities to those infected by a zombie virus, where the victims roam about without direction, expressing no visible sign of sentience.

The common cold, flesh-eating disease and catatonia are a few of the diseases/conditions I thought of right off the top of my head when comparing zombie virus symptoms with real life aliments. I’m sure you can think of more, considering I’ve only scratched the surface. Who knows, perhaps one day I may revisit this topic citing controversial psychological studies as the basis for an in-depth study of my own. Until then, we can indulge in some fun speculation as to the nature of the zombie virus.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Where do you think the zombie virus will come from?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Spam

Since it’s Freedom Friday and since it’s the end of the week for some of us, I thought I’d treat you to some fun—the best kind of fun—fun at the expense of others. Anyone watch America’s Funniest Home Videos? Well, that’s not the fun I had in mind. I’m talking about the comments I sometimes receive from these automated spam machines in the comments area of my posts.

SPAM on my keyboard
SPAM on my keyboard

Oh, I got your attention, I see.

We all get them, some more than others do. I’m talking about comments falling in our moderation queue that attempt to sell us overpriced shoes, gaudy jewelry, and even try to fish us into believing they like our posts. You don’t have to admit anything. I’ve fallen for a couple myself believing they were legitimate until I’d discovered that once I’d released one spam on my blog, a flood of them appeared overnight as I frantically pressed the delete key to get rid of them all.

This is the type of stuff I get in my comments queue awaiting my moderation:

“I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This post posted at this website is actually good.” ~Wedding Planner

Where do I start? First, you’re missing “a”, as in “a regular reader”. If you want to sell me stuff, learn proper grammar. Second, “how are you everybody?” Should I worry at one time in my life you’ve spoken with one of my schizophrenic personalities I didn’t know I had? Third, “This post posted”, yeah, I got it. You don’t have to be redundant about it.

“I really like what you guys tend to be up too. This type of clever work and exposure! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve included you guys to our blogroll.” ~Free Sex Chat

SPAM hitting us in the face
SPAM hitting us in the face

You guys? Again you’re trying to convince me I’m schizophrenic. I’m one guy, Jack. Get it right. “This type of clever work and exposure!” Whoo-hoo! I can feel your excitement but I have no clue what you’re talking about. Does the term complete sentence mean anything to you? “Keep up the terrific works guys…” Much like the Wedding Planner dude, you also seem to have a problem with grammar.

“Thіs post is in fact a good one it assists new web people, who aree wishing for blogging.” ~Buy Followers

Seriously, I have no clue as to what you’re trying to say to me. I’m lost.

And I’ve saved the best for last.

“Someone necessarilу lend a hand to make significantly articles I might state. That is the first time I frequentеd yoսr website pazge and so far? I amazed with the analysis you maԁe to create this particular publish incredible. Great actiνity!” ~Promo

I’m considering I may actually need another personality after reading your comment. Oh, look, it’s kicking in now—neener nanny, neener nanny, neener nanny.

Nowadays, I don’t even look at my spam queue—well, I had to for this post, but you can blame it on my other personalities. With over two hundred of these messages I receive over the course of a few days, I don’t have time to sift through the chaos to determine what is good and what is bad. I certainly do get a laugh out of the ones I do receive though, and the messages equally provide many hours of amusement at the expense of the spammers.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Have you received spam email? What was the funniest one you received?