This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Well Now, Isn't He Special

[I hope you'll indulge me today. This is still supposed to be a humor essay, but it's also on a topic near and dear to my heart, and so if it ends up being more informative and less funny, please understand that this is my fifth and almost certainly final child we're talking about here. I get a little sentimental. Because it's more serious than humorous, I'm posting it as an "extra". There will still be a normal essay on Thursday. --Liam]

As parents, we have certain aspirations for our children. When we have our first one, we dream that he or she will grow up to be the President who figures out a way to peace in the middle east, or the doctor who cures cancer, or the psychiatrist who figures out how to resolve whatever issues it is that makes Michael Moore think that way.

As we have progressively more children, our hopes and dreams diminish perceptibly, so that the second one we just hope is happy and moderately successful, and by the fourth or fifth child we're merely hoping they can make it through daily life without noticeably soiling their undergarments and maybe, just occasionally, remembering to chew with their mouth closed.

One thing which is NOT high on the list of aspirations for our children is autism. The name "autism" is shortened from a much longer Latin phrase which translates to "Not actually stupid, just really good at ignoring you." Autistic kids have honed the art of sticking their fingers in their ears and loudly saying "LALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" down to such a science that it no longer requires fingers, or loud singsong voices. Or indeed any recognition that you're even in the room.

Autism is not well understood by doctors in much the same way that the lyrics to most songs from later in Bob Dylan's career are not well understood by the casual listener. And that's probably an apt analogy, because as best we can tell, autism is a "sensory processing" disorder, meaning that to the autistic child, we're all talking like Bob Dylan. Or the parents in a "Peanuts" animated feature. Or the Miss Teen USA pageant's Miss South Carolina 2007.

But here's the thing that no one will tell you, and that I think everyone who has an autistic child should know: In some autistic kids, much of the sensory issues relate to a sensitivity to milk and wheat. Yup, the two ingredients which we'd probably all list near the top of any list of "healthy foods for growing children" cause my son to stare into space and roll his eyes around with a fascination I've not seen since I mistakenly accepted an invitation to a party in the "stoner" house back when I was a freshman in college and knew neither what a stoner was nor why, exactly, they would choose to use so much of that particular sickly sweet air freshener.

Janet happened upon this particular bit of information when she refused to accept the doctor's prognosis that Liam was "mildly autistic" and that there wasn't really much that could be done for it. She decided to get a second opinion from "Dr. Google" and after several days of searching and reading up, we decided to try taking my son off of milk and wheat and saw an immediate improvement. I'm not saying he went from drooling to solving complex quadratic equations; he's more of a political science sort of guy.

But here's the most infuriating part: When we next took him in for a visit with his pediatrician, she was astounded by his progress and asked if we'd done anything that could account for it. We told her, and she nodded and said "Yeah, I've heard stories like that from other parents." I didn't, but I wanted to say "Really, Doctor? And you didn't think to mention that back when there wasn't 'really anything we can do'? Maybe this year your CPA will come back with a tax return saying you owe 35% of your gross wages as income, and if you ask why he didn't claim even the most basic deductions or credits, he'll say 'Yeah, I've heard stories about those from other CPAs'. Maybe then you'll understand just how incompetent a doctor this makes you."

There isn't really any handbook for children like my son. There are lots of books on the progression of autistic kid, such as what to expect and how to handle the special challenges. And heaven knows there are lots of books on raising so-called "normal" children (books which are together worth their weight in, well, logs, but only if you're out of logs and it's cold and you need something to burn). But there's amazingly little on children who were autistic but aren't really any more because they turned out to just have allergies and their parents were conscientious enough to remove those allergens from their diet.

So we're kind of on our own, which is OK, because ultimately no matter who you go to for advice, your child will be different and special. Ours is just a little bit more so.

This really hasn't turned out quite as funny as it should be for the humor blog, but as I said, it's information I really want people to have. Please pass it along to anyone you know who has an autistic child and hasn't yet found out about trying the wheat-and-milk free diet.

And if they want to talk about our experience, I'd be happy to chat with them at

Copyright © April 28, 2009 by Liam Johnson.


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