Why "Running with Bunions"?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Super Sensory Excavation

In autism “…Any of the senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times…”
It’s home addition excavation day at Super Daddy’s house.

Wrapped in a blanket, Wonder Boy breakfasts at a glass door overlooking the digging. He leans back in a kitchen chair, legs crossed, shoulders relaxed. He sips cranberry juice and nibbles waffles. He presses himself to the barricaded opening to improve his view of the production in process.

The skid-steer loader is a “small, engine powered machine with lift arms used to attach a wide variety of labor-saving tools or attachments.” This day the vehicle is equipped with a sharp-toothed front-loading bucket and rotating, rubber covered tracks.

The machine rumbles to life and the earth quakes. It roars across the ground and the house shakes. The bucket drops with a clang. Teeth tear through the damp soil, teasing nostrils with musky, wet-dirt scents. The odor alters our senses of taste. When the machine travels in reverse, it screeches, beep-beep-beep. When it maneuvers near the main house, teeth scrape the foundation like fingernails on a chalkboard.

It’s a sensory rich spectator event.

Amaze Girl? Sleeps in. She briefly joins her brother at the window before donning noise reducing headphones far from the hubbub.

Wonder Boy oversees the activity for hours, reveling in the sights, sounds, tastes, smells. He watches the machine eat through the earth. As the hole deepens, the skid-steer’s path out of the widening crevasse is both precarious and engrossing. The little machine powers sideways, spins and turns. It teeters almost vertically up the lofty wall.

Soon the pile of removed dirt is a mountain range that spans the yard’s length. It encircles the swing set, traps the trampoline. With each full bucket, the elevation of earth and clay rises. Beeping, belching, growling, groaning, the little skid-steer crawls higher up the mountain to release its catch.

Long after Amaze Girl retreats to homework, piano and books, Wonder Boy watches the machine at work. He is enraptured, enthralled, enchanted.

Until he isn’t.

Sensory overload in autism may appear like a tsunami on a sunny day: one moment the sea is warm, placid and calf-high. The next, calm recedes into a broiling horizon, uncovering moldy rocks and flopping fish. It returns as a wall of water, high, salty, angry.


Wonder Boy flat-palms the kitchen table. He circles the living room and races down the hall. He slams the bedroom door, screams.

He rejects his talker. “Pick me up,” he says, when he wants a squeeze. “I want juice,” he says, when he needs a hug.

Wonder Boy’s in-home therapist arrives. Wonder Boy drapes his talker across his chest and relaxes into the comforting structure of one-on-one attention, routine, work.

After the noise is done, we sit on a picnic bench outside. We are walled in by the mountain of dirt; a breeze tickles our backs. A fat robin hops about the silence, searching for worms in the upturned terrain.

In this moment? There is peace.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Speed isn't Everything

“…Processing Speed could be defined as how long it takes to get stuff done…”
Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, by Ellen Braaten, PhD
and Brian Willoughby, PhD

Hare claimed he could run faster, harder, longer than anyone else. “I can beat you!” he said to Tortoise, known to be the slowest creature in the woods.

Tortoise nodded. “Maybe,” he said.

“No maybe about it,” said Hare. He hopped circles around Tortoise. “You’re slower than ketchup on a cold day. Slower than molasses in the snow.” He sneered. “Slower than a snail.”

Tortoise shrugged. “Okay.”

Hare jumped up and down. “Let’s race. From here to the fencepost, three times about.”

“Sure,” said Tortoise. He trudged off.

Hare stretched his arms and legs. Cracked his fingers. Drank a liter of water. Checked facebook and answered email. Completed 100 bench presses and 200 over-unders.

Finally, he bounded forward.

Hare arrived at the fencepost four hours ahead of Tortoise. “I won, I won!” he sang. He did 50 burpees, 75 squats and a 5 minute Victory Dance.

Tortoise arrived sweaty and exhausted after hours of toil over the hot, dusty road. He stretched his broad muscles. Looked into the bright sky. He yawned and smiled.

After a nap or maybe next week, he’d paint Hare’s victory portrait. He’d patent an idea that slowly brewed in his simmering mind. He’d write a book about his process and build a financial empire.

Because, if fable were real life? Hare would win. Because Hare is an elite athlete, congenitally built to race. Tortoise is heavy and slow in body and mind.

But speed isn’t everything.

“…one could argue that much of the world’s progress has been made by deep, slow thinkers. Whether it be in innovation, art, or literature, many of our most treasured works were likely completed by gifted individuals who worked at their own pace…”

Amaze Girl’s therapist smiled. “Do time tests,” she said. “Write letters: A, B, C. Fast.”

“Yes,” agreed Teacher. “And retell stories to use in speed practice.”

Comprehension work, writing exercises, timed sentences from science, social studies, vocabulary, spelling. Drills, flash cards, Q&A, crossword puzzles, piano lessons; physical exercise.

For mental strength, conditioning, dexterity, clarity. Speedwork is Crossfit for the brain. Gymnastics for the mind.

Because performance matters. And the ability to demonstrate knowledge in an increasingly fast-paced world is critical to success in school. Here it’s necessary to process large amounts of information quickly and rapidly shift between different types of tasks. Here, capable, clear and concise expression is necessary and important.

Here, success is determined more by what you do with what you got than by what you got.

But speed isn’t everything. For some of us, victory is in overcoming the obstacles that hinder participation – and then? Finishing the race.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Nobody Had Autism When I Was a Kid

When I was a kid
We treated infections with alcohol, gargled salt water for sore throats, painted scrapes with “tincture of merthiolate,” a mercury laced antiseptic. We drank water from hoses, chewed lead pencils, ate food off the ground. Kids were fast, slow, smart, dumb, cool, weird.

In my world there was no such thing as “autism” or “learning differences.”

Although the first case of autism was officially diagnosed in 1943, researchers have only recently sought to understand and define it. While educating and involving an ignorant society.

What I‘ve learned: autism exists as varying symptoms along an infinite spectrum that includes virtually everyone. At one end are high functioning, fast thinking savants and intellectuals. At the other end are those with difficulty communicating, housed in bodies that don’t respond to command.

The rest of us lie somewhere in between.

What’s unknown: the definitive cause(s) of autism, how to “fix” it, and if there’s a natural or chemical balance to be had.

When it comes to autism, there are still more questions than answers.

Other things I’m learning about:

Strep Carriers

Some healthy seeming people walk among us with live streptococcus housed in their bodies all the time. No fever, sore throat or symptoms…except for the nasty part about being contagious. Yeah, there’s that. Dogs are commonly – or rarely, depending upon your health care provider – strep carriers. It can be difficult to clear a strep carrier of the virus.

Occult Strep

Strep can hide in a person’s body. Your urethra, for example. Ready to lash out as soon as the latest round of meds are gone. While wreaking havoc in the form of:


Not the cute cuddly black and white bears. This acronym stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections and affects children who’ve recently had the strep virus. Symptoms include tics, rashes, a sudden change in mood and disposition, increased OCD and separation anxiety. Symptoms subside weeks…or months…after the child’s last bout with the virus.

Some doctors believe PANDAS is a made-up ailment, as disputers claim about the next condition:


Studies now indicate the sometimes hyperactive inability to focus/listen/learn associated with Attention Deficit Disorders has a physiological basis related to Parkinson’s Disease. Both conditions are marked by ineffective production and maintenance of appropriate levels of dopamine.

And hyperactivity (the “H” in ADHD) is treated with a stimulant. Which raises the levels of dopamine in the body, easing symptoms of the condition, like, for example:

Speed Processing; It’s a Thing

The rate at which one’s mind operates is an actual, diagnostic condition. There are official tests that quantify the mind’s agility and exercises to improve the speed (in a typically developing brain) at which neurons fire.

When I was young, “retarded” was a clinical description. The “short bus” and her occupants were mysterious and, in our ignorance, a little scary. Nobody talked about “learning differences.” Some people were smart and the rest of us were low IQ, average, slow…or just plain stupid.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
Happy Family, c.1970