Everything Toad is New Again

So. How do you like the new digs?!?

As Toad is growing-up it only seemed right the the blog should too and now it has company - feel free to peek around, this place is pretty big! I have been wanting to write about more than just autism-related things for a while, so I think these 4 blogs should take care of that nicely. Yes, I'm serious. No, I'm not on drugs... unless you count coffee (we live near Seattle, the stuff is practically in the water here, so you know, that works for me).

I'll give you a quick run-down on the other blogs, then I'll treat you to a good Toadie story.

The main page is pretty much where I will write about anything. Current events, politics, social/cultural issues, random thoughts, whatever is in my head. Along Came George is a blog about losing my mom to cancer last Fall. Yes, so very sadly, Toad's much beloved Grandma is gone, which I will also be talking about here, just from a different perspective. The last one, Tales From the Shed, will be fun - if you have any interest in DIY projects that you might see on tv or in magazines and think "that's really cool but seriously, who does that?", I know someone who does that. I know if you're here for Planet Josh you may have no interest in the other blogs but at least check out the mastheads - each blog has its own, ALL IN THIS ONE SITE. Which is ridiculous, exactly what I wanted and completely awesome thanks to Meredith at DropFoundry and BuenoBaby (for any of you who were around back when I was writing for Momversation, she was writing for them as well, that's how we "met"). Also, please thank her husband Ben, because while she was going insane trying to figure out how to make my design wishes come true, he was busy bringing all of Planet Josh's posts over here.

OK. Now that you've seen the new blog neighborhood, let's talk about Josh. I know it's been forever, but while there have been a number of big changes in our lives over the last year or so, Toad is still pretty much the same little dude.

He is in high school now, though technically he should still be in middle school. It's a long story and I'll fill you in later. Yes, HIGH SCHOOL, where apparently he naps almost daily. I know I would have enjoyed high school a whole lot more if I'd been able to crash on a big bean-bag chair whenever the mood struck...

He still asks for fries 1000 times a day and Blue's Clues is still his whole world. He has, however, changed his shoes of choice from Uggs to (wait for it) ... Crocs. Because of course he did. The Fashion Police can sit-down and shut-up, Planet Josh is where questionable footwear trends are welcomed with open arms....er, feet.

Here's a picture of him from last summer (obviously before the Uggs fell out of favor) at one of his most favorite spots. This was also the last time he saw his grandma :(

July 21, 2012 at Dundarave Park, West Vancouver, BC

See that little block sitting beside him? That is a Peek-a-Block by Fisher-Price. I have mentioned these before in an earlier post about the toys Toad loves. He still loves them. Mostly just to hold in his hands and chew on. Endlessly. It is rare to see him without one or two as he'll even take them to school. 

A few nights ago, he surprised me. You see, Little Man has never been one to follow the crowd, even as a baby/toddler - he never crawled, he bear-walked; he didn't babble, he growled (which was hilarious, by the way); he didn't play with his toys, he either carried them in each hand or would walk around the playroom picking them up and then dropping them over one shoulder as went. Aside from being early signs that Toadie was marching to his own drummer, it also means I never saw him learning/developing in a conventional way. Which is not a problem, or anything I'm unhappy about, it just means that I do on occasion end up surprised when for example, he starts building a block tower. Which he did. And it was fascinating.

It was amazing to watch this process. I do think it was the first time he's ever really tried - at very least it's the first time I've ever seen him try. He was determined, yet unfazed by failure. He seemed amused when they fell, but was also clearly intent on trying again until he had stacked every block he could find. Problem was, his first two were always perfect, but at 3 or 4, he'd put them off-center so that any further stacking was bringing the whole thing down. I could see him thinking when he would put one on top and notice that the stack was wobbling. He'd hang on to the one he was trying to place, and try to use that one to stabilize the tower. That of course would not work and the towers were coming down every time.

I decided that while letting him figure things out for himself is good, and as a parent you do that with your kids often, I also didn't want him to get bored or even upset enough to melt-down or walk away and stop trying - the speed with which Toad can go from being happy to being in a rage is impressive and unnerving (and clearly no fun for him). So I went to him and let him start another stack. When he got to the point where he would put one off-center, I gently took his hand and showed him how to straighten it out. I did this twice, and then left the room to watch from a distance again.

The first couple of times he tried after that, he did it the same way he had been and the tower continued to crash down after just a few blocks. Then he started another one. This time I watched him straighten out his off-center ones the way I'd shown him. His tower went up high and stayed tall, he was so excited. He was laughing, making his "so happy I just want to growl really intensely" noise, and bouncing. Then he leaned over and tried to chew on the very top block. OBVIOUSLY. I mean really, what else are you going to do with it?? Then it all crashed down, Toadie giggled and built it back up again. He was a pro at it by bed-time. He made a few that were about as tall as he is and tried to chew on all of them, laughing the entire time. I so badly wanted a picture, but he's very camera-wary these days and as soon as he senses there might be one nearby, he'll stop whatever he's doing that you want a picture of. I didn't want to take the chance of ruining the fun.

It was awesome to see him enjoying a newly discovered use for his old standbys, as well as fun to see him doing something that for Toad, was quite out of the ordinary - aside from the chewing :)

Josh and the Giant Bee

There are few things in this world that Toad loves as much as Blue's Clues and fries...


Water - playing with or being in it.

His beloved soft Tonka cars/trucks.

Being outside in the wind or rain.


But there is one thing. One thing that trumps all, yes, even the fries take a back seat to this.


Floaty Mylar balloons. 

Their helium-induced gravitational defiance rocks Toadie's world like nothing else.


They make him furiously happy. And I mean that literally. His enjoyment of them is so intense it borders on aggressive. Like when you are so excited about your favorite team winning a big game you shove the person sitting next to you out of their seat...


Anyway, these balloons are a big deal in Toad's world. They have rescued us from many a torturous shopping trip and are guaranteed to bring a smile to his face no matter what. Most of the time we get them on my initiation but every now and then, he'll ask for one himself.

This is what happened a few days ago, when we were finishing-up what had been a moderately stressful grocery store run. He saw a lot of the "Grad" balloons that were all over the place and asked for one. I told him we'd get one once we'd finished all our shopping. He hung in there after that, so when we'd finished getting the groceries we needed, I told him it was time to get his balloon. I don't usually worry about what kind of balloons we get - birthday, grad, v-day, congrats, etc - because Toad doesn't care. If they're Mylar and they're floating, we're good. But for whatever reason I can't explain because I have no idea, I didn't want to get him one of the Graduation ones. So we went over to the floral section where they have others.

I think we both saw it at the same time.

There, floating high above some potted plants, was a bee. A giant, smiling, floating, bee balloon. As I asked him if he wanted the bee, his eyes were already locked on it and he immediately said "bee!"

And so it was.


The down-side of these non-pharmaceutical uppers is that Toadie will usually pop or deflate them within a couple of hours of getting them home, so the joy is short-lived.


But the bee was different.

Josh had "conversations" with the bee - clues were discovered and discussed. Planets were named. Songs were sung. And it never left his hands...






not even at bedtime.






Hey little man, are you really going to sleep with the Giant Bee Balloon?









"Don't even think about taking this from me.

Also, of course I am. DUH. "












Lol, ok, cutie :)


(shhhh .... don't tell him I snuck in and took it out of his hand once he fell asleep!)







And it didn't stop there.


It was the first thing he grabbed when he got out of bed the next morning and he insisted on bringing it when we took Zach to the orthodontist. In fact, the only way I could get him to leave the big, soft Tonka truck that they had in the waiting area and he had decided was his, was to remind him that the bee balloon was waiting in the car - truck hit the floor, Toadie was on his way. Magic.








See? I told you it was in the car...

















... and I can tell you're smiling even though you're not looking at me :)


He didn't even care that we didn't stop for fries on the way home. It was madness I tell you, MADNESS!







Even after we got home, he wouldn't let go.

Not even to eat.


But the impetus to have fun soon was too much to ignore and Toadie played hard with his balloon-friend as is his way...





and Mr Bee eventually suffered the same fate they all do.


Aw :(





And Toadie went back to using his iPad, looking at his books, chewing his trucks and blocks, asking for fries and giving me 8 million kisses on my forehead. 'Cause that's how he rolls. 


Bye-bye, Bee. Thank you for making Toad so happy with your cheerful, floaty, bee-ness while it lasted.


ps. Toad just finished Middle School...

W H A T ?!?

A Girl, a Kidney, and the Living Legacy of a Lost Friend

Sometimes, there is good news in the world...


About a year-and-a-half ago I wrote this, http://planetjosh.squarespace.com/journal/2011/2/2/i-dont-know-emily-but-ive-met-her-kidney-and-im-following-it.html, the story of a kidney I met on Twitter and the young woman it was determined to belong to. Go read it, I've never met a nicer nor funnier internal organ.

Emily, despite needing dialysis 3x/week, having to live on severe fluid restriction and waiting patiently while friends and family tried to help but none would match, continued to live her life and got married last June!

But that was just the beginning of her happy ending because yesterday, she posted this video:


Congratulations, Emily and Emily's Kidney, on finally finding each other! This makes me exceedingly happy :)

Living donation is an amazing gift, one that's been close to my heart for some time, even before I met Ms Kidney.

13 years ago while donating blood for a blood drive in honor of a neighbor's young son who'd passed away, I put myself on the National Marrow Registry. I have never come up as a match for anyone, including a friend who was also sadly lost to Leukemia 2 summers ago

But while she was still with us, many friends chose to join the registry - not just to try to help her, but to honor her legacy by potentially helping others. Unfortunately none of us were able to help Bernadette. But one of those friends recently came up as a match for someone else - and just this last week he donated his bone marrow to that person.  Two years later Bernie's legacy lives on, thanks to wonderful people like Tony (one of my former karate instructors), and hopefully others as well.





Thick Skin

We all need it to some extent.

I think it's safe to say that most if not all parents will spend some time in the spotlight of public scrutiny at some point because of their child(ren) - some times it's good, sometimes not so much, but kids are exceptional at grabbing attention and generally have no problem sharing it with you.

"Mom, that lady is going to die isn't she? She's smoking and you and daddy said that people who smoke will die." Me, at the tender age of 4, out loud to my mortified mother, as we were standing at a grocery store check-out next to a woman who was smoking.

(Apparently my propensity to speak my mind started early? Sorry, mom...)

You get the point. All kids do and say things that can focus attention on their parents, kids with special needs are not, in fact, special, in that respect.

But autistic kids' behavior can and does get people's attention more often than most. Because it's not always awesome , at least as far as the rest of the world is concerned. So as the parent of an autistic child you likely experience more than the usual amount of less-than-positive attention/judgement. I've written about this before, but more from the perspective of Toad's behavior or the actual responses of others to it. 

Not really from the perspective of dealing with it, though.


It's a bit of a shock, to say the least and a thick-skin is a requirement to survive. If you don't start out with one, you will likely develop one quickly because people are cruel. That's really the long and short of it. Or, you do what I did - because contrary to what you might think from reading some of my more recent posts, I do not have a thick skin, I never have - and you isolate yourself.

I did this early on and for me it was probably 50/50 - keeping us out of the public eye, but also keeping Toad from being upset as much as was possible. This was back in the days of his 3-hour tantrums and shredding the skin from his ears with self-injury. As much as I don't like being stared at or having horrible things said to me and my children, I also didn't like upsetting my son - clearly there were situations that were just too much for him, so why on earth would I insist on putting him through that? But, some things were/are necessary so the occasional trip to the grocery store (because you know, eating... ) was about all I ever did aside from the various therapies.

Ah, the grocery store. I say "the" as if there were only one, but in reality I shop at several, and especially back in those days, I think there were 6 stores on my regular list. Again, partly due to necessity (Toadie was GFCF for a couple of years) but partly design - I was afraid that the more time we spent in any given store, the more likely it was that we'd be asked to leave at some point.

So I spread the love and Toad's melt-down's around as much as I could.

Of course that doesn't, and didn't, stop the staring.

I have had more people staring at me and my son than I could ever possibly count. And it still happens, even though Toad is much more easy-going these days than he was when he was little, he still gets unhappy in public sometimes and at this stage of the game, he may not go on for 3+ hours but what he lacks in sustainability he has made up for with some serious volume. And pushing the back of his pants down. Which when combined, might be cool if you're a member of Wu Tang Clan, but not so hot at the local Safeway. I became much more comfortable managing him out in the world as the years passed, but the staring still gets to me sometimes.

What does staring accomplish, exactly? Aside from information gathering, which is understandable, what are we really doing when we stare? I ask because with kids like Toad, the disability is not obvious. So the information that people are looking for just isn't there. With the lack of an obvious answer/explanation, is there some notion that the longer you stare the more likely it is that the answer will magically appear? Or is it more of a means to communicate without actually having to take the step of face-to-face confrontation? I suspect it's a little of both, though more of the latter.

Staring is a way for people to say, "hey lady, wtf is the deal with your kid and could you please go away or at least make it stop?" without actually having to SAY it. Of course there are the occasional sympathy stares, you can tell the difference, but those are few and far between. Mostly it's the first one.

I have, over the years, perfected a stare of my own. I call it the "Am I making you uncomfortable? Good, because that's exactly what you're doing to us" stare. It's 100% effective. The frustrating part is, I'm more than happy to talk to people or answer questions if anyone were ever to bother to ask me what's going on, but no one ever does.

They just stare. Or make comments under their breath or to each other. Sometimes if I'm feeling particularly brazen I'll say something. But mostly I don't.

This is not to suggest that there aren't wonderful, understanding/accepting people out there. There are. But usually we find them to be people we encounter regularly, who have gathered some information about us in some way either directly or indirectly, or, have some experience in their own lives with autism already.

Now yesterday, I had the entirely un-anticipated experience of being the focus of the hard-starers at the grocery store - me, not Toad. And to be honest? Given what was going on, I can't really blame them. From the outside, not knowing what I knew, it must have looked pretty bad. You see Toadie's been sick for the last week or so. He's getting better, but not 100% yet, so he's been home. I didn't leave the house for the better part of last week, but the fever is gone, and even though he's pretty tired and has a bit of a cough, he's ok to be out for a bit now. I really had to go to the grocery store so off we went. Now one thing to know about the Toad-man: everything is sensory, right? This includes coughing. When he starts, he will often force it to continue to the point where he actually gags himself and, he has thrown-up as a result on several occasions. So I know to watch for this behavior, and, I know how to stop it. But I have to get his attention and I have to tell him "stop". You can see where this is going, right? We were at the store, and he wasn't too thrilled about being there and was making that known. I did my best to keep the plumber-pants at bay and just tried to get done as quickly as I could. He started coughing as we got to the produce section and he went in to the behavioral cough quickly - he wanted to leave, he wanted my attention, that was a very smart move on his part. But I knew what he was doing. After all these years I can tell when the cough changes to the one that he perpetuates. So I pressed on. But dude, the PRODUCE SECTION? Of all places, where the food is all out in the open and there's Toad sounding like his lung is about to make an appearance from his throat. I could literally see everyone moving away. Here's the kicker: in order to prevent him from self-induced vomiting via the forced coughing, I was in his face, telling him to stop. Which is what I need to do, and then he does, but to those who have no idea what's going on? Right. Mother of the Year right here, dragging my poor sick child to the store and look I'm all up in his face telling him to STOP COUGHING?!? Yep. For all I know I am now the subject of someone's cell phone video on YouTube titled: Parenting Fail and The Stir will pick it up and write something terrible (for the record - I'm not angry or yelling at him, but I HAVE to get his focus on me and that is just what works. Sometimes blowing in his face will do it too, but not when he's really in it). 

I can't blame anyone for the way they were looking at me yesterday. They had no way of knowing what was really happening. Still, not a very nice feeling at all.


SO. Aside from teleportation (duh!), the technological advance I think I'd really like to see would be Pop Up Video, except live. For those unfamiliar with the VH1 series, Pop Up Video basically took music videos and added "thought bubbles" but instead of thoughts, the bubbles had information about the making of the video, the musician, behind the scenes things, anecdotes, etc. Look, here's one now:

Ahhh, the 80's were fun, weren't they? :)


This would help. Little pop-up bubbles just appear and everything is explained with some humor. I don't need a smaller phone, nor a smarter phone, nor a phone that wants to be my personal valet. I need pop-up video for real life with the Toad.


Or perhaps just a thicker skin.

McCarthyism 2.0

For those unfamiliar with this, McCarthyism is a term we use today in reference to demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations that often include attacks on the character/credibility of one's opponents, stemming from the actions and anti-communist paranoia of Senator Joe McCarthy (R) , in the early 1950's.  It is most commonly seen in the political arena, though I am going to be talking about its unfortunate prominence in the autism community.

In this case, instead of an attention-whoring, alcoholic, otherwise entirely unimportant Senator from Wisconsin, we have an attention-whoring, Playboy Playmate who's most notable clothed career moves include a sketch on MTV in which she appeared to eat her own vomit, and a film scene that depicts her sitting a large pool of menstrual blood. Yes folks, it's the one and only Jenny McCarthy, coincidentally named and sadly, just as ignorant as her predecessor.

Ms McCarthy is the face and puppet of the anti-vaccine/quackery embracing, autism hating movement in this country. Collectively pulling her strings are Autism One, Generation Rescue, and, just for that extra touch of poor judgement, Andrew Wakefield - a man who paid children at his son's birthday party to be the "subjects" for his scientific research; who's "study" was commissioned by a law firm hired to sue vaccine manufacturers (go figure... ); who's medical license was revoked, study redacted, and every and all of his so called "findings" have never been substantiated by any real science.

Autism One and Generation Rescue are a runaway train of fear-mongering, hate, and misinformation that prey on a vulnerable population - parents of autistic children. They use Ms McCarthy for recognition, and bewilderingly, credibility. Our culture inexplicably attributes un-earned/un-deserved importance and expertise to celebrities. Just look at the aftermath of that desperate-for-readers Time cover last week as a perfect example - in the midst of all the negative backlash, we suddenly had all sorts of "famous" moms speaking out in favor of breast-feeding older toddlers/children. Oh, well then it MUST be a good thing because THIS FAMOUS MOVIE STAR DOES IT TOO!! Because somehow, her celebrity has also made her an expert on parenting? I'm not saying it's right or wrong, my point is that our society gives celebrities power and attributes skills, knowledge, and credibility simply because we recognize them, and not because they necessarily have any more understanding or knowledge than you or I do. I don't know why we do this.

But we do it, and the anti-vax/let's take all your money for 978 different "biomedical treatments" quacks know it. So they plaster Ms McCarthy's face everywhere, promote her as the Mother Warrior she claims to be and she goes on tv and radio and anywhere she can to spread the fear and bring more to the fold. It's like a cult. Well, it's not just like a cult, I think that's what it really is, if you take a good look at it.

"A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of [consequences of] leaving it, etc.) designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community."  

Louis Jolyon West, psychiatrist, human rights activist

Autism One and Generation Rescue fit well with most of those attributes. Excessive devotion/dedication to the idea that vaccines and the medical establishment/pharmaceutical companies are to blame for autism (among other things... ); that autism is something bad, that should be feared and "fixed" at all costs. While they don't necessarily isolate people, they do absolutely manipulate and debilitate through guilt/fear - you had your child vaccinated so it's your fault; IF you have your children vaccinated you are harming them, and, after all, autism is your worst nightmare; they prey on the vulnerable parents who are searching for their path with a new diagnosis or, cannot function if they have no one or nothing to blame. They certainly engage in aggressive proselytizing and are often threatening and violent in their vitriol. Advancing their goals to the detriment of others, or to the community? I'd say the significant decrease in vaccinated children/adults and subsequent increase in outbreaks of communicable diseases answers that question.

So, we live in an era where we have replaced Communist subversion with Big Pharma plots to poison us all.

Which is ironic as all hell given what you'll find if you take a little peek over at Autism One's website. If you can actually get through most of what is posted without hitting your head on your desk too many times, you will find gems like a featured speaker at their conference, Kerri Rivera, a Mexican "Dr" (yes, I use the title loosely) who claims to have "recovered" 38 autistic children by bleaching them, from the inside out. Yes, you read that correctly. She forces them to both ingest and be given enemas of industrial strength bleach, several times per day, to the point of causing diarrhea and fevers in the children, which she declares as proof that the "treatment" is working.

I am not making this up, in fact, here is an article you should read: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/05/25/selling-bleach-as-a-cure-for-autism/

(That, by the way, is a blog you should be reading if you are looking for real science, and need help sorting through all of the crap that is out there.)

I don't know about you, but somehow pumping a child full of industrial bleach multiple times a day seems ... contrary (choosing my words carefully) to the message that they are trying to promote. But these are the people that also still champion chelation (McCarthy's treatment of choice), which has not only been proven to be ineffective (with actual science) but is also outright dangerous.

At least they're consistent.

They are also consistent in their message of hopelessness and fear. They disguise it as "hope", but it's all designed to make you believe that there could be nothing worse than your child being autistic and so you should do 846 things to "fix" your child, and hey look... there are ads all over our site for all sorts of things you should spend your money on to get going on that right now!"


And if you don't think they are truly fear mongering? Here is a quote from the associate director of Autism One:

"It’s not like it’s seen on TV,” said Laura Rowley, AutismOne’s associate director, who continued, “Autism is screams of agony in the middle of the night, seizures during the day, endless fear, and walking a tightrope that puts parents at odds with a dysfunctional school system, a public health system in denial, and doctors who would further harm their children." 


Well, I'll tell you this: that is not what autism is. That is the perception of someone who chooses to believe that their child is "damaged" or "broken" and must therefore be fixed because this is not the way THEY want their child to be, and they find it easier to blame everyone and everything and be angry all the time.

It's the prevalence of messages like that one, promoted not just by the Cult of McCarthy and friends, but Autism Speaks as well, that have an enormous impact on all of us. Society is becoming "aware" of autism alright, but not in a good way, not when it's presented as something to be feared by parents, and that needs to be prevented at all costs and/or cured. I know a lot of autistic people that would and do, disagree with that message. How am I supposed to expect the public to be understanding and accepting of Toad when they probably just look at him and think, Oh God, he's autistic, how AWFUL! Why haven't you done x,y, z to cure him yet?!

Because that is the message being sent by these groups. That, is their idea of "awareness".

All you have to do is read my last post to see where this has taken us.

Toadie is who he is. Is he who I expected? No. But he is who I have and whom I love so very much, as he is. Are there things about his being autistic that aren't awesome? You betcha. But, I am not going to spend all my time and energy hating and blaming and pouring who knows what in him/on him, forcing treatments that only make things worse and him miserable, and in the process make him and everyone else think he's less of a person, less worthy of being accepted, because he is "damaged" and we must "fix" him.

To me that's wrong.

Zach has asked me before if tomorrow there was a magic pill that we could give Toad that would take the autism away completely, with no side effects, would I give it to him? Zach's answer is no, he wouldn't. And he's very quick to tell you this. My answer doesn't come quite as fast, but, ultimately it's the same. Surprised? Toadie would not be TOADIE, if the autism were suddenly gone. He just wouldn't. I would miss the things that I love about him too much, and he is who he is because he's autistic. It's that simple. Would my life be less complicated if he weren't? Again, absolutely. But as I have said before, I'm his mother, and this is my path. I want Toadie to be happy and safe and this is what I strive for. As long as he is, then I am doing my job and that's all I need for him. I don't need him to be someone else, or someone else's idea of who he "should" be.






Well, hello there, my Toadie :)










This modern-day McCarthyism is dangerous and destructive. It's dangerous to everyone because it's affecting public health. It's destructive because it sends the wrong message about autism and those who are autistic.

Be aware. But be aware that the Playmate and Autism One/Generation Rescue are nothing but a cult. There is good information out there - but you're not going to get it from them.