Monday, December 30, 2013

Immune function, Vitamin D3, and Autism

Have you been hearing a lot about Vitamin D3 and health?  Maybe you know someone who is Vitamin D deficient. 

I recently read an interesting article looking at Vitamin D, autoimmune issues, and autism. This study looked at levels of Vitamin D and levels of anti-MAG auto-antibodies in healthy vs. autistic children.  Anti-MAG auto-antibodies are antibodies that specifically attack the myelin on neurons and are implicated in some forms of neuropathy.  Click on the link below to read the article in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

Research study investigating Vitamin D, antibodies that attack myelin on nerves, and autism

Here is a summary:

1. Immune abnormalities, mainly autoimmunity to brain tissue, may have a pathogenic role in autism.  Recently, vitamin D deficiency has been implicated as a potential environmental factor triggering some autoimmune disorders.  

2. In this study, autistic children had significantly higher serum levels of anti-MAG auto-antibodies than healthy children, P < 0.001. Increased serum levels of anti-MAG auto-antibodies were found in 70% of autistic patients. A previous study conducted on 32 Egyptian children, aged between 3 and 8 years, reported anti-MAG seropositivity in 62.5% of autistic children.

3. In the present work, patients with severe autism had significantly higher serum anti-MAG auto-antibodies than children with mild to moderate autism.

4. Serum 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels had significant negative correlations with serum levels of anti-MAG auto-antibodies.  That is, individuals with lower vitamin D showed higher levels of auto-antibodies.  

The authors emphasize that the findings are intriguing for future study and do not negate the contributions of other factors in the expression of autism.  The possibility is raised, however, that there may be an autoimmune contribution in a subset of individuals with autistic expression and that Vitamin D3 may play a role.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Great Fun with Jigsaw App

I really enjoy jigsaw puzzles, but there are some drawbacks to getting one pouring out the pieces on your floor or table.  The pieces get lost, you lose interest in the picture, you get stuck and give up, or it takes so long to complete you have to put it all back in the box undone. 

I recently discovered the Jigsaw Collection HD app from iTunes.  I paid for the 2.99 premium version, but there is a free version as well with some puzzles included.  

The premium version lets you upload any photo you want and turn in into a puzzle, for endless personal puzzles of your choice. You can also buy packs of themed puzzles from iTunes.  

Some nice features are that you can save puzzles you are working on, and have several puzzles in process at one time.  You can choose the type of pieces you want...such as traditional puzzle pieces, waved squares, or flat squares.  You can choose how many pieces are in your puzzle from as low as 12 to as high as 288.  You choose the color of your background puzzle table.  You also have the choice to have the pieces right side up at all times, or rotated in random ways to make it harder.  You can have the app separate all the edge pieces for you and bring them onto the table first.  In other words, there are many ways to make the puzzle personal and adapted to your difficulty preferences!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

5 Reasons I Started Shopping at Zulily

I have often seen ads for but never checked it out until recently.  I was very pleasantly surprised and excited by the site.  It is a site where you can find the latest deals on things for women, kids, and the home from a variety of different vendors.  It is the type of site you check frequently, because the deals are only while supplies last, and the deals are for a limited time...usually about 3 days.  The items are discounted from regular price and the shipping costs are low.  You cannot return items, however, and you have to wait about 2 weeks to receive your purchases.  They have you "sign-up" so you have a log in and password, that this "membership" is free. 

 However, given those stipulations, I love so many things about it, I had to make a list...

1. Variety of Vendors and Items
We live in a fairly small city, and there are limitations to the variety of stores located nearby.  I tend to feel like I see the same things at all the stores.  But on Zulily, there are so many different vendors and the items are very UNIQUE.  In addition to having clothes, they also have toys, books, LEGOs, furniture, wall hangings, rugs, kitchen gadgets, boots, etc.  

2. Variety of Sizes
You can get unique clothing, shoes, lingerie, etc. for a wide range of sizes.  They have several plus sized vendors that have very nice clothing, of good quality, and a variety of styles (work, evening, lounge-wear, etc). 

3. Good Quality
The items I have received from them are of good quality and material, much better than if I bought them at a local discount store. 

4. Unique Categories: organic, gluten free/casein free, special needs
My son is in the autistic spectrum and he eats a gluten free/casein free diet to help manage his symptoms.  In the last month that I have been monitoring the site, they have had an Enjoy Life event for gluten free, allergy friendly food; many clothing events that have used organic cotton; and even a "special needs" event where they sold compression shirts, vibrating cushions, and chewy toys for kids.  

5. Latest Fashion and Toys
I was somewhat concerned that if these were "deals" they would be outdated clothing styles.  The merchandise they offer is always up to date for fashion and relevancy.  For example, they currently have many events carrying leggings, tunics, infinity scarves, and high boots for women.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Celebrating the Holidays with Special Needs Children

Trees, lights, decorating cookies, shopping, visiting family, school vacation, wrapping and opening presents, singing traditional songs of the season, and church services...

The best things about the holidays, right?

We all have our favorite part of the holiday season.  It usually comes wrapped with childhood memories of what was or what we wish had been.  We try to recreate scenes from Christmas past.  Capturing those great pictures of the kids for Christmas cards.  Surprising people with gifts on Christmas morning.  Visiting Santa and watching favorite Christmas movies on TV.

For children with special needs, all or most of the above may be very difficult and not enjoyable at all.  My dreams for the season are often not my son's dreams.  He is 7 years old and in the autistic spectrum.  Every year, I'm surprised by how much he struggles during the holidays.  Just this year, I spent some time crying at a coffee shop as I took a break from trying to cook for Thanksgiving.

As I try to regroup, these are my thoughts...

1. Anticipation and Surprise
For most of us, anticipation and surprise is what Christmas is all about.  But for my son, anticipation feels like anxiety.  He prefers to know what is coming.  He likes a predictable schedule.  He can seem "off" from before Halloween until after Christmas break.  "Off" could look like meltdowns, crying at small things, wanting to be constantly close to a parent, or wanting to be isolated like under a "tent" in his room or behind a chair.

** One thing we have tried is to ask Joshua if he wants to know the "schedule for the day" even when school is out.  This let's him know what unusual things may be in the schedule, or what usual things are cancelled because of the holidays.  Sometimes we ask him if he wants to draw out or write out his schedule.  Other times, he just wants to hear it. Here is an example of a visual schedule.

**Joshua wants to know what he is getting for Christmas ahead of time.  Yesterday, he and I ordered his gift together over the internet.  Now he feels good that he is getting something he will enjoy, but he doesn't have to manage that nervous energy until Christmas morning.

**You could also develop a social story like the ones at this link.

2. Crowds, Commotion, and Loud Noises
There is a lot more activity during the holidays than other times of year.  Even at his "typical" activities like fencing and school, there are Christmas songs, concerts, and his school even takes all the kids to a store to buy toys for charity.  These activities can be overwhelming because of the noise, scents, bumping, and bustling.

At any time of year, Joshua can be loud and physically active; however, sometimes this is most noticeable when he is actually overwhelmed.  When he is crashing through the house and can't stop, I know he is having a hard time.  There was a time when I thought he needed to "run off" this energy, but now I know that he most often needs help with calming during these times.

**He may need us to set up a quiet place like an indoor tent.  He can go inside and watch videos or play an app on a tablet. Try these ideas for creating a cozy resting place.

**Deep pressure and proprioceptive input can be also be calming and centering.  Try these sensory strategies OR these!

3. Diet

Holidays often have lots of treats, traditional dishes, and a deviation from normal diet.  In addition, Joshua follows a gluten free, casein free (dairy) diet to help manage his autistic symptoms.  Joshua typically does best when he has enough protein and very little simple sugar as well.  We try to cook healthy and organic as much as we can, but still have treats for Joshua at every holiday and special occasion.

**Joshua eats a lot of healthy foods, but he often rejects new or unusual foods.  Many of the traditional holiday foods are out of our typical routine (e.g., most of the Thanksgiving dishes).  While I may be working very hard to make stuffing, gravy, etc. Joshua often wants his usual dishes.  Or, he may ask for holiday dishes because other kids talk about them, but then often reject them when they are on his plate.  This Thanksgiving, Joshua ate coconut milk ice cream and that was it.  He rejected each of my Thanksgiving offerings.  I have to just anticipate that he may want his usual foods; I need to choose which ones I will make in combination with a few holiday dishes for us.  

**We try to really focus on protein and healthy eating, so sugar rushes don't add to his symptoms and struggle.

4. Little Bits at a Time
**We try to enjoy little bits of the holiday at a time.  Our church holds Christmas service during the week before Christmas, so we are able to go to service and then not plan anything else that day.  

**We don't have family in our area; rather than driving 8 hours to see family and stay in their home, we opt for a quieter holiday in our own familiar setting.  

**We spread out his presents across multiple days, rather than opening all the presents Christmas morning in a flurry of craziness.  So, he opens one large present on Christmas morning (of course he already knows what it is) and then across the following days, we dole the rest of the small presents over time.  

5. Take Care of Ourselves

As I was crying in the coffee shop this year, I remembered that taking time to myself is really important.  I can't do it without breaks and a chance to regroup.  So I either need a to find a babysitter, a willing neighbor, or take turns with my husband to get out of the house and breathe.