Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Quack of the Month: Sweat Therapy

There's a story going around about a preschooler in Guangzhou, China who died after experiencing Xia Dejun's unique treatment for autism: sweating it out.

I asked some friends who are fluent in Chinese to help me interpret the treatment center's website because Google Translate just left me with more questions than answers (like, what is the "cerebral palsy buffet network" and what does it have to do with treating autistic behaviors?). 

Xia Dejun says autism is a disease for the rich and lazy, so the cure is to un-spoil the children and take a significant payment from the parents. His treatment requires parents to leave their child at his facility 24/7 for two years and cut off all contact. The child is put into a "right living environment," undergoing "militarization management" to "strengthen the constitution." The child is put through a vigorous regimen of exercises, including weightlifting and walking 10-20 km per day while wearing heavy clothes to promote sweating "to increase the body's energy, eliminating toxins." They also spend time lying in incubators, to further promote sweating.

Mr. Xia has no medical training, and there is no scientific evidence backing up this sweat-out-the-autism treatment. The center is currently under investigation.

Exercise is a terrific treatment for just about everything; dehydration and heat stroke are not.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sand Art is Back

Ryan's fifth grade dance had a carnival theme. Face painting, ring toss, stick your face in a hole and take a picture of yourself as a clown, sand art, snow cones. The kids jumped around the school's all-purpose room to pop songs played by the world's loudest DJ while Ryan and his bestie clapped their hands over their ears.

For most of the kids this was a drop-off affair - ten of the girls actually got picked up at the end in a white stretch freaking limo. Stu and I provided a bare minimum of support for Ryan. At first this meant walking into the school with him, pointing him in the direction of games, letting him cover his ears with our hands (sometimes one's own hands just don't cut it, I guess). A group of girls approached Ryan and said hi; we alerted Ryan to their presence and encouraged him to say hello.

We watched from afar as Ryan stood awkwardly near some boys who were playing some sort of ball game - positioning himself between children who were throwing and catching but not in a way set him up to participate. Then, we witnessed the magic of Inclusion as the boys took him by the arm and patiently showed him where to stand and how to play, going so far as to put the ball in his hands and encourage him to throw it to a particular kid.

I had to excuse myself for a moment.

By the second half of the evening he was navigating the party mostly on his own. Eventually Stu and I positioned ourselves outside the main entrance, watching kids put their empty cotton candy cones on their heads and declaring themselves to be narwhals, and scolding the occasional child to get out of the parking lot. A PTA mom manned a hairspray station, coloring kids hair in various unnatural and glittering colors on demand.

Ryan had a glorious time in his own way. He played carnival games and won tons of prizes (pencil sharpeners! fancy straws! scented bookmarks!). He drank lemonade - something he has never previously enjoyed. He tasted cotton candy, scrunched up his face in confusion and asked, "Is this food?"

Then, in a move that truly stunned both of us, Ryan asked the PTA mom to spray his hair blue. This is a child who has zero tolerance for marker on his fingers or any sort of makeup on my face, a child who will freak out if someone has a zit and will not cover it with a bandaid. But there he was, delighting in having sparkly blue hair. Later he returned and insisted on having red sprayed on top of the blue "to make purple."

Things were exceeding our expectations until the final moment of the party, when the DJ called off the winning raffle number (I have no idea what was being raffled). It seems that Ryan does not understand how raffles work, and was devastated that "they did not remember my number!" Averting a meltdown, the PTA mom exchanged Ryan's raffle ticket for most of a can of green hairspray.

I'm proud of how much Ryan has grown in the last three years, and tremendously proud of his neurotypical classmates, who go out of their way to be kind to him and include him even when no teachers are watching them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Challenger League

Ryan just started playing Challenger League baseball.

And it's hilarious.
Ryan playing shortstop? Maybe second base? It's all very fluid.
The league is for kids of all ages with any special needs, so you'll have a tiny six-year-old girl playing alongside a boy in his third year of high school, or a kid inching along in a power wheelchair that wasn't designed for off-road use sharing the field with a hyperactive autistic kid who feels compelled to run back and forth between third base and home plate several times while his teammate is still at bat.

The game play itself doesn't appear to have any rules, but the cheering is hearty and pure. A kid can swing at the ball 15 times during a single at-bat and all the parents on the sidelines will clap and voice their encouragement for every one of those swings; kid makes any contact with the ball at all, the parents erupt in cheers. If the coach (who pitches from about five feet away from home plate) catches the ball, he chucks it backward through his legs so someone can field a grounder. Instead of having traditional innings, every kid on the bench gets one turn at bat.

Ryan seems very happy with the whole affair. He seems proud to put on his uniform and loves running around the bases. And I'm enjoying hanging out with the other moms and cheering on all the kids. His youngest teammates include some of the most joyous children I've ever seen - their smiles are truly infectious. And no one bats an eye when the girl on third base randomly books it for the fence instead of running toward home - the nearest parent just picks her up sideways and runs comically carrying her back toward the infield.