Pumpkin Blog

Wednesday, January 08, 2014


This evening, the film Gabrielle is debuting in Ottawa. If like me, you're a parent of a teenager with special needs (or if your child is already grown up), this would be tapping into territory that is hardly ever spoken about. I'm looking forward to watch a movie that explores the topic of love, romance and relationship for people with mental disabilities. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Inspiring Interview with Steve Silberman

For 16 years of getting to know my autistic daughter, I often find myself trying to explain to people that she does not need a "cure". Autism to me is a unique a way of living and viewing the world.
When I'm asked what her "special gift is" (because, most folks think that autistic people are like the "Rain Man" and should have at least one entertaining "talent" so that they can relate to them - I tell them that about 98% of the time, my daughter is just a happy cheerful human being and finds everything around her amusing and positive. I think that's plenty for any teen at 15, and even more so for someone with so few people who can understand their unique language.

My grandmother sent me the Hebrew translation of this interview with Steve Silberman, which was re-published at Ha'aretz.
I was so touched by it that I had to share!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chase the Hope for Autism

I haven't posted in a while. But I thought this effort would be a good one to publish here.

1 every 100 children today has autism.
They need our help to live a healthy life, learn and be happy with their family and part of their community. Apparently, the US government is not doing much in the way of supporting families with autism. And this organization, Natuional Autism Association, is trying to improve the lives of individuals with autism as well as their families.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

World Autism Awareness Day April 2nd

Today is an Autism Awareness Day world-wide.

Autism is a neurological disorder that is affecting about 1 in every 500 children in North America, affecting areas of social skills, receptive and expressive language, and most significantly - the way individuals perceive the stimulus around them. Autism causes either a heightened or diminished perception of the senses. And in each individual, it may be a different sense that is affected. For example: one child can be over sensitive to noise but non responsive to touch and have an extremely high pain-tolerance; others may be oblivious or enjoy deep pressure touch and experience light touch (i.e.: petting the hair or stroking the skin) as extremely painful; another individual can be over sensitive to light and smells and under sensitive to noise. Individuals with autism have a difficult time managing their reactions to stimuli from the environment and are often offered "sensory diets", where they can either become de-sensitized to sensations that in "normal" range causes them to feel pain; and be more receptive to stimulation that they tend to ignore.

My 12 year old daughter has been always very sensitive to light touch, but enjoyed deep pressure hugs. Her pain tolerance was incredibly high, but thankfully that has changed! And despite the cliche of autistic people not making eye contact, she managed to communicate for 8 years almost with her eyes only (they are HUGE though...). She loves people (and says it all the time), enjoys music, swimming and horseback riding and is ecstatically happy at least 95% of the time (when she's awake, of course).

Each person who has autism is unique and has a different personality, talents, strengths and areas that need an extra help from us parents, teachers, siblings and peers. Over 10 years ago I made a decision to stay in British Columbia because here children have the right to be integrated into a "regular" school. Since very young age, children learn to take care of others that need help. This is good for the community and the individuals who need extra support. I hope that this attitude will continue when she's goes to high school next year.

Tomorrow there will be a perfume related post. For today, I just wanted to do my little share of bringing more awareness to these very special people. They can truly transform your life if you only open your heart and focus on what's real.



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bat Mitzvah

12 years of challenge that turned into bliss. That should be the title of of Tamya's life. We celebrated Tamya's 12th birthday with friends here in Vancouver - we went bowling and had a Gelato cake. Tamya was the best bowler in the room and had such great time with people she loves and that love her for exactly who she is: Tamya.

I don't mean to brag, but if there is anything I feel I did right with Tamya it is raising her to love who she is. And she certainly is giving that love back to the world around her. She constantly talks about people she met and have left an impression on her. Family members abroad. Daycare teachers from 9 years ago. Friends and instructors from summer camp two years ago. She is connected to the world and to herself and every day I see her blossoming with that confidence of knowing it's great to be who you are.

It is acceptance that brings the best out of a person. True love is acceptance and this is the best gift we as parents can give our children.

This milestone in Tamya's life, and the fact that her challenges are so much less challenging on a daily basis inspires me to get back into blogging in the Pupmpkin Blog and help other parents with children with autism by sharing my own experiences of past and present. I may not be able to blog daily, but will do my best to blog at least once a week with posts that I hope are inspiring if not informative.

And on another note - I extend my deepest compassion to parents whose child has just been diagnozed or in the earliest diagnozing stages. This has been the most stressful, painful and difficult period in my life. I wish I had the knowledge and support I have now to get through what I have gone through at the time. So the least I can do is offer my help, specificallly to parents in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in BC - simply because I'm close and know the system and how you can get the help you need, in the time when you need it most.

Feel free to email me or call me at (778) 863-0806.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Miracles Happen

It was August 19th, 2004. I was at a rarely-in-town Floortime workshop with a renown and lively speech therapist from Toronto. Lunch break arrives, and my new cell phone proves to be the most wise parental purchase I ever made. Just on the dot at 12 noon I get a strange message from the summer camp – “Tamya fell of the carousel and bent her knee (what the F??? one may ask, and the answer will come only a few hours later), but she is ok now, in Burnaby General Hospital. I call my partner right away, and ask him if I he can go to the hospital to see what’s going on. If I was at a business meeting I would think twice, and go to the hospital right away. But I was there for her, so I felt comfortable enough to share the parental responsibilities with him and not panic. Three hours later, the call comes: Tamya got X Rayed, and the light-board was in front of her bed. David didn’t need to hear what the doctor had to say, he passed her straight to me, and we both heard for the firs time that Tamya’s femur is broken, just above the knee. But the knee wasn’t broken, so I sighed with relief, and hailed a taxi right away to the other town. When I arrived, I saw a girl that I never seen before. Completely drugged out with morphine, yet still in tremendous pain. I was never close to anyone who broke a limb, so there was nothing in the world that could have prepared me to what was about to happen in the next 11 hours, and the six months that followed.

We had to transfer her in an ambulance to Children’s Hospital. They had to tie her up to stretcher, and her eyes popped out of her head (literally) from the pain. The ride was a nightmare, but it ended eventually. The ordeals of the emergency room are something I will spare you, but I have never seen so much pain in my life. Despite the morphine shots, the girl was in more pain than I ever knew a human can experience. I had to see her eyeballs pop even more when the leg was stretched. Than it was pee time…with the help of a painful catheter. This went on and on, until, after 11 hours, her muscels finally relaxed enough to go to the surgery room and spend three hours there to get fixed. What can I tell you, giving birth is painful. But hurts much more to see your child suffering pain that is far more intense than labour. In that tremendous pain though, for the first time, Tamya reached out for us to help her and support her in coping with the pain. It’s not like the bonding between us wasn’t strong enough before. But now was the first time she needed us to support her when suffering, instead of withdrawing. This was a pain that sneaking to the bathroom cupboard and covering up with a bandaid was not only useless but also impossible: she was not able to leave the bed for the next six weeks.

The next three weeks were immersed not only with pain, but also with anxiety and helplessness that Tamya has never experienced before. I won’t bore you any further with all the turmoil of recovering from a broken femur – the daily painkiller doses, the challenges of bathing, the resistance to physiotherapy, the intense fear of walking again… After six weeks in a brace and after about three month learning to walk again (for a long time with a distinct limp of course), Tamya has emerged a changed person: she was now focused, was able to sit down for prolonged time (I guess after six weeks in a wheelchair an hour of a boring school assembly is like a slice of pie!), and couldn’t shut up for a moment. Her speech therapy sessions were incredibly effective. I now heard with my own ears what Vinni (her Speech Therapy in the past 4 years) was confident is going to happen. The most improbable thing of all, which most parents and children take for granted – the beginning of speech. New words have been coming out of her mouth every day. Sentences, even. I finally reached the point that most parents reach when their child turns three: I wanted her to sometimes just be quiet like she used to be; you see, I really got used to the silence and to the non-verbal communication with her…

In a sense, this was Tamya's re-birth. It was even nore painful than birth and she emerged out of this extreme experience a completely different person. At the age of 8, the unbelieveable happened: Tamya started talking.

In the photo you see Tamya two years ago in early Fall 2004. She is sitting on a wheelchair posing for a newsletter of The Corporation, and she has a brace on her entire left leg.

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Happy Birthday to Tamya!

This year is the first year that Tamya can tell us how old she is: Ten!

She had the perfect birthday:
Lots of friends visiting
Birthday Cake (we made blackforest cake together!)
Pumpkin Carvin'
Lots of cool presents (mostly crafsty stuff, including smelly markers, scrapbooking stuff such as stickers and tracing templates, her first journal - with a lock! - and her very first set of acrylics and canvas frames!).

We now just got back from getting her favourite Gelato - four scoops as always: Mango, Black Sesame Seed, Spiced Pumpkin and Vanilla. Surprisingly - no coconut this time!

Treatments for Autism

Autism cannot be cured. Thankfully, it can be treated. The earlier the diagnosis and the earlier an intervention program is set in place to support the child and the family – the better the prognosis.

The extreme desperation of parents and educators, combined with an embarrassing shortage of autism treatment research has lead, unfortunately, to the existence of plenty of quacks offering miraculous “groundbreaking” treatments for children with autism. Some of these methods may seem to work, some may prove to be quackery immediately.
So it’s important that if you are a parent to a child with autism, you choose the program that is right for your child, your family and your philosophy. To read more about autism treatment, visit this site.

Different therapy techniques and approaches target different aspects and “symptoms” of autism. The causes for autism in each individual are usually unknown, and therefore it is impossible to choose one single therapy method for a child. I strongly recommend using a combination of some of the following methods, and I think the emphasis should be on the educational approaches, with the usage of other methods to complement it. When it comes down to the daily life, what we do with our children is educating them 24/7. At home, at school, in the fields or on the street. If you have an educational therapy plan you will be able to heal your child at any given point in the day! This will make both of you feel much better.

Educational Approaches:


The philosophy of Floortime was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and is designed for all children with any kind of disability or developmental delay. This is a developmental and humanistic oriented approach, that is geared towards developing the individual, rather than his or her skills.

The Floortime approach is meant to help the child fill in the missing gaps in their development and climb to the next step on the developmental ladder.

Floortime therapy is a very flexible and creative approach. It encourages all the individuals involved in the child life to spend (combined) 5 sessions a day of 10-30 minutes each of high-intensity emotional connectedness with the child, by following the child’s lead. The idea is that when you follow a child’s lead, you follow them to their world and in their true interest (this can be anything from spinning around the room, or even running away from the therapist/parent/caregiver). This is how the therapist (which in Floortime is really all the people involved in the child’s life: parents, siblings, teachers, etc.) unlocks the door to the child’s inner world, and creates a personal connection. Sounds too spiritual or flaky? Try it for yourself. As a mother to a toddler who had no interest in games, stories or toys whatsoever, this was the only way I could actually tap into her world and engage in a conversation with her (perhaps non-verbal, but there was an exchange of information involved!). It was fun. We used anything that interested her, from tickles to puppets, to make each circle of communication as long and pleasurable as possible.

One of the most important things that are usually lacking the most in individuals with autism is the ability to “share the moment”. In Floortime, the emotional energy created by sharing the moment with the child is used to learn new things and create more and more circles of communications, which are the missing milestone without which no communication can occur.

Also, when parents engaged in a Floortime session, both the parents and the child can release emotional tension, as this is a play-based, high-energy activity. It helps with the bonding and helps the caregivers as well as the child an opportunity to renew and rejuvenate themselves emotionally. I am terribly biased towards Floortime as a whole, and therefore I have installed a small article about it earlier.

Links related to Floortime:

Alternatives to Behaviourism

Floortime Overview and Strategies (a website of a parent to a child with Asperger’s Syndrom)

Social stories are a method used mostly for autism, and it is meant to put order and logic into social interaction (which are usually a very chaotic phenomenon if you think about it). The social story is often accompanied by images – either photographs, drawings, or symbols (often PECs symbols).
Social stories simplify social situations, and tell the way in which the person should be acting in all the different scenarios. It can be anything from a bedtime routine, to how to play games, how to behave in the classroom or on the playground, to more sophisticated scenarios of threatening emotions and language challenges.
Here are a few examples:

Circle time:
It is circle time.
When it is time for circle, I go sit in a blue chair.
I sit with my feet on the floor and my hands to myself.
It doesn't matter who I sit next to. I will shake their hand and say good morning.
I help Mrs. G. at circle by listening...
Waiting my turn...
And sitting like a big kid in my chair.
I don't get angry when I don't get a turn because I will get a turn another day.
When circle is over, I wait until Mrs. G. tells me where to go.
I did great at circle today!

Dealing with difficult, unpleasant emotions:
Sometimes I feel angry.
All people feel angry at one time or another.
When I get angry I will find my teacher, Mommy, Daddy or another adult.
When I find them I will try to use words to tell them that I am angry.
I can say "I'm angry!" or "That makes me mad!"
It is okay to use words when I feel angry.
They will talk to me about what happened and about how I feel.
This might help me to feel better.
Wherever I am I can try to find someone to talk to about how I feel.

This is a social story that can help an autistic person understand how to react to figures of speech. Most individuals with autism find figures of speech, puns and jokes to be very puzzling and have hard time understanding them Social stories can help.
Often, people say things that mean something different that the words might normally mean.
Sometimes, people say, "Save your breath."
They usually say this to someone who is arguing a point.
"Save your breath" means that you can stop arguing, because your arguments are not going to change the other person's mind.
If any of you have read the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, you may have noticed that many parts of the book are written in this style of social stories. Social stories help reduce the stress that rises from very complex social interactions that are often overwhelming to a person with autism.

Related links:

Polyxo.com - an excellent resource for autism; all the social stories here are from there.
The Gray Centre for Social Learning and Understanding

This is a tool that is used in many settings with children and adults that have speech and language challenges. A set of primitive images are used to represent each word. The pictures are either laminated or are used in a more high-tech manner (i.e. on a PalmPilot or a computer), and the person uses the pictures to communicate.
The pictures are often used to illustrate the child’s daily schedule, and the child will communicate their wants and needs by bringing a picture and exchanging it for the object or activity they want. The pictures can also be placed next to each other to form sentences.

PECS training is not meant to replace language. It is meant to reinforce the learning of language by making the process of language and exchange of communication a more concrete and tangible process. In fact, PECs training have proven to be extremely helpful in promoting literacy - learning reading and writing; because each word is printed on the cards, and so the child is visually exposed to the written words.

Applied Behaviour Analysis is a method that teaches new skills as well as correct inappropriate or unwanted behaviour. This is done by using reinforcements: the wanted or “correct” behaviour is rewarded (either by a simple treat in early phases, or by praise, etc.).

These are very expensive therapies when done “by the book”, as they usually require 40-50 hours a week of one-to-one work with the therapist, at least in the early stages of intervention. This method is often integrated into the classrooms to teach very specific skills and tasks, i.e.: number recognition, learning safety rules, etc.

This method is the one that has been tested and researched more than any other approach, because it is so empirical, measurable. However, this does not mean that it is the only one that works. Lack of research funding should not be the indicator for which methods work or don’t work.
ABA Related links:

History of ABA

ABA Resources

Association of Behavioural Therapy International


Often, children with autism will present behaviorus that clearly indicate a chemical imbalance in their nervous system (for instance: interruption in the dopamine and serotonin system may cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, repetitive behaviours, ticks, etc.). If these behaviours are so extreme that they interfere negatively with the individual’s ability to live their lives, it may be a good idea to think of drug treatment. Don’t get too scared when you read the pamphlets for the drugs – they are often prescribed for anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and curiously enough schizophrenia.

Treatment with medication should be taken very seriously and really should be the last resort. Especially with young children. A psychiatrist that is too prescription happy may not be cautious enough. It’s of utmost importance that drugs be introduced gradually, and very very slowly, to reduce if not eliminate side effects altogether. To start gradually, child psychiatrist would prescribe minute doses in suspension or liquid, which allows for full control of the dosage and how slow it is introduced to the nervous system.

Some individuals with autism have food allergies or sensitivities. Some parents and professionals noticed a significant improvement with their children when certain suspicious proteins where eliminated from their diet (primarily gluten, which is founding wheat, and kazaine, which is found in milk).

Other report improvement when certain supplements were given to the child. There is still not enough research done in this area to recommend dietary intervention to all children with autism though. Parents should be careful not to make dramatic changes in the child’t diet without consulting with their pediatritian and a nutritionist.

As I explained earlier, many of the phenomenon of autism are related to the inability of the nervous system to regulate itself. Make sure you hire an Occupational Therapist that specializes in autism and sensory integration. There are also some Sensory Integration clinics, that provide unusual sensations that are focused and targeted in order to help the child learn to organize their nervous system. Tactile activities such as foot-painting with slimy paint, bouncing on trampolines, wearing a cocoon bag from spandex which creates unusual pressure on the skin, the head and the joints, spinning and more. Some activities can be taken into the classroom or the gym, and be performed on a daily basis. Some children need sensory breaks. The WIllberer’s Protocol can be also performed almost anywhere and helps the child to reorganize their system and de-sensitize to the sensations that irritates them (this includes brushing the arms, legs and back with a surgical brush – through the clothes of course – followed by systematic joint compression).

These are wonderful opportunities for the child to be exposed to a different environment and experience that is nourishing for their soul and also enhances interaction with the therapist (or the animals), increases self esteem. Using non-verbal means for communication can be quite a relief for the child, and provides them with other tools for releasing tension. Singing can help develop the oral muscles and improve language skills, and listening to music helps develop listening and communicating skills. Swimming with dolphins and therapeutic horseback riding, for instance, help develop muscles, coordination and skills that wouldn’t get much attention otherwise.

A few tips and warning about recruiting people to work with your child:

Funding for autism therapy varies between countries, states, provinces, districts and cities. There is one thing in common everywhere though: there are always limited resources, both financial wise and manpower wise. If you are fortunate enough to live in a country that funds autism, and have a budget to work with – use it wisely. Here are a few tips:

1) Use whatever resources you have to the max. Get the professional (and expensive) therapists and consultants to be in constant communications with all the caregivers and educators involved in your child’s life. Get the daycare teachers to do as many one-on-one sessions as possible with your child (be it a Floortime session, an ABA session, a Sensory Integration session). These can be really short sessions, as long as they are frequent and meaningful.

2) Spend as little money as possible (if at all) on any consultant that actually behaves like a consultant. You need to get advice from people that know your child enough to truly recommend anything valuable. Consultants that see your child once a month or less are usually useless, unless they are amazing experts in their field. You would probably be able to tell pretty fast though…

3) Work as a team. Treat your therapy professionals as a team, and make them feel good about being in your team. Team meetings are excellent, as long as they don’t happen too frequently. Once a month is a good timing. More than two months apart might be too little especially in the first years. Bring some treats to the team meeting too ;)

4) Be the team leader. The parents know what’s best for their child, and they should be the ones who make the big decisions on what’s important to work on.

5) Make sure your therapy and educational team is always in fluent communication with you and preferably also with one another. The more you open the channels of communication, the better treatment your child will get. Joint sessions can be one of the most rewarding experiences for both the therapists and your child. They will create an environment of collaboration for your child and more importantly – provide continuity between one session to another. Practice makes perfect…

The people you choose to work with your child on a daily basis are going to have a significant impact on your child life. So be sure that you and your child like them and feel comfortable and safe around them, regardless of how impressive their education and qualifications are.

Quite recently, in British Columbia anyways, funding for autism has increased and became more reasonable. This is a blessing as well as a curse. There aren’t that many therapists experience or trained for treating autism, and unfortunately there are a few that are attracted to the job because of the new funding more than the work itself. Obviously, you want the person working with your child to be passionate about helping them

Some parents and therapists could be as passionate about their treatment philosophy as if it was a fundamentalist religion. I am none such fundamentalists, and I don’t believe that there is one single way to treat autism. which uses the most effective techniques for each specific child, in a particular situation and settings. I am going to do my best to steer away from such controversies, and I will simply outline a few of the most commonly practiced methods, which are used in schools and in most early intervention programs.

I personally believe that an eclectic approach that includes the methods that are most suitable for the child’s needs is ideal. I have my own personal bias towards Floortime, as it was a very rewarding experience to me and prove to work for my child; But I wouldn’t go as far as rejecting any other therapy just because this is what worked for my child. ABA is very effective for children with severe autism. It may help for teaching the child preliminary tools that are needed for the next step. I am a practical woman (and I bleive most parents have to learn to be practical after being in the business long enough), and I think you should pick and choose what’s best for your child, in each and every particular situation. For instance, a child may respond well to the playful and stimulating interactions of the Floortime approach, yet need a structured ABA session to learn her math and typing; She may also need a “sensory diet” to help her regulate her nervous system, social stories before difficult events (such as visiting the dentist or getting her hair done), and may even end up needing the help of drugs to regulate her obsessive-compulsive behaviorus once the hormones starts kicking in around puberty…

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Stanley Greenspan is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioural Science and Pediatrics and a practicing Child Psychiatrist. Greenspan developed DIR aka Floortime, a unique therapy approach for working with children with special needs, which has been significantly successful with children diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder that deeply affects the child’s ability to communicate effectively with their environment. According to Greenspan’s theory, there are six preliminary developmental milestones, which underline all human intelligence and interactions with the world: language, communication, turn taking and other social, emotional and cognitive skills. The six milestones are: 1) The child’s ability to be interested in the sensation from the world as well as calm him/herself down. 2) The ability to engage in relationships with other people 3) The ability to engage in two-way communication 4) The ability to create complex gesture, to tie together a series of actions into an elaborate and deliberate problem-solving sequence 5) The ability to create ideas 6) The ability to build briges between ideas to make them reality-based and logical (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998). The Floortime approach is designed to help children that for some reason (i.e. their particular structure of the brain, etc.) did not develop one or more of those six milestones. Floortime helps the child go back to the missing milestone and re-build it, so that more advanced and complex skills will be built upon. The philosophy of Floortime is very unique and it is very humanistic in nature. It stems from deep respect for the child, and tries to use the child’s strengths and areas of interest in order to build upon new skills and to challenge the child. Also, it is most important to note that Floortime tries to bring out and nourish the internal motivation of the child in the areas of speech and communication. Rather than “teach” the child how to communicate, the parent/therapist/caregiver leads them to find their own internal motivation, from which stems the will and drive to communicate with us. Another principal extremely important in Floortime is that children learn much better through activities that involve a relatively high level of emotional excitement, especially positive one. Actions such as raising our voice to a vivid, dramatized and high-pitched sound, making broad gestures, or engaging in a pleasant physical ativities are some examples of how we can bring the child’s system to a level of excitement that is optimal for their learning. The child will be more inclined to pay attention, engage in the activity, and as a result – close more circles of communication, and even increase output of language. When we follow the child’s lead, there is more chance the activity will end up being “high energy” and stimulating, and engaging for the child, since it is the child’s interest to begin with. By following the lead of the child, the parents, caregivers and therapists try to increase circles of communication with the child. The focus is on how many circles the child closes, rather than the actual means of communication (the child can communicate with their actions as well as vocalizations, etc.; In some cases even “avoidance” is communication – if it is a response to a communication circle that was initiated by the caregiver). By responding to the child’s actions and acknowledging his/her interest, we help the child step out of their “shell” and engage in the world outside them. It is essentially like inviting ourselves to their world, reach out to them, and than pull them out to be interested in the world around them. According to Greenspan (1998), following these principals can change the structure of the brain of children that otherwise were known to “lack” the ability or the will to communicate. Floortime can be adapted to different needs and levels of communication. Recommended reading: The Child With Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth by Stanley I. Greenspan and Serena Wieder. This book covers not only the basics of Floortime, but also brings case studies of both children and their families, including the families' coping styles with the child's condition.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tamya Parfum - Blogala Special!

This is a reminder that Tamya parfum is now on sale for only $75, and that of each sale, $10 will be donated to Autism Community Training, a charitable society owned by parents of children with Autism, that provides autism training, education and workshops in British Columbia.

By buying Tamya perfume not only will you scent yourself with one of Ayala Moriel’s finest and most sought-after perfumes; you will also will contribute to a worthy cause!

Tamya is a mélange of pure jasmine sambac, frangipani, Japanese citron, ylang ylang, cedar and musk. It conjures up memories of the first Autumn crocuses and wild Mediterranean bluebells awakening by the first showers. The earth is covered by sprouting wild grass and the sunrays of sunset glow through the petals as they kiss the earth goodbye...

And don't forget to leave your comments on SmellyBlog's autism posts this weekend. For each post, I will be donating $1 to ACT.

Thank you for reading SmellyBlog! After Afgter 8 months of existence, we know that SmellyBlog is blessed with at least 100 unique readers per day!
All you need is to say hi. I know you are there... Don't hide!

Image credit: Sitvanit Hayore, Originally uploaded by Holy Land Essence

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Causes for Autism

The causes of autism are mostly a mystery. It is really difficult to tell what caused autism in each and every individual with autism. There is no known way yet to prevent autism from occurring. Similarly to Cancer, Autism is now thought to be many different diseases, set off by different causes, yet presenting certain similarities between the different cases of autism.

The term Autism was coined in the early 1940’s by Dr. Leo Kanner. Kanner defined the state in which schizophrenic patients behaved in a withdrawn manner, as autism. Throughout the 40’s until the 60’s, the medical community believed that children who presented autistic behaviours in fact had schizophrenia, and they also believed that it was a result of bad parenting and lack of bonding between the child and the mother (or the other caregivers). Of course this did not make parents feel too good about themselves and did not provide them with the tools to help their children.

Thankfully, this theory and approach was tossed out and replaced by others – and more importantly – a better understanding of the autistic mind and emotional state has been achieved. We may not know the exact causes for autism, but at least we know about a few things we can do to help autistic children to develop into their full potential as adults and decrease their suffering.

The rate of children diagnosed with autism is escalating: autism used to be found only in 1 child in 10,000. Six years ago, the rate was one to 1,000, and that has doubled into 1 every 500 children. Autism is now an epidemic judging by the numbers… However, some of the increase can be accounted for by the fact that the parameters for diagnosis have changes several times in the past decade.

The causes for autism could be one or more of the following:

There is no one gene that is known to cause autism. However, siblings to children with autism are more likely to present symptoms of autism than siblings of children without autism. Scientists hope, of course, to be able to prevent certain types of genetically caused autism (for instance: a research I recently read was about immune-system rejection in pregnant woman, that may have caused autism in their child; there may be a cure for that with adequate diagnosis prior to pregnancy and treatment during pregnancy to prevent the immune-system rejection of the embryo.

Environmental Causes
It is possible, though not proven, that certain children are pre-disposed at birth to have autism, and certain stimuli from the environment in infancy and early childhood bring out the symptoms.

Pollution and Exposure to Toxins
The many toxins in our environment could be the cause for autism. There is some research about connection between vaccines and autism, but it is not confirmed yet that vaccines cause autism. The scope of the effect of pollution is yet to be discovered…

Links to Other Conditions
Autism in some individuals is linked to other medical conditions, i.e.: Metabolic Disorders (i.e.: untreated Phenylketonuria), Congenital Infections, Genetyic Disorders (Fragile X, Tuberous Sclerosis), Dvelopmental Brain Abnormalities, and certain neurological disorders that can happen after birth. Also it might be linked to certain conditions in which the digestive system cannot break down certain enzymes, and these act as neurotransmitters which affect the development of the brain and its functions permanently.

There also seem to be a link between repeated ear infection and use of antibiotics, and the development of autism. There is a theory that the lining of the stomach gets affected by the antibiotics in a way that prevents the digestive system to properly break down certain proteins – and in return, a similar effect to what was described above may occur (i.e. proteins act as neurotransmitters and damage the brain and the nervous system).

The Right Brain Connection
Individuals with autism seem to have a dominant “right brain” which is quite obvious in the way in which they think. They also seem to process language in a different part of the brain than most people do. Autistic people are a lot more detail oriented, and have difficulty in understanding and developing symbols. Autistic people also have a larger brain than normal people. The brain seems to be swollen, especially in the front lobe and side lobes (which might explain why my daughter likes a lot of pressure on her head and forehead – perhaps it eases the brain pain?). We don’t know if the large brain causes autism, or is caused by autism. But we know that autistic people have a larger brain and that it’s not easy to live with a brain that is too large for the side of your skull!

An interesting theory I heard of only recently is that autism is caused by excessive release of testosterone in the mother’s blood stream during pregnancy (which is said to be caused by stress), and this causes autism (which also, interestingly, is described by the same researcher as an exaggerated form of “male brain”).

There are many theories, but none has been proven beyond doubt and to be honest – these are still to provide any satisfactory conclusion that will really make a significant change in the life, treatment, education or quality of living of autistic individuals and their families. We are still waiting for this to happen!

Online Resources about Causes for Autism
eMedical Health.com
Wrong Diagnosis.com

Next Week:
How to Deal with Diagnosis - The 5 Stages of Loss

Autism Treatment and Therapy

P.s. Please note that none of this short article is in any way scientific. I am just trying to summarize the many thing that I read, heard and learned during my almost decade of autistic motherhood… If you want the real nitty gritty research stuff, numbers and arguments – you can easily find them online or in your nearest university. I also do not intend on arguing about the causes of autism. I don’t have any theory. All I know is that none of theories really explains to me why my daughter has autism, and none is particularly helpful in finding ways to cure her or help her… I am thankful for the many educators and therapists, that with years of experience, have developed plenty of highly effective methods of educating children such as my daughter and helping them to become the best person they can be.

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