03 January, 2010

There and Back Again

The immortal tale of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit from Bag End, is a staple of every fantasy enthusiast. For those not so familiar with the genre, I am referring to the book "The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien. In the story, the main character, Bilbo, sets off to find the treasures guarded by the dragon Smaug. Through the journey, Bilbo develops from a young and foolish young hobbit into a mature and well developed adventurer who values the wisdom of experience over the fleeting wealth of a treasure. As if to emphasize the lesson learned by Bilbo, the alternate title of he book "The Hobbit" is "There and Back Again"... seemingly emphasizing the importance of the journey more than any treasure.

Like the famous literary piece, the every day challenges we struggle to face are most frequently about gaining wisdom from the journey... not about reaching a destination. For our family, we recently came to the conclusion of one journey, or so we think, and have already started to tread down the path of the next. The journey we just completed is the rocky road of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of some challenges associated with Autism. Let me take a few moments to talk about how we (my wife and I) came to the decision to explore the use of medications, what our experiences have been, and where we are today.

First, I must say that the idea of using medications to treat symptoms of Autism was something that I was never sold on. I have always believed that the quirks of an Autistic should be accepted for what they are and that treating Autism as a disease that needs to be eradicated is a disgusting... even destructive thought. In truth, my belief in this is unchanged. What I will concede, however, is that some medications can assist an autistic to better control their own actions, ultimately helping them to achieve more.

The idea of using medications initially came from helping our other son, Aiden, deal with a few problems he was experiencing. In particular he had developed rather severe depression, including thoughts of suicide. The medications prescribed for Aiden helped tremendously in controlling the depression and also in allowing him to achieve more in school. My wife and I began to consider if this patch would prove as beneficial to Connor. So we brought him in to see the psychiatrist. Our primary concern was Connor's anxiety. At times, his anxiety over classwork, homework, sleeping, and just about anything else, were completely debilitating for him. Seeking to gain some control over this, we started Connor on an anti-anxiety medication. Unfortunately, a side effect of that medication was irritability... so we started him on a medication to counter the irritation.

Thus began the downward spiral of medications - side effects - more medications. At one point, we were up to 6 different medications, and we still were not seeing the desired results. In fact things appeared to be getting worse for Connor. We got to the point where we realized that we were adding medications for the sole purpose of treating side effects of medications that were added to treat other side effects. Things were so convoluted that we had lost site of what we originally started this to achieve. This all came to an end in October when my wife and I decided that we had had enough. After discussing our course of action with the psychiatrist, we began the process of discontinuing all of Connor's medications.

By the end of November, Connor was completely off of all medications. What we found, over the next 3-4 weeks was that there were some definite issues that we knew could be addressed with pharmaceuticals. We made some decisions on what were acceptable side effects and ultimately we readjusted our expectations, based off of the wisdom we gained through the journey. So, now we are back to utilizing 2 medications to help Connor control his anxiety and concentration.

Note: I have intentionally not mentioned specific medications. If utilizing medications to address specific issues is something of interest to you, then you need to speak with a psychiatrist about the right medications to use.

So, now as the magical medicinal journey has come to a close, another adventure is starting. In late November, Connor decided that he would really like to have a dog. With one canine in the home already, I was concerned with the idea. I did not want for our house to have just another pet who will become attached to my wife or I. So I set about researching a type of dog that would be particularly helpful to someone special, like Connor. Our first thought was a border collie, as their intelligence and natural herding instinct would make them a natural fit. I wanted more, however, out of another dog than just a special breed. There needed to be training.

As I researched training, I came across the idea of an Autism Service Dog. There are several schools that train the very special canine companions, each with a hefty price tag for the dog and the training. My wife and I soon realized that with out tight budget we could never afford the type of companion Connor deserved. It was then that I discovered a very special organization called 4 Paws for Ability. Instead of leaving the family to pay the cost, this organization utilizes donations to their 501 c3 charity to cover the cost of raising and training an Autism Service Dog (along with other types of service dogs). The donations are generated by the hard work of the family requesting the service animal through local fund raising activities.

I was impressed, from everything I read on the www site (http://www.4pawsforability.org) this was not like the other training schools, who were obviously in it for a profit. After a lot of thinking, I downloaded the application and began filling it out. The 2nd week of December, we submitted the completed application to them via mail and began the painful wait. On January 1st, the wait came to an end when I received a telephone call from Karen, the Executive Director of 4 Paws for Ability. After a few questions, she stated that they would most certainly be willing and able to provide Connor with an Autism Service Dog. With that, our new adventure began.

We are currently awaiting a packet of information from the organization that will provide us everything we need to know about the fund raising activities. Once we have that in hand, we will start to raise the $13,000 necessary to train Connor's dog.

As this next installment in our life continues, I will be sure to update the blog to let everyone know where we are in the process. For now, however, I need some sleep.



Anonymous xine said...

I hope you are able to get the dog! I have read a bit about service dogs for people with ASDs but your insight would be most appreciated. :)

10 January, 2010 19:45  

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