By Tim Calhoun
On December 11, 1999 my youngest son, Nathaniel, came into this world, a perfectly normal beautiful gift from God. With pride I watched him meet all the normal developmental milestones. By eighteen months of age he was naming TV shows and calling his brothers and sisters by name. But he was also becoming a constantly sick child, going to the doctor two to three times every week. There were unending fevers, ear infections, and colds. He cried constantly, had a bloated stomach and continually covered his ears with his hands. Shortly after receiving the MMR his left eyelid began to droop and his language disappeared. He no longer made eye contact, could not attend to any task, and developed many typical autistic behaviors. Local doctors finally recommended a psychological exam at age three. The psychologist was the first to mention the “A” word. A team examination at the University of Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 2003 resulted in the official diagnosis of Autism.
When Nathaniel was three I became a single parent with sole custody of my son. He was making no progress in Pre-K. I was desperate to find help for my son. Through the Internet I located the NE LA Autism Society and arranged a meeting with Lynda Huggins. I was literally in tears as I asked how I could help my son. After discussing Nathaniel’s history Lynda urged me to take my son to a DAN! doctor. She told me about an upcoming Mini-DAN conference in New Orleans. I attended and met Dr. Stephanie Cave, a DAN! Practitioner from Baton Rouge. She agreed to see Nathaniel. In February of 2004 Dr. Cave did extensive testing on Nathaniel, prescribed several daily supplements and said that I should put him on a Gluten-free, Casein-free diet immediately. Within days of starting the diet there was improvement and school reports reflected progress. In April, when test results were completed, Dr. Cave started Nathaniel on a chelation regiment. For many months, it was not an easy or pleasant experience for either Nathaniel or me. I had to literally hold him down to get the pills down his throat. But the progress I saw motivated me to follow Dr. Cave’s instructions to the letter.
I was attending monthly meetings of the local autism support group and began to feel that I was not alone in this battle. When I mentioned my lack of success with potty training, the group suggested the wonderful book/video & bear entitled “It’s Potty Time”. Amazingly after watching the video and reading the book, Nathaniel trained himself within one day! I captured his joy at success with a Polaroid camera and that picture served as a reinforcement, which he took with him to school. I began to realize the communication power of pictures! Since Nathaniel could not express his needs or desires verbally, I cut pictures from magazines for him to show me what he wanted to eat, to do, etc. Within a few months, his language began to return. It was as if he picked up right where he lost his words. His first clear complete phrase was “I love you Daddy” - what a wonderful reward for the months of special diet and lots of pills! School reports included “speaking more and more.” By the end of that school year the school reported “You need no progress report to tell you how well Nathaniel is progressing.”
Imagine not having the ability to express your likes or dislikes, your fears or joys, what you do or do not want to do. How frustrating it must have been for my son. But he found ways to get his point across – like throwing three pairs of new shoes (which he obviously did not like) out the car window as he traveled in his car seat behind me. He traveled with me during the summer months and once stripped butt naked in the middle of a business meeting at a fancy restaurant. During our travels he knew exactly where he had visited a Toys ‘R Us store - months earlier and pointed excitedly as we approached the correct exit. He had so much to tell me – but could not speak the words. And there were many humorous times. He decided the Blues Clues potty seat resembled a hat and a hacksaw was required to remove it from his head. The noise of my windshield wipers was evidently painful to his ears so he simply removed them (with a screwdriver) and hid them from me. Yes he found ways to tell me many things.
This past December Nathaniel celebrated his sixth birthday. You could not have picked him out of the group of kids as a child with autism. He was just a normal 6-year-old joyously tearing into gifts, eating lots of pizza and cake and playing appropriately.
Throughout the past three years I have been blessed with wonderful support from family and friends and the skilled medical guidance of Dr. Cave. Nathaniel’s grandmothers have followed my every direction for diet and pills and each instruction for working with him. In the last two years (and since six weeks after beginning chelation), Nathaniel has had only one doctor visit. That was for the removal of his tonsils. That doctor voiced his opinion that Nathaniel’s droopy left eyelid might have resulted from a minor stroke (at around age 18 months).
There were many stressful times. It was especially difficult as a single parent to hold a job requiring extensive travel, arrange all the doctor visits, follow all the doctor’s instructions, and endure the bizarre behaviors. Many times I felt that I was at my rope’s end. After one particularly long and exhausting day, when I finally got Nathaniel down for the night, I sat down and began to write. The words that flowed from my mind that night – “Now I lay him down to sleep, I pray Dear Lord my son could speak” - surely came from above. As I thought about what I had written I decided to contact my life-long friend and recording artist, Mark Leland. Together we expanded upon those words to write the song “Missing Pieces”.
These many months later as we are completing a video of “Missing Pieces” I know that God has led me through this experience for a purpose. It is my hope and prayer that the song will generate funding to assist families in obtaining the biomedical treatments that can help these children. My miracle son is proof that recovery is possible. The song tells of the pain of watching a child slip into the autism abyss and of a parent’s determination to pull him back. Now I know there are so many more like Nathaniel who need our help to win this war. Together we can help them make it through. The missing piece is me and you.
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