Zero-Waste Journey: Alphonse’s Cup

27 May

One of the goals I’ve set for my family this year is to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle. I joined a couple of groups on Facebook that teach beginners how to do it, and they all suggest starting with little steps at first till it becomes a completely doable lifestyle. It seems easy and simple enough, that is, until I consider some of the challenges that come in a household with autism. I don’t want to give up on this easily so I’ve been hard pressed to look for solutions.

Case in point:

My son Alphonse, a young man with autism, is a ripper, shredder, and smasher. He has been all his life. Over the years, we’ve tried to redirect his destructive interests into other areas, with little success.

Aside from ripping (paper and clothing), shredding (paper, clothing, and plastic), and smashing (everything else), he also loves to bite and chew into things. As he grew in strength and size, we’ve had to abandon the use of glass in our home as even dinnerware touted to be “unbreakable” have been shattered to smithereens. We have used stainless steel, melamine, and plastic dinner and service ware to keep him safe but he has started biting into them too. Last year, he ended up with several cuts on his lips and tongue. Today, he nurses a recurring wound on the bridge of his nose, the result of pressing deeply the roughened rims of our drinking glasses on his face as he drinks.

There’s that wound on his face, see it?

Recently, we’ve had to limit and/or abandon the use of these materials because of his tendency for self-injury. While we looked for replacements, we used disposable paper and plastic cups for him but I felt really guilty each time he shredded them after a single use. We wanted to keep Alphonse safe but we were creating more trash to do it, and this thought nagged at me constantly. Sadly, our local malls didn’t have much to offer by way of alternatives but the through the Internet, I discovered silicone drinking glasses. Finally!

Yes, I love silicone! It’s handy, flexible, and Alphonse-proof. It’s also soft enough not to cause injury to Alphonse’s face and mouth. Moreover, silicone doesn’t make alarming clanging noises when dropped accidentally or thrown intentionally, which is what usually happens with Alphonse around.

Still, not all silicone drinking glasses are made equal. The first set we bought was a set of four Brovino wine glasses purchased from Amazon. We loved that these glasses could withstand Alphonse’s constant biting and throwing. They weren’t quite stable enough, though, tipping quite readily when bumped accidentally. Then too, learning to hold them properly was a process as the contents spilled easily if our grip was too hard. So even as we used these, we kept looking for other glasses to replace them.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a different kind of silicone glass. Supported by an embedded stainless steel frame inside, the cups were said to be kid-friendly, microwaveable, dishwasher safe, plus they didn’t collapse when gripped. The Silikids Siliskin silicone cups were available locally through an official distributor so we didn’t have to worry about international shipping and taxes. Their prices were also very reasonable; a two-pack goes for PhP700 when it retails USD12.95 in the Silikids.com website. At the time of purchase, only 8-oz kid-sized cups were available. We loved the cups instantly despite their size (we like big drinks so we needed refills right away) because true to their word, they were very easy to use. Unlike our first set of silicone glasses, these were quite firm and stable and didn’t tip over when bumped. However, less than three weeks from purchase, Alphonse’s constant biting created cracks in the rim. A few days later, he peeled off a piece of silicone from the stainless steel ring with his teeth, almost swallowing it in the process.

Even with this outcome, I still like the Silikids cups and will probably get the larger 16-oz ones for myself. The brand is just not a good fit for Alphonse or for any individual who chews and bite things avidly.

The “strongest silicone cup” was no match for Alphonse’s teeth. Oh well.

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law (A’s sister and the kids’ godmother, J) gifted Alphonse with a two silicone cups she purchased in the US. Of the two, Alphonse took to the bigger one immediately, a foldable soup cup from Smart Planet. It’s large enough that it doesn’t need constant refilling and the plastic rim has stayed smooth despite being gnawed on. This is Alphonse’s cup for now.

See Alphonse enjoying his new cup? He always steals it from the kitchen. It multitasks as his drinking glass, ice cream bowl, and bubbles bowl too!

We’ve done away with paper cups since we shifted to silicone glasses. We’re also reusing the last of our plastic cups, a lot of which came from food deliveries, and we won’t be buying more. While we already segregate, recycle, and compost, I truly feel that we could do a lot more to reduce our impact on the environment. This may be a small step but one that’s the beginning of our journey to limit the amount of waste we generate.

In the meantime, the search for the perfect silicone cup for Alphonse continues.

Advertisements

His Mama’s Name

9 May

Every morning, we follow a routine to get Alphonse ready for the day. Part of this routine is taking his medications after breakfast. Even the order of his medicines has been planned to get him to swallow his pills and capsules first before we shift to those that need to be chewed, such as his supplements.

Every morning, this is our dialogue:

Me: This is your first medicine. It is yellow and small. Are you ready?

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “yes.”)

I put the yellow pill on his tongue and he dry swallows it. He takes a sip of water afterwards.

Me: This is your second medicine. It is pink. Your Mama’s name is Pinky. Pink color and Mama Pinky!

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “yes,” again.)

Mama: Are you ready for the second medicine?

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “hurry up and give it to me already!”😜)

I hand him the second one and he dry swallows again. Sometimes I have to remind him to take a sip of water to wash it down.

Me: Please drink your water.

Alphonse obediently takes a short sip. Then he opens his mouth to show me there is no pill inside.

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “Look! It’s all gone!”)

Mama: Wow! You did that very well! Thank you for taking your medicine.

We do this until we finish all his morning medications, eight all in all, including chewable supplements.

At the end, I ask him if he remembers his Mama’s name.

Me: Alphonse, do you remember my name, baby? I told you my name at the start.

Alphonse: (pauses to think, then smiles broadly) Ha!

Mama: Okay, big boy. I know you’re smart. What’s your Mama’s name?

Alphonse: (takes a deep breath, then shrieks) Mama!!!

What a smart boy I have! 😂

This is Alphonse being naughty and cute at the same time, hehe. He loves mouthing stuff and would walk around carrying this -or some other thing- in his mouth. (Yes, that’s a KFC gravy cup which we reuse for his little snacks and cut-up fruit. )

Coffee for All Seasons

18 Apr

One of my biggest indulgences in life is coffee. I’m a daily coffee drinker, and were it not for already unspent excesses of manic energy brought about by my new way of eating (and living), I’d be guzzling more coffee if I could. As it is, my maximum number on any given day is two cups, although I really don’t need much persuasion to take a third cup. Coffee is life!

When it comes to how I take it, however, I’m a latte and cappuccino type of girl. I love cream and milk with my coffee. Heavy cream is my new best friend, replacing regular creamers and milk, but since I’m also working within the constraints of a fixed daily caloric deficit, my heavy cream intake is not made with careless abandon.

While I have not given up completely on my lattes, I have kept with the search for additional choices to complement my new food choices. As such, I found the cold brew as the perfect fix to my coffee cravings. Anyone who likes coffee at all hours of the day- or the year- will surely enjoy this.

Unlike iced coffee which is simply variations of coffee with lots of ice added at the end, the cold brew is made by slowly steeping coffee grounds in cold water, a process that takes as long as 20-24 hours. Only small batches are produced at a time and no heat is involved in the extraction of flavors, leading to a smooth, robust drink that is significantly less bitter than its heated counterpart. I take mine unsweetened and without syrup, but with some cream, roughly 2 ounces, and just a little stevia for a hint of sweetness. It’s a refreshing take on coffee, perfect for an all-day pick-me-upper, especially for sizzling summers like ours.

The cold brew is a rather late addition to Starbucks’ coffee lineup, debuting only in 2015. However, it has found a loyal niche in the coffee-drinking market. At only 5 calories for the 16 oz cup, the unsweetened cold brew is the perfect drink to customize to one’s tastes; ounce for ounce, it also packs a lot of caffeine wallop!

Now I could go on and on and extol the virtues of the cold brew- to wit, it’s low-cal, less acidic, less harsh on the GI tract- except I’ve discovered something even better- the Starbucks Nitro Cold Brew!

In 2016, Starbucks launched the Nitro Cold Brew as an upgrade to its cold brew selection. Initially, this was available only in select US locations. The following year, 2017, an international rollout of the platform followed, with the Nitro making its way into our local Starbucks franchise in the middle of last year. The first Nitro Cold Brew tap was at Starbucks Reserve at Jupiter Street; today, 15 branches in Metro Manila have their own Nitro Cold Brew kegs and taps. Of these, three are in Quezon City, namely the Banawe Avenue and Banawe cor. Calamba Street branches, and the Katipunan Road store.

I found the list of Nitro Cold Brew stores in Starbucks’ Philippines Facebook page. I was pleasantly surprised to find a branch that crafts the Nitro near me so I got my first taste of it recently. Let me tell you this: I drank every last drop and wanted more right away.

Straight from the tap, it was sweeter than the original cold brew concoction and it came with a foamy, frothy top layer that lends itself to fizziness. Upon the barista’s recommendation, I took mine plain and unsweetened, allowing me to savor the full-bodied richness and natural sweetness of the cold brew. True enough, one doesn’t need ice, sugar, or even cream to enjoy the Nitro Cold Brew, although, these are available options for customization. Towards the end of my drink, I added a dollop of heavy cream, just to see how different it would be from the regular cold brew I usually buy. Hands down, the Nitro Cold Brew was outstandingly exquisite, creamier and smoother, with absolutely no bitter undertones or aftertaste. I’d take it over the regular cold brew any day.

The Nitro Cold Brew (Grande, PhP175) is a tad more expensive than the regular Cold Brew (Venti, PhP170) but it still provides more value for money than iced coffees or even blended drinks. And it’s one more reason why I am a loyal Starbucks Philippines follower.

Try the Nitro Cold Brew, available in select Metro Manila stores. Click the link below to get the list:

http://www.starbucks.ph/menu-list/beverage-list/nitro-cold-brew.html

~0~

P. S. This is NOT a paid post.

Easter and Autism

1 Apr

Alphonse didn’t sleep on Thursday night, which meant the whole household went with little or no sleep, too. We were all addled and dazed the next day, doing our chores on autopilot even as our brains were blinking red in distress. Lack of sleep, repeated over and over again over time, has a way of wearing all of us down.

While most families were in their rest and relaxation modes for the long weekend, ours was in full work mode- keeping him busy, pacifying his fears, redirecting his aggression, and making him happy. There is no respite in sight. It’s not fair, I know, most especially for Alex, but for better or for worse, this is our life.

Then yesterday, in a sudden fit of anger, Alphonse pulled my hair again -what’s left of it, anyway- and kicked me on the chest while I was down. As I staggered beneath the weight of his heavy hands, I felt his foot connect with my chest. The kick came so unexpectedly that against my better judgment, I shrieked and cried for help. In the last few weeks, talking Alphonse down from the edge had worked rather well, but yesterday, he was in full meltdown mode that he was unable to pull back anymore. My husband, alerted to my cries, rushed to my aid and was able to disengage Alphonse from me. He took over the rest of the afternoon, doing gross motor exercises with Alphonse to tire him for the night.

This morning, my head heavy and throbbing, my chest tender and hurting, I had to summon all of my good cheer and positive energy to face Alphonse again. I have to be honest; sometimes, it isn’t easy to wake up raring to face the world again, more so when the past day has been a particularly bruising one. Some days, I wish I could just bury my head in the sand and not come up for air. But seeing Alphonse- wide-eyed and unsure each morning, stepping into our world with such fear and trepidation- erases all my ambivalence and I dive back head first into our daily grind.

When I reflect upon the Holy Week and what it means to us as a family, I am reminded that Love is a truly powerful force. It is Love that makes forgiveness possible, even when we have been hurt over and over again. It is Love that summons mercy and compassion even when anger and disappointment threaten to overwhelm us. It is Love that covers us with an impenetrable armor of hope and optimism. In the middle of tears, it is Love that makes us laugh and smile again.

I admit I have been dispirited and disheartened many times over the last few weeks. Working with Alphonse daily is exhausting work that requires pouring all my emotions, energy, and attention into him; when he rejects me as he does, I am crushed and defeated, submerged in a sorrow so deep that my strength and determination are often not enough to drag me out of my despair. But Love, even in the darkest, deepest hole, brings a sliver of His light and I am able to recognize- nay, see-something beautiful and hopeful in Alphonse and in our lives again. Without darkness, there is no light, this we know only too well.

In the season of His rebirth, we are grateful to be reborn in hope as well.

Raising a Child with Autism: Parents Speak

23 Mar

Three weeks ago, I was invited to be part of a seven-member panel of parents for a forum on raising children with autism. Organized and sponsored by Kaakibat ng Autism Society Philippines Multi-purpose Cooperative (KASPI-MPC), the forum was spearheaded by its hardworking President, Ms. Josephine Palomares, and was open to both members and nonmembers of the cooperative. Ms. Mayang Pascual facilitated the discussion and helped us get comfortable with the exchange and sharing. I was joined by one father and six mothers; our children’s ages range from 10 to 49. Each of us had at least one child in the spectrum.

I am grateful to Jo and Mayang for allowing me to share parts of Alphonse’s journey with the audience. Our story has often elicited sympathy, if not outright pity, from those who have never met Alphonse. Sure, our life is filled with meltdowns, with aggression and self-injury, with daily challenges that continue to confound us to this day, but Alphonse’s story is also a story of hope and perseverance amid a mountain of difficulties. It is a story of grit and love. And while it is important to hear those not-so-rosy parts to give people a “real” view of what autism in the far end of the spectrum is, it is equally important to recognize Alphonse as one who struggles bravely to master himself and his environment resolutely.

(Photo credit: KASPI-MPC)

We were asked to prepare a short introduction of our children for the audience. We were also given a shortlist of questions to help us prepare for the question-and-answer style of the forum. Below is the introduction I wrote, and some of the answers to the questions I was asked. It is my hope that parents who read this find encouragement and recognize that their love and acceptance can open up their child’s world.

Alphonse is exactly 23 years and 3 months old today, and yet, for all the years he has lived, he remains very much a child in interests and behavior. He loves Disney musicals, Ava and Dave, and Princess Sofia. He is afraid of the dark, of fire, and of spiders. On hot days such as this, you can almost always find him playing with a large basin and a hose. He jumps in his big trampoline when he feels like it or paces around the house, but you’d most often find him in the garage, sitting in his plastic patio chair, blowing endless bubbles.

“Blues brothers cool!”

Alphonse lives a solitary life with his parents and brother. He has no playmates or friends. He hardly goes out because crowds and noises overwhelm him. The closest person to a friend he has is his older brother. Together, they hang out in the schoolhouse aka playroom aka boys’ pad, Kuya playing with his consoles while Alphonse watches or blows bubbles beside him. Despite this, he is a generally happy fellow, sweet and lovable. He loves to sit on his dad’s lap. He helps his mom adjust her glasses when it falls off her nose. And he follows Kuya everywhere, even to the toilet, where he sits by the door and patiently waits.

“Aarrr, I am cutie,” says pirate Alphonse, with his hook nose and nasty snarl. Argh!

To many, Alphonse may seem to live a limited life, holed up within the four walls of our home. The happiness Alphonse shows, however, proves that he is exactly where he needs to be, doing exactly what he wants to. He is at peace, and, as a result, so are we.

Q: When you found out that your child has autism, How did you feel and what did you do to deal with the situation? Did you have a denial phase?

A: Alphonse was diagnosed at 18 months of age, a few months after we began to notice that he was no longer talking. I think the period between recognition and diagnosis was my denial phase. Back then, there were days when Alphonse seemed connected to us, making acceptance difficult, if not impossible. I dealt with the denial by burrowing myself in information, trying to convince myself that what we were seeing had some other possible explanation, something other than autism. When the developmental pediatrician gave us the diagnosis in no uncertain terms, denial was no longer possible. What came next was a period of grief and guilt, of wondering how and what I could have done to change the outcome of things.

Q: What challenges did you face or are currently facing now at this particular stage?

A: Alphonse is 23 and is a young adult. Were he neurotypical, he would have graduated from college by now, be employed, perhaps even have a girlfriend. Today, he is a man-child, someone whose interests are limited still to childish pursuits, and yet he is physically and physiologically a full grown adult male. The greatest challenge we face these days is trying to reconcile his physical strength to his cognitive abilities. The disparity is so great that it has caused our family difficulties, especially during his periods of stress.

Q: What were the kinds of interventions you employed and what were the most effective? Did you undergo any difficulty engaging those services?

A: A few days right after diagnosis, Alphonse went to school for early intervention. We did the usual- sped, speech, occupational therapy. As he grew older, we added additional services such as play and aqua therapy. We changed and supplemented his diet. His behavior started to deteriorate when he was four, causing concern and reluctance in some institutions to allow him enrolment. For many years, Alphonse could not be accommodated in group therapies and received one-on-one intervention. When he was nine, we made the decision to home school him. That, I think, has given us a better outcome, albeit it has not been a perfect one.

For us, ABA was the most effective way by which Alphonse learned. Today, however, because he is slowly manifesting a greater desire to participate in relationships, I feel that the Son-Rise program is also helping us make headway in acquiring his full trust.

Q: What were the big & little victories of your child and what were the personal breakthroughs that you had or are presently having?

A: No one knew Alphonse could read. We never even tried to teach him because we got stuck in the alphabet. Whenever teachers would try to read him books, Alphonse would grab the books and rip them to shreds. We noticed, however, that whenever we would read aloud to his big brother, Alphonse never left the room. This was the time Harry Potter was really big and my eldest son was so engrossed in it. On a whim, we decided to ask Alphonse questions about the book and give him choices written in paper. He gave us the correct answer each time.

I wish I could tell you that this was the magic bullet that solved all our challenges. Alphonse’s difficulties are so severe that moments such are these are few and far-in-between. Yet each time he looks at us, comes to us for a request, asks us of anything, that I feel is already a breakthrough because it goes completely against isolation and everything his autism is.

Q: How did having a child with autism change you & your family?

A: I have to admit, Alphonse was and is the center of our world. I wish I could undo that, for my eldest son’s sake, but that is done and nothing can change that anymore. Perhaps that’s one of the few things I would want to change- to not be so caught up in autism that everything else in our lives became secondary, sometimes even our own personal needs and desires.

The best thing to come out of my son’s autism is that our family has become stronger and more united. I’m sure a lot of families can identify with that but our son’s difficulties have taught us that we are stronger than we think we are, that there is nothing that can bend or bow us as long as we love each other.

Q: What are your aspirations for your child and how do you plan on making that happen?

A: I am still working on giving Alphonse his voice, so no matter how old he is, we have not stopped his education. As he grows older, I have learned to modify my expectations and not set his value based on what he can do or not do. In the end, I just want him to be happy. To know that he is always loved so he need not hurt others. To find peace in his body and mind so he will no longer hurt himself.

~0~

My grateful thanks again to KASPI-MPC, and to all the other parents who shared their experiences with us. I learned a lot from all of them; their willingness to teach and share what they have learned in their own journeys is a gift to those who follow in their footsteps. To Max, Doris, Imee, Ma’am Emma, Dr. Lirio, Ma’am Carmel, and to Jo and Mayang, God bless you all!

Holding Pattern

17 Mar

I’ve been in a weight loss stall for a few weeks now. After I lost 23 kilos (about 52 lbs), I’ve been caught in a holding pattern of sorts. I try not to obsess over it or give in to anxiety and doubt. After all, I did this all by myself; I should trust myself that I can actually do more than I think I can. By changing the way I eat and view my food, I have effectively done what my many years of dieting have not been able to do. As such, despite my overwhelming preoccupation with numbers on the scale, I willfully focus on non-scale victories, like finally being able to fit into a dress I’ve been eyeing at Old Navy. I couldn’t fit into a 2XL before, now even an XL has room for me to move! It may be a little thing in the over-all scheme of things, but for someone who’s never been able to shop off the rack, it still is a victory.

I’ve decided to add more exercise to my daily routine to break this stall. Inspired by my friend G (incidentally, she got me started on this wellness journey), I’ve been walking more and moving more. And while I haven’t gained weight, I don’t want to take my hard earned loss for granted. My age and a host of factors associated with years of weight loss and rebound weight gain have made it harder for me to lose the excess pounds. Still, I’m not giving up just yet. I can see the goal post from where I am now. Even if it does take a while, I have the patience to see it through.

In the meantime, allow me to humble brag a bit. The top picture was A❤️ and me more than a year ago. The bottom one is of us today, five months into this new way of eating. A❤️ has lost about 17 kilos since December and I have to say, sometimes, his willpower beats mine, keeping me on my best behavior always. 😉

When I get into a holding pattern, I think I have to keep reminding myself to look at this to see the big picture. 😍 Not bad for old folks, eh?

Happiness is… a Hot Cup of Coffee

14 Mar

Most mornings, I break my fast with a cup of coffee. Some days I brew coffee; most days, because sleep is a premium, I go instant. I heat about two cups of water in an electric kettle and pour it over a heaping teaspoon of coffee granules. I add a packet of stevia, then a tablespoon each of heavy cream, butter, and coconut oil/MCT oil, the last depending on what I have at the moment. I pull out my Aerolatte frother and stir away, creating a rich, smooth, and creamy concoction. I smell the faint hint of coconut and the strong notes of coffee, and already, my senses are wide awake.

I like to take my time to savor my coffee. I usually just have one cup a day; on special occasions, though, I make an extra cup. But when Alphonse- my coffee guzzling son- comes out of his little schoolhouse in the morning, I have to gulp the whole thing down in a hurry, leaving only a teaspoonful or so at the bottom of the cup for him to drink. I have to tell you that caffeine and Alphonse don’t mix very well, unless I want a hyperactive man-child literally climbing the walls.

Lately, Alphonse has been asking for more and more coffee. I take that as a sign to stop drinking coffee in front of him so I decided to extend my intermittent fast to 18 hours, moving my BPC in the afternoons while Alphonse is busy. This way, I have a few hours to enjoy coffee without downing the whole thing in one go.

Now this is where Ember comes in to give my life an extra boost of happiness. I got the Ember travel mug as a Christmas gift over the holidays, and while I have accumulated a wide variety of mugs and tumblers over the years- from double walled stainless steel vacuum flasks to plastic reusable mugs and hardy acrylic cups to dainty ceramic teacups- nothing quite beats the virtues of the Ember.

Just what is the Ember?

The Ember is the the first temperature controlled travel mug that keeps your beverage at your desired temperature for hours, allowing you to enjoy your drink without hurry. For people like me who like to sip and savor, the Ember is a handy mug to have around. It may seem like a novelty, especially since some thermal mugs can keep things warm for hours, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll love the way your coffee (or tea) stays exactly the same way for hours.

At USD150, the Ember travel mug is a pricey deal, particularly when one considers that its volume is only 12 ounces. The 10-oz Ember ceramic mug is a little more affordable at USD80, but without a lid, it is more useful for home and office use. I prefer the flexibility and durability of the travel mug. The huge advantage Ember has over newer, less expensive temperature mugs (such as the Lexo tumbler or Joeveo’s Temperfect mug) is that it allows one to remotely set the temperature via a smartphone. While I write, or clean, or bake, or even get the occasional catnap, I keep the Ember filled with hot coffee and it helps me get through another afternoon of chores. I’ve been using it for a few months now and I can say with certainty that it is a great way to enjoy a hot drink any time of the day.

Most US Starbucks stores carry the Ember, but for those of us here in Asia, Amazon is our best bet for purchasing one. The good news is that the product is available for delivery to the Philippines.

Pros: easy to use, remote fine tuning available, completely washable

Cons: price, availability in the country

Verdict: If you love coffee, you won’t go wrong with the Ember. 🙂 It’s worth every cent.