When I was six, one summer afternoon a neighbor dropped by our house to invite my mom to a nearby Pentecostal church she attended. I gazed at her long, well-kept hair; its shine mesmerized me. She looked my way, greeted me, and when I didn't respond, she asked Mary Rose if I were deaf.
My mother Mary Rose picked me up. "No, Little Danny just doesn't talk."
The woman looked at me intently, her teeth sunk into her lower lip. "What we need here is a miracle." Trembling, the lady turned back to my mother. "How about we get together and perform a healing service for this dear child?"
My mother paused. "Glen doesn't really like Holiness churches any more," she said, doubtfully.
The neighbor's posture remained firm. "Then we'll do the healing over at my house. Come over tomorrow morning."
My mom consented. The next morning we waited until my father had left for work, then she and I walked over to the neighbor's house. I had never been to this house. It was meticulously clean and orderly, and in the living room various members of this neighbor's church were assembled. Meanwhile, I was confined to another room, given a variety of toys, and left to play.
Strange sounds came from the other room. I vividly recall hearing people yelling, jumping around, and clapping loudly. Did people of the outer world perform this slightly odd activity often? I saw no reason for such excitement. Besides, all that noise bothered my ears, and I wished they would be more quiet.
I returned to my play with a spinning toy that was probably no bigger than six inches in diameter, but seemed much bigger than that. I intently watched my hands push down on the top of the toy. Just watching it spin fascinated me. I gazed as the bright colors mixed in their own delightful way. The continuous, even movement of the toy had a soothing, pleasant effect on my senses. My eyes fixed on the object and soon I was oblivious to all else around me. A few hours later, my mom was tugging at my arm to leave, but I wanted to stay to play with my new toy. I tugged back.
Like many other speech-delayed children, the age of six was that magical age in which I learned to talk. Several factors probably influenced my mental development, one being an arbitrary change in diet.
My father had certain rigid routines, one of which was his supper ritual. I never liked salted venison, but Glen did. At supper, Glen would frequently hold up a piece of meat in his hands. "Deer meat is so full of flavor. This meat is nothing like that store-bought stuff."
Then he would look around, look stern, and say with a wry grin, "And if this don't suit everybody, I'm sure I could round up some bear meat. Y'all know there're killer bears out in those woods, don't ya?"
Mom would look up, and say, "Oh, Pa. Don't tease the kids like that."
His humor made no sense to me. As always, I tended to take his words literally. Not knowing any differently, I would just continue to stare at Glen, my stomach tight with fear, wondering when this faceless monster would come.
My father also liked bread baked in a skillet, which he called "biscuit bread." Gravy was to be poured over the deer meat and bread.
Not long after the secret meeting at the neighbor's house, Glen came home and made an announcement. "Today, we're gonna have rice."
Later, the aroma in the kitchen appealed to my senses. I bent over to look into the dish, closed my eyes, and breathed in deeply.
Mom looked at me and smiled. "This is rice cooked in sugar and butter." I hurriedly took a seat at the table and waited for everyone else to join me in eating this delicacy.
This new dish was a definite break from the usual. Edna Mae and Luke cheered. We now had a new daily supper routine - venison and rice.
Recent research suggests that lesions in the intestinal wall may be responsible for the intensity of some of the symptoms of autism. By allowing only partially digested food substances directly into the blood stream, those substances can interfere with mental functioning, especially if any part of the brain is already underdeveloped. This is especially true if that food substance is gluten, an opium-like protein found in wheat and barley. (1) When my mom replaced the bread in my diet with rice, it eliminated a major source of gluten in my diet.
Rice is known to have vitamins B6, B12, and magnesium, all of which are thought to be important for brain functioning. Often, children with autism are severely deficient in B vitamins, as well as in magnesium, calcium and zinc. (2)
Some weeks after this dietary change, I spoke my first words. This was not the first time that I had attempted to speak. On prior occasions, my vocal chords had invariably refused to respond. Grunting and pointing was the best I could do, and I felt frustrated, so I began observing those around me to see how they did it. They made oral communication look so simple, but from my perspective speech was anything but simple. What I did not understand was that unlike others, my brain could not seem to coordinate the various processes involved in speech. Still, this did not seem fair, something my rigid mind could not accept.
I remember well the day that I spoke for the first time. I looked out the window and saw it was getting daylight. Dew glistened on the grass. I imagined the forest calling me to come play, so I sneaked out of the house like I often did.
By the time I finally finished playing, the sun had already begun its descent. I walked into the house and sat on my bed. I felt tired and my stomach felt empty. I looked over at the kitchen door and imagined the smell of butter filling the house. I envisioned my plate being filled with plenty of sweet buttery rice.
Then reality struck as I realized I would have to wait a while, because no one was allowed to eat supper at my house until Glen arrived home from work. Looking out the window, I noticed that the sun was still too high for it to be time for Glen to come home. My stomach growled again, causing me to feel further frustrated. "No Dada," I said to myself.
My mother screamed from the next room and came running in to me. "Say that again!" Her whole body shook with excitement.
At first, I thought I was in trouble. I swallowed hard. "No . . . Dada," I said, much softer and slower this time.
Mom smiled with pride. "You did it! You did it!" she exclaimed.
My mother was still excited hours later when my father did arrive. "Glen, Little Dutchman talked!"
I could not understand the reason for all the excitement.
My father glanced at her and frowned. "Good. Now he can go to school." Then he went out to whittle in his woodshed for a while.
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