This is a time of darkness in the Northern Hemisphere. Every year on December 21st, the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. Yet equally as important, it marks the time when the days begin to lengthen, minute by minute–often as imperceptibly as the development and growth of a child.
The word solstice means “sun standing still.” The Winter Solstice signals the return of the sun, and for our ancestors, the return of light was a powerful symbol of hope in dark times. Winter Solstice festivals have been held worldwide throughout history, with Hanukah–also called The Festival of Lights–and Christmas, being the most celebrated in the Western Hemisphere.
For parents of a child on the autism spectrum, especially if their child is non-verbal, every day can feel like a time of darkness–a time when the lights of engagement, communication, and social interaction are barely perceptible, if not (seemingly) absent.
As with the lengthening of days and gradual movement toward the rebirth of springtime, however, there is always hope. And classical homeopathy acts like a spark igniting the light of engagement in an autistic child; a spark that nurtures the child’s ability to relate to, and be in presence with their parents, siblings, friends, and the greater community.
Homeopathy holds the healing potential not only to increase the light of engagement so that the autistic child radiates her inner-light outwards, connecting and illuminating loved ones by engaging, communicating, and relating. But it also holds the potential to open the curtains, allowing the morning sun to permeate the child with the warm embrace of the love, care, and tenderness expressed by the community surrounding her!
A little light dispels a lot of darkness
When Rebecca picked up her five-year-old son, Uriel, from camp on a sunny July afternoon, she knew that he had soiled himself again. She could smell it. His bag, towel, and lunch box were stained, and the other children were laughing at him and calling him a baby. In spite of this seemingly embarrassing situation, Uriel appeared oblivious to the other children’s taunts. Rebecca described it as a “disconnect,” saying: “He is very self-confident, very independent, sure of himself, and strong-willed! He looked a little worried when I picked him up, but he doesn’t show any awareness that the other children are making fun of him.
“He is very literal: ‘I’m not a baby,’ he said, ‘my brother (1.5 years old) is the baby!’ In a very rational way, he is able to deflect criticism, but I am concerned that he is reaching an age where he is going to start having trouble,” said Rebecca.
“Transitions are very difficult for him. I need to give him 30 minutes advance notice. In the morning, when we are getting ready for camp, I need to remind him to use the toilet. But he has a disconnect between his brain and body and doesn’t go to the bathroom. It looks a little like disobedience, but I know that it isn’t,” she continued.
Rebecca explained that Uriel had always been a physically sensitive child. “As an infant, he looked like he was in shock when I would hold him. His eyes were big and looked afraid. He cried a lot those first four months. Uriel was never a cuddly kid and disliked sitting in my lap. When he was three years old, he didn’t like being too close to other people. He disliked standing in line because of the jostling and would wander the periphery, making strange noises. He was different from the other kids, sometimes he would scream when people would greet him.
“Smells from perfumes, Lysol, or other cleaning solutions really bother him. And he is disturbed by loud noises,” she said. Additionally, Uriel hated having his hair cut, and his parents would need to cut his fingernails and toenails in the middle of the night, while he slept! He was so sensitive to certain fabrics and textiles that Rebecca had to choose clothing very cautiously for her son.
When Uriel was four years old, his mother bought him a giant poster of the planets. This sparked passionate interest in astronomy and outer space. “I can look at the sky for long periods of time and wonder what it would be like on those planets,” Uriel told me. “I get to see space. I wonder what it is like out there. You can have stars, the planets. Mars is cold. If you threw a snow ball at Mars it would never melt!”
“He is like his father in this way,” Rebecca explained. “Uriel is connected with something that is far outside of him. He connects with the galaxy in the same way. He sees beyond himself and at a very young age was interested in life on other planets.
“Uriel frequently dreams of death. Sometimes he dreams of us (his parents) dying, or a friend dying, and occasionally he’ll dream his own death,” Rebecca told me.
When I asked Uriel what these dreams were like for him, he replied, “It is like I am floating in the stars!”
“Sometimes he will wake up screaming, eyes wide open and staring,” Rebecca told me. “We can’t touch him or contact him. He also has flying dreams and silly dreams in which he will wake with laughter!
“For a five-year-old, he thinks deeply about a lot of things. He will sit and read Torah, and his questions are very deep. He doesn’t accept superficial answers to his questions either. Uriel will ask, ‘Why is there evil in the world?’ When he looks up in the sky, it is apparent that he has a strong sense that G-d exists.”
Rebecca described her son as being very creative and possessing a precocious memory: “He memorizes text and plots of movies. He is able to re-live Shrek because he’s memorized the entire script!”
Food-wise, Uriel’s preferences included potatoes, corn, eggs, ice cream, and a great thirst for ice-cold water. However, his reactions to corn syrup, preservatives, gluten-containing foods, and dairy were strong, and after eating these foods, Uriel would act out behaviorally and his stools would get even looser than usual. Between his food sensitivities and his sensory issues (oral defensiveness), Uriel was on an extremely limited diet.
“His stools are never solid. They are typically a mustard yellow color. And the stench is overwhelming–like being in a barn! Then sometimes he will play with his stool, smearing it with impunity.”
Disconnected: Lost in space
Like many children with high functioning autism (HFA), Uriel’s social understanding lagged behind his intellectual and conceptual understanding. Oblivious to the teasing and taunting of his peers, he lacked a social awareness, and this interfered with his ability to connect and engage with his peers.
On a physical level, he demonstrated a disconnect between his colon and brain that interfered with his ability to make it to the toilet in a timely manner. Clueless about his bodily needs, Uriel seemed lost in another world. This type of disconnect can look like disobedience in a child on the autism spectrum, but to Rebecca’s credit she astutely recognized it as a non-volitional behavior.
Many children with HFA struggle with sensory processing problems, and even as an infant Uriel demonstrated this tendency. As Rebecca described, his tactile sensitivity elicited apparent feelings of fear and shock when she tried to hold him. Infants and young children with HFA will sometimes respond to being greeted with aversion and fear, and in Uriel’s case he’d simply scream. For an infant or young child with HFA and sensory issues, every social interaction is uncharted territory, and anxiety levels can quickly rise when unexpected touch is potentially involved–being hugged, picked up, or patted on the head, for example.
A budding astronomer, Uriel’s “grand passion” strongly connected him with the planets and stars rather than his peers. Lost in space, Uriel’s unique and unusual appreciation of the worlds beyond planet Earth is the type of information that makes a homeopath’s ears perk with keen interest!
Homeopathic Hydrogen Lights the Way Home
Most prominent in Uriel’s case was his passion for outer space and his separation from the world. I perceived a strong split between an “other-worldly” consciousness and his worldly existence. Interestingly, Rebecca told me that when they would threaten to take his favorite material possessions away as punishment, he’d laugh! “Material possessions just aren’t that important to him,” she said. His interest in esoteric subjects coupled with dilemmas arising due to this earthly existence (e.g., when it is time to use the toilet) led me to the homeopathic remedy, Hydrogen.
At the heart of this remedy’s indications is a conflict between an “other-worldly” consciousness and worldly existence. People needing homeopathic Hydrogen have difficulties navigating the mundane aspects of this world.
Uriel’s dreams of death are a strong indication for homeopathic Hydrogen. In fact, six different symptoms specific to dreams involving death are listed in the indications for Hydrogen in the homeopathic literature, and Uriel’s dreams are represented in five of the six. And when I asked what his feeling was like in these dreams, he replied in a rather “hydrogen-esque” manner (“it is like I am floating in the stars!”).
On the physical level, Uriel had a strong tendency toward loose stools, and the characteristic nature of these stools matched Hydrogen’s indications well. Finally, the type of physical sensitivity exhibited by Uriel is also an indication for Hydrogen. Differential Diagnosis: slim pickin’s in light of Hydrogen!
Sometimes, after I take a person’s case, the indicated remedy is extremely clear to me because of the person’s unique characteristics, as it was with Uriel. Even so, I like to be thorough and make sure there isn’t a better-indicated remedy that I am missing, so I use due diligence to explore other possible remedies–just in case!
I briefly considered Helium for Uriel, a remedy that commonly rises to the surface when working with children on the autism spectrum. People needing homeopathically prepared Helium prefer to stay within themselves, locked up inside, and they can remain disconnected from those around them. Interestingly, this element, a gas, is formed through a fusion between hydrogen atoms. Because it is so light, it is used to fill balloons; and metaphorically-speaking, this reflected Uriel’s tendency to float off into the cosmos, disconnecting from his immediate surroundings. Even so, homeopathic Hydrogen seemed to be a better match for Uriel than Helium since it fit not only this tendency but many of his other symptoms.
Additionally, I considered Phosphorus, a well-known remedy that matched Uriel’s tendency toward involuntary stool and his cravings for ice-water and ice-cream. Though people needing Phosphorus are most often thought to crave company, a polarity exists within the indications for Phosphorus, and Phosphorus patients can also exhibit an indifference to relations and peers. However, Uriel did not exhibit the fears and increased sympathy that I have learned to expect in a Phosphorus patient.
Increasing the Light: Hydrogen Lights the Way!
I gave Uriel his first dose of Hydrogen 1M four and a half years ago. In the time since then, he’s had two more doses of Hydrogen 1M and five doses of Hydrogen 10M. He has responded to each dose and continues to shine his brilliant light–illuminating his peers, family, and the larger community!
I recently asked Rebecca to describe the most significant changes in Uriel as a direct result of his homeopathic treatment. “After that initial dose, he experienced a worsening of his symptoms that continued to increase in intensity for four weeks! Uriel would look me in the eye and soil his pants while denying that he was doing it.” Rebecca added that her family had recently moved, and Uriel felt very angry about this transition.
“After six weeks, however, there was dramatic improvement. He went two full weeks without any soiling incidents–a first–and he never once had a soiling incident in school. He was always very, very happy in school. Unlike before, he would sit with others in a circle on the rug (though he liked to be a bit separate), and he would do what the whole group was supposed to do rather than always wandering off on his own.”
A Practitioner’s Aside: Dry vs. Liquid Dosing
Uriel’s worsening of symptoms after receiving the initial dose of the remedy, followed eventually by marked improvement, is called an “aggravation” by homeopaths. Such an aggravation of symptoms is considered a very good sign that the body is responding positively to a correctly selected remedy. But as a practitioner who fully embraces the ethic “first do no harm,” I would prefer to skip the aggravation period and move straight to amelioration and healing! Over the last three years of practice, I have learned by clinical experience that liquid remedies (LM or C potency in liquid) are far less likely to incur an aggravation such as Uriel’s, while still producing improvement. Dosing my patients with liquid remedies (instead of granules or pellets taken dry on the tongue) has strongly diminished the likelihood of aggravations, and given me more freedom to tailor my dosing strategy to the patient’s individual needs.
Dietary Freedom: Moving Toward Health and Freedom
“Before homeopathic treatment, the list of foods Uriel had to avoid would fill a page, and the allowed foods were only a few,” Rebecca continued. “After nine months of homeopathic treatment, we accidentally discovered that he no longer regressed after consuming previously ‘forbidden’ foods. He no longer has a limited diet and because he’s also had a decrease in sensory issues, he now enjoys trying new foods and new combinations of familiar foods. He loves to cook and appreciates food like a gourmet, trying to determine the ingredients upon tasting a new dish.”
Friendship: Sharing the Light of Engagement
“Last Sunday, a child from Uriel’s class called and wanted a playdate. As I drove to pick up this child and bring him to our house, I was filled with gratitude that there was actually a child in the world who called Uriel his friend,” Rebecca exclaimed. “For so many years, I was afraid that would never happen. Uriel always referred to classmates as ‘friends,’ but now it’s really true. Other kids refer to Uriel as their friend and actually want to spend time with him. He spends a ridiculous amount of time calling friends on the phone. He gets invited to sleepovers and has even gotten in trouble with his teachers for talking to his friends too much in class! I know it’s a little unusual for a parent to be pleased that their child is talking too much in class, but with Uriel, this is a huge milestone and an indication of great change and progress.”
Bringing Light to the Darkness Through Clear Communication
“Before homeopathic treatment, whenever someone attempted to initiate a conversation with Uriel, if he would even respond, the conversation always died immediately. People didn’t often ask me what was wrong with him, but they would cease attempting to communicate with him and exchange looks with others,” Rebecca noted. “Now, people give me the odd looks when I say that Uriel has ‘issues.’ No one knows what I am talking about. We hear compliments about his intelligence, his sense of humor, his love of learning, and his good manners. Teachers tell us that they enjoy him, that he is a deep thinker who brings up really good points in class, and that he asks questions and initiates discussions.”
Sensory Issues Resolve: Removing an Obstacle to Engagement
“Uriel never used to snuggle, cuddle, hug for a long time, or hold hands. I clearly remember the Shabbat morning about a year and a half ago when Uriel just slipped his hand into mine, actually held on tightly, and continued holding my hand for the 25-minute walk to shul,” Rebecca told me. “It was astonishing. He now falls asleep at night hugging one brother and wakes up in the morning anxious to hug the other one.
“A few days ago, I took Uriel for a haircut. He sat still in the chair, chatted with the stylist about his interests (customizing computers), and described to her how he wanted his hair to look. When she was finished cutting, the stylist said to him, ‘You are the best behaved nine-year-old I’ve ever had in my chair!’ Uriel smiled and asked, ‘Really?!’ He was pleased. I nearly cried,” said Rebecca. “Five years ago, I bought an electric hair buzzer and began cutting his hair myself because it was such a horrible experience to bring him to a professional. He used to scream, cry, twist, kick, bite, and do many other horrible, hurtful things. Uriel, the stylist, and I would all be traumatized at the end, and because of his behavior, his hair would look like he had cut it himself.
“We used to have to cut his fingernails and toenails while he was sleeping up through the age of five or six, and he could only wear clothing that was 100% cotton and of a very specific texture because of his sensory issues. He can now cut his own nails, and while he still prefers a particular kind of clothing, he is able to tolerate other fabrics and textures,” she noted.
“Yesterday, my husband and I met with Uriel’s teachers for our fall parent-teacher conference. His teachers began by saying, ‘I just love your boy!’ Fifteen minutes of completely positive comments,” said Rebecca, “and they gave me the oddest looks when I asked if he was ever defiant. It was incredible and an experience I never, ever imagined I’d have.”
A Time of Miracles: Spreading Light in a Time of Darkness!
As a homeopath, when I receive a case and prescribe the remedy that I feel is the best match, I am never exactly sure how the child will respond. But I do know two things–that homeopathic remedies are safe and gentle, and that it is reasonable to expect a miracle! This time of year is a healthy reminder that even in the darkest of times, a little light can dispel a lot of darkness, and there is always hope for a better day!
Ian R. Luepker, ND