Archive for January, 2013

Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.

–          Hippocrates

Unless your food is a fraud, like some of the five hundred plus ingredients listed on the USP Food Fraud Database today.  My journey down this tangent began with a link to a Good Morning America article and may never stop.  (Much to my husband’s regret.)  Once I saw this, I had to check out their newly launched database for myself and was absolutely disgusted with the evidence they’ve collected showing many of our foods and additives may not be what they legally should be.  Friends, these adulterated foods are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing, and I probably won’t shelve my concerns on this issue until I find out exactly who has been caught with their hands in the cookie jar due to the unethical, economically motivated adulteration of foods.

It’s a pretty significant problem according to the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention and most commonly occurs in liquids or finely ground foods that are easy to tamper with:

  • Olive oils (Often adulterated to include cheaper oils including corn, soybean, walnut, peanut, lard, etc.)
  • Lemon juice (Containing sugar and water as fillers, citric acid additives, even Bergamot juice)
  • Tea (Mixed with china clay, copper salts, colored saw dust, Iron-hexacyanoferrate, and other lovely-sounding additives.)
  • Spices (Combined with dung powder, brick powder, sand, coffee husks, and gluten-containing flours as well as several varieties of lead compounds and chemicals all believed to be very toxic.)

Specifically, look up paprika.  You’ll see 13 accounts of food fraud in the new USP Food Fraud Database.  These reports include more innocent adulterations from spices sourced from non-authentic geographic origins to the addition of crystalline lead compounds and carcinogenic chemical dyes.  I’m excited to see the data all neat and tidy – but seriously wish they had listed the questionable manufacturers/producers of these fraud food ingredients.

Lead tetraoxide - looks quite similar to paprika spice, doesn't it.

Lead tetraoxide – looks quite similar to paprika spice, doesn’t it?

According to Report #1094, an unstated brand of paprika contains Lead tetroxide.  Lead tetraoxide, also referred to as red lead, minimum, or triplumbic tetroxide is a bright red crystalline pigment.  Most often, it’s used chemically in batteries, lead glass, and paints.  Known reactions for this chemical state that Lead tetroxide is virtually insoluble in water and alcohol.  However, it’s easily soluble in the hydrochloric acid that’s present in our stomach’s making it toxic upon ingestion.

Another report, #1096, reveals the use of Sudan I dye, which is a chemical additive primarily used as coloring for oils, waxes, petrols, polishes, and solvents.  It’s known to be a rodent carcinogen and many tests have led to the European Union banning the use of this additive in foods.  It was a hot topic in February of 2005 throughout the United Kingdom when it was found in a popular brand of Worcestershire sauce contaminated by and adulterated chili powder.  Since this scare, the country of Sudan requested a name change for this dye.  Today, it’s still present in many foods under the guise of about 62 creative names.  Some even have a natural-sounding ring to them, like, “Orient oil Orange PS, Oil Orange, Calco oil Orange, and Brasilazina oil Orange, among others.”

How about Sudan dye?  This carcinogen was detected in adulterated paprika as an illegal filler.

How about Sudan dye? This carcinogen was detected in adulterated paprika as an illegal filler.

Report #207 states that Lead oxide was found as a replacement in Paprika spice.  Lead oxide is exactly what it sounds like – Lead!  Today’s applications for this inorganic compound include lead-based glass and ceramics as well as computer components.  If you read the ILO page, it includes a warning under Environmental Data “Bioaccumulation of this chemical may occur in plants and in mammals. It is strongly advised that this substance does not enter the environment.”  It also states that there is an inhalation risk, “A harmful concentration of airborne particles can be reached quickly when dispersed, especially if powdered.”  Finally, “The substance may have effects on the blood, bone marrow, central nervous system, peripheral nervous system and kidneys resulting in anemia, encephalopathy, peripheral nerve disease, abdominal cramps and kidney impairment.  Causes toxicity to human reproduction or development.”

The good news to this story is that there is definite power in numbers and this new Food Fraud database will help to illustrate the depth of adulterated foods to the FDA.  I’m hopeful that their collective scientific efforts and positive changes will force the removal of questionable foods; like the paprika I’ve discussed in my article making our world just a teeny bit safer.  Until that happens, I’m going to keep buying my fancy-schmancy organic paprika and oils – just in case.

Have a wonderful Tuesday,

Your Muckraking Maven


Now, before I begin this post, I must state my disclaimer:  I am not an ABA therapist or developmental teacher, however, while attending the University of Wyatt I’ve learned many tricks that give me an edge to teaching him more effectively.  I want to share some of these things so that others might benefit.  I also have a friend that’s unable to obtain ABA services like we have available in California, so this is a great way for me to share suggestions for her, while reaching out to even more parents searching for places to start.  I hope you’ll receive the information with the open-arms manner I wish to express it.  I don’t claim to be an expert of each child on the spectrum – I’m only knowledgeable about my own son – and this knowledge ebbs and flows like the tide.  If it helps, please pass it along.  I wish all the best on your journey.



Getting Ready for Your Own In-Home Program


Create a treasure chest of reinforcersreinforcerbin

A common trait for most children with Autism is the lack of motivation to please others, just because.  They don’t always possess the social desire to please others and are often more comfortable doing their own things in their own ways.  Some of this is acknowledged in their lack of joint attention, eye contact, and desire to perform difficult tasks.  A primary example of this motivation disconnect is apparent in the desire of a typically developing four-year-old to go potty and be a big boy.  This motivation is absent in many spectrum kids and takes loads of patience and time to develop and nurture through repetitive and routine practice of relevant steps.  Because of motivational challenges, every parent, teacher, and therapist that works with a child on the spectrum must be a good detective in order to effectively determine a child’s M.O., also referred to as Motivating Operations.

Now, just like anyone, there are some motivators that really make you want to work harder than others.  I mean, there’s only so much I’d do for a Skittle or cupcake, but if you taunt me with a luxurious nap or a sugary-sweet latte you’d be surprised what I will accomplish.  Additionally, these motivations may differ depending on time of day, mood, and familiarity.  That’s why it’s also very important to understand how to manipulate E.O., better known as Establishing Operations.  When you create your treasure chest of rewards, or reinforcers, you’ll want to limit access to these items and only use them as rewards when working through sessions with your child.  You’ll also have to stay on top of their interests to keep these reinforcers in continuous rotation to maintain high motivation as you work through various programs.  Children will grow tired of the same reinforcers and their motivation and working performance will suffer accordingly.  I’m always on the lookout for new additions and often these items are very inexpensive.

Some ABA therapists recommend the use of favorite foods or candy in the beginning, I advise much caution here.  We chose not to use candy or food treats as reinforcers, and believe that was the best path for us.  Besides, my son is still mystified by blowing bubbles, light-up toys, and any form of electronic device.  Trust me, save the Skittles for potty training.  You may need that kind of leverage to manipulate your E.O. to teach pottying skills.  I save candy and treats for anything that requires my big guns; like difficult medical procedures including blood tests, allergy scratch tests, potty training, etc.  You’ll be glad to have access to this type of leverage if you find yourself along a similar path one day.

So, start by watching your child to see what they’re most interested in.  Take a trip to Toys R’Us or the Dollar Store and let your child show you what they gravitate toward.  By observing your child with a variety of different toys, you’ll quickly get ideas for a great arsenal of reinforcing rewards.  Another trick that flies a little in the face of some ABA practices is to use your child’s stimming behaviors as a reinforcer.  In our home, we did not believe that our son should never be allowed to let loose and enjoy a bit of stimming from time to time.  I don’t aim to extinguish these behaviors. I only wish to teach appropriate timing and places.  It’s my son’s nature to carry plastic letters in his hand.  It’s in his nature to spin and jump and crash.  He enjoys visual stimulation and loves to smash his face up against brightly patterned and colored books, peer through the hole in his letter “B” as he runs around the house, and dangle a string in a beam of sunlight shining through the window.  He loves to start a banter back and forth scripting his favorite phrases or scenes from Disney movies.  In fact, he loves these things so much, he will often “work” harder for this type of play.

Here’s a run-down of effective reinforcers from our treasure chest:

  • Flashlight
  • Shaving cream on a tray
  • Plastic magnetic letters & numbers
  • States magnets
  • Strips of ribbon, yarn, and string
  • Clear plastic bottle filled with colored water – to look through
  • Mini Simon Says game
  • Bubbles
  • Short neighborhood walks
  • Water play on front porch in the summertime
  • Drawing with sidewalk chalk
  • Duck, Duck, Goose
  • Few minutes of game on smart phone, Kindle, or iPod
  • Cars with sound effects
  • Light-up toys – nearly any kind
  • Squishy balls
  • Giant Tupperware container of navy beans with scoops and bowls
  • Wind-up toys
  • Roughhousing:  Hang child upside down by ankles and gently swing back-and-forth, ride up on shoulders, making a burrito with a      blanket, etc.
  • Jumping on mini trampoline or exercise ball – with assistance
  • Water colors
  • Stickers
  • Spinning wheels on toy cars


Once you’ve got a great selection of reinforcers, store them together in a plastic bin.  Get on the floor and play with your child to experiment and see which items really capture their attention.  Watch their facial expression – are they all smiles, did their eyes widen?  Do they get stingy with an item and turn their back to you while they play with it?  Don’t worry if they are not necessarily playing with each item appropriately. Do they try to pry it out of your hand before you even give it to them?  Do they cry when it’s time to put the item away?  These are great signs that an item is extremely appealing to a child.

At this stage in the game, you’re just evaluating potential rewards for teaching sessions and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a bunch of things that spark their interest – and enough interest that they’re willing to do a small amount of work to earn playtime with the desired objects.

Give Praise, with HUGE Enthusiasm!!!

Praise is so important for children – and this is especially the case for children on the spectrum.  Even if they don’t show you they want such enthusiastic praise, you’ll notice their eyes widen just a little bit and perhaps they even crack a bit of a smirk or smile as a result.  In our house, we celebrate the little things every day.  If my son cleans up toys we clap and tell him how proud we are.  We cheer when he throws his juice box in the garbage can and a couple years ago, we nearly had a party for every word he uttered.  It’s amazing how such consistent praise for positive behavior can impact a child’s desire to please – even if they seem more withdrawn.  Some, even seem to blossom through this continuous action, gaining increased momentum with each cheer and hurrah.

Don’t hold back on your enthusiasm!  Make the little things count; if you look carefully, you’ll find small miracles each day to be grateful for.  When your child graces you with good eye contact – even if it’s fleeting or momentary – cheer them on for this!  Clap and dance to make it worth their while.  They catch on to this pretty fast and you may start capturing more and more of this the harder you work to deliver excitement, enthusiasm, and praise.


Generate Interest and Excitement in Teaching Sessions

Carry your enthusiasm for praise into any teaching sessions you do.  Our PLAY therapist has taught me so much in creating appealing interactions.  We join in our son’s favorite activities to engage him.  Then, we try to introduce increasing circles of communication through whatever manner he’s most comfortable.  We work at levels that he’s comfortable with and capable of succeeding. In the early days of this therapy, we enticed him to play with rough-housing (his favorite), but waited for him to ask for the activity in simple one-word requests.  As his language improved, we continued to draw this out – kinda like pulling taffy – extending a single word into 2, or 3, and up.

In our playtime, there’s lots of repeated scripting, loads of running around to regulate sensory overload, and plenty of incorporation of favorite toys and subjects.  Use your imagination, find your inner child, and let loose!  Weave this all together, and you end up with carefully crafted, educational play sessions that help to increase communication, interest, and interaction with others.

We have not used the Son-Rise Program to teach our son, but they have some excellent videos that demonstrate how to use your child’s interests to generate interaction and increased trust.  I must say there’s a lot that I like about their program and I think it’s important to combine PLAY therapy with ABA if Applied Behavioral Analysis is the chosen path.  Many of today’s newest ABA curricula incorporate successful principles for learning through play and not just discrete trials to provide a greater variety of learning opportunities.

Here’s a great overview of tips to help increase eye contact: A lot of the Son-Rise principles are similar to the PLAY techniques we’ve been taught to increase our child’s desire to interact with us.  Here’s another clip to help increase attention span for play activities – especially for children craving sensory input:  Ideas for conversation games:  Although everyone’s child is different, there’s much to learn from the excitement and zest these therapists deliver in their video tutorials.

Do you believe that food and pharmaceutical producers are as cautious as they should be?  Do you think these manufacturers truly have our best interests’ at heart?  Could we go so far as to agree, that in our country, there is an inherent disconnect between a mindset that focuses on “Substances that have not been proven safe,” versus, “Substances that have not been proven dangerous?”  Finally, why the heck do our leaders choose to approve all manner of things, “not proven dangerous” – instead of conducting ethical and sensible safety research to determine what potentially harmful effects may exist?

Check out the FDA Recall page for an enlightening overview of the weekly mistakes our corporate leaders make in regards to the production of medicines, biological products, foods, devices, and more.  You’ll find foods recalled due to undeclared soy, milk, peanuts, and Listeria monocytogenes.  If you dig deep enough, you’ll even find 568,000 cocoa-latte hot drink makers, produced by Focus Electronics in under the West Bend and Back to Basics brands in distribution that possess a small brass metal bushing in the liquid containing vessel that may leach lead.  (That’s right, LEAD in a latte machine!)  You’ll find the presence of glass particulates nationwide within several lots of Hospira, Inc. brand Epinephrine injections (Check ‘em if you’ve got ‘em people.  Nobody wants glass in their Epi-Pen!).  You’ll even find Red Blood Cells (Leukocytes Reduced), which in this reference, is a blood product recalled because it was collected from a donor who was at risk for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.  vCJD is known as a rare, fatal neurodegenerative condition and is linked to the consumption of beef contaminated with a form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalophathy (BSE).  I think this is pretty scary stuff.


I suppose the good news is that these errors were caught and recalls were issued.  However, this also reminds me of how our interests’ are not often considered before profit.  I loathe recalls for foods with undeclared allergens.  As the mother of a child with food allergies and intolerances, this is a huge ordeal.  For those lucky enough to not worry about such things; please consider the severe consequences that follow consumption of such a food for a child with an anaphylaxis.  All too often, it can be quite scary living in today’s world with food allergies.  (For an even better picture of the complexity of managing food allergies, take a look at this helpful cheatsheet developed to help police questionable ingredients for a wide range of allergens.)  For my son, accidental ingestion of milk proteins means intestinal bleeding, inflammation, and a weakened immune system.  I’m grateful that, thus far, this is as severe as it gets for us.  For one of my son’s classmates, even encountering peanuts on the breath of an individual within two hours of consumption can send him into anaphylaxis resulting in an Epi-Pen injection, trip to ER, and scary hours managing the reaction.  Undeclared allergens should not be such prevalent oopsies in our food industry, and yet, in many cases they are just that.

My next argument on this matter is in understanding why we rarely hear about so many recalls through popular media.  Did you hear about the massive peanut recall due to Salmonella contamination last year?  Did your local media primarily focus on Sunland, or did it disclose the rolling list of brands that were also at risk because they used these same peanuts to produce their products?  Mine didn’t mention anything beyond Sunland.

This contamination affected hundreds of peanut-containing products that sourced their peanuts from the Sunland-selected growers in Latin America?  Overall this story received a teeny-weeny bit of air-time, but most of my friends didn’t hear of the vastness of Sunland-sourced peanut contamination.  See the full list of at-risk products here.  I’m certain you’ll recognize a few of the popular brands:  Archer Farms (Target), Earth Balance (OMG…this was our favorite), Harry & David (chuck it out of those holiday gift baskets), Trader Joe’s Organic, Justin’s peanut butter cups (Yikes, our milk-free, gluten-free candy of choice)!

Have you heard about the undeclared milk in Island Delight’s coconut haystack candy (1/11/13) or Somersault Snack Company’s cinnamon crunch (1/8/13)?  What about the undeclared soy, pecan, and wheat in ShurFine’s ice cream (1/7/13)?  I could continue to go on, but I’m sure you get the picture here and this is just in the past week!  Do you still feel safe?  Or, like me, does this make you feel a little betrayed, more distrustful, even somewhat paranoid?!

I agree with thousands of mothers, just like me, that this information is not something that anyone really wishes to hear or learn.  I’ve spent lots of time questioning my own blissful ignorance and guilt as my understanding of food and drug regulation changed and crystallized.  The hard truth is that once you learn about so much of this, it’s impossible to unlearn it.  We must demand more from our food suppliers and this starts with our own personal choices.  It may not be possible to do everything all at once, but we can begin with baby steps to gain more intelligence and awareness of the foods we serve our families.  It’s not just about GMOs, it’s about the entire system and it how it negatively affects our food supply, the pharmaceutical industry, numerous beauty products, and even our beloved pets.  Make a choice to live more informed, today!  Watch this short video featuring fellow Mom-hero Robyn O’Brien explain how we can each begin making a difference by doing at least one thing to further the better foods movement!

When my son was diagnosed with autism, one of the first things we did was introduce visual aids in our home. This included a schedule for his daily activities and many helpful graphics throughout our home. Since he was nonverbal and didn’t gesture at the time, the use of these aids helped to stimulate communication in a manner he more easily understood. We have little bits of Velcro throughout our home and relied on this heavily in the early days of our journey.  Here are some tips and explanations to help you develop your own visuals for communication.

The buzzword in Autismville is PECS, which is an acronym for Picture Exchange Communication System.  There are tons of companies that provide solutions in the form of software, icon cards/boards, etc.  This is totally adaptable for DIY projects and only takes a pc with web access, color printer, laminator, and lots of Velcro.

We use the Scotch TL901 and love it.  The pouches are reasonably priced and the laminator runs around $30.  This model does not require the use of a pesky folder when running plastic sheets through – making it much easier to operate.

We use the Scotch TL901 and love it. The pouches are reasonably priced and the laminator runs around $30. This model does not require the use of a pesky folder when running plastic sheets through – making it much easier to operate.

We use the Scotch TL901 and love it.  The pouches are reasonably priced and the laminator runs around $30.  This model does not require the use of a pesky folder when running plastic sheets through – making it much easier to operate.)

It’s helpful to have an idea as to what types of visuals your child responds to best. For example, there are many choices when selecting PECS for your child. Some visuals are black and white only. They are simple line drawings. Others are colorful and almost cartoon like graphics. Some kiddos are fine with photos.  We had some struggles with photos in the beginning because our little guy had a knack for honing in on all the background details of a photo.  Instead of noticing the intended item in the forefront, he would see a triangle shape made by something in the background of a photo. (He always saw stuff I’d never have noticed…it has changed my perspective on so many overlooked things.)

Ok, so how can you even know which style will be best? There are a couple tricks you can try, but if you’re working with a nonverbal, non-gesturing toddler you will need good detective skills mingled with a touch of ESP. My advice would be to try the colorful icons first and gradually introduce photos as you go.  We only used photos to represent icons of people in the beginning.

You can buy CD’s online with popular icons, download from subscription based sites, or troll Google for free images to download. I started with a 2010 version of this CD purchased from, but now just get the bits and pieces online and subscribe to for the majority of our needs.

Before you introduce this system in your home take some time to plan out how to make this flow with your life. For example, I always preferred wearing clothes with pockets and these were always filled with the most important icons (such as snack, drink, diaper change, etc).  Each icon is typically printed as a 2” x 2” square.  I print an entire page, cut them out, laminate for durability, then place a small piece of loop Velcro on the backside.  You’ll end up with tons of icons, so you might want to create a binder to keep track of them in.  I just laminate an 8.5” x 11” sheet and place three strips of Velcro running across the page horizontally.  Hole punch it and voila, you’ve got a place to store all those little bits and pieces.  You can make as many pages like this as you like.  Other people get a poster board laminated and do the same thing to store all their PECS.  However, I advise some caution here in the placement because most children can’t resist pulling these colorful pictures off if they can reach it.  Trust me, it can become a confusing mess really quick.

photo (63)

To set this up, start by creating a schedule board.  This doesn’t have to be fancy, it can simply be an 8.5” x 11” paper that’s laminated with a strip of Velcro (Just the hook part of the Velcro).  Put an outline of a rectangle at the top of the page to represent the “current” activity.  Start very small – perhaps only noting 3-4 things at a time on the schedule board.

Here's a glimpse of my son's visual schedule today.

Here’s a glimpse of my son’s visual schedule today.

You’ll also need to make several smaller (index card sized) matching cards with two small bits of hook Velcro attached.  We did this and placed some in key areas of our home right away.  These places included next to our front door, on the changing table where I kept diapers, in the bathroom, in the kitchen (on the fridge), in the living room (our Play Area) on my son’s little table, etc.

This is a small sheet that we use to match pics for various activities on his schedule.

This is a small sheet that we use to match pics for various activities on his schedule.

The idea is to teach your child that they can request the things they need or want through the use of PECS.  This initiates the beginning of communication.  It may take a little time before they catch on, but it’s such a help when this clicks!  So, you’ll need at least two of each icon for the major daily events, foods, toys, etc.  You’ll start by putting a schedule together first thing in the morning and you’ll use this throughout the day.  We had to walk our son through it for a while in the beginning.  I would start our morning by saying, “Wyatt let’s check your schedule.”  Then I would gently walk him to his schedule (sometimes I’d have to carry him to it kicking and screaming-not every day is easy in Autismville) and he would look at it.  He would take the “active/current” activity from the top of this short list and pull the icon off the Velcro strip.  Then he would “match” it on the “matching board” I had always available.

You have to stay a few steps ahead with this method and it’s hard to get into this habit, but it’s very worthwhile.  You’ll have to make sure you have plenty of icons available so that you can place the next activity on the matching board before they check their schedule again, and so on.  In time, their schedule will grow and you may even implement a Choice board so that they can make more spontaneous requests.

Now, I’m sure some of you are wondering doesn’t this teach my child that they don’t have to use verbal speech for communication?  Will this prohibit their speech development further?  I had the very same concerns.  The way we handled this was to require our son to at least sign “please” & “more” at every opportunity.  If he didn’t do it on his own, then we did this for him hand-over-hand.  Once we progressed to a point where he was speaking single words, we would prompt him to say, please or more instead of simply signing.  We worked very hard for words…once he was able to say please/more….then we pushed a little harder.  He’d choose an icon representing choices for his snack (banana, cookie, toast) and I’d hold out on giving it to him until he said cookie in his best approximation.  You’ve got to really ramp up the praise too!  It was like a party in our house every time our little guy used words to communicate.  We would clap and cheer and hug him, telling him how proud we were.  Each and every time!  This exuberant praise goes very far in motivating our children.

Get started making your own schedule and icons today and give this a try.  Just think of the most basic activities in your daily life to get it started.  Here’s an example schedule from our early days:


Play area

Diaper change

Practice puzzle


Finding Nemo (movie)


Remember, before every major planned activity (which includes the normal day to day stuff like snacks, lunch, watching a DVD movie, etc.) you’ll take your child to the schedule first and allow them to pull that item off and match it on a card before beginning the activity.  Follow this practice consistently and with everything and I hope you’ll find your window of communication begins to open.

Now that my son is four, we plan his entire day each morning before he goes to school.  The schedule gives him a sense of added security and helps to ease tantrums that may come from transitions.  It can get quite long and we’re still working on rolling with unexpected changes (like visits from family/friends, sudden errands, teacher’s calling in sick, etc.), but he’s learning and we’re able to accomplish more and more of this through spoken language every day.

Many families also use some form of visual schedule when their outside the home as well.  There are a few ways to do this and none are incorrect.  Whether you simply print a quick schedule that lists your errands in order, or make a small board to take with you, it helps to alleviate their anxiety and stress surrounding not understanding what is coming or expected of them.  We use an app on the iPhone called, First Then Visual Schedule.  It is a great way to keep order while on the go & allows the same matching procedure by enabling the child to touch an icon resulting in a checkmark.

Some Advanced Uses for Visual Aids in the Home

Reinforcing Skills & Processes with Story Strips

Once you master schedule basics, you can apply this same knowledge to create Story Strips.  Story strips

help to explain the steps involved in various tasks visually.  We keep them close at hand in the areas where they will be useful.  For example, we’re still teaching our son how to wash his hands properly.  There is a story strip in the bathroom we refer to daily when carrying out this routine function.  We also use story strips for potty training.  Often, it’s easier for visual learners to grasp the procedures when described pictorially.

Here's a story strip providing details on hand washing.

Here’s a story strip providing details on hand washing.

Here's a checklist for potty training.  (That's a check mark I'm holding - sorry about the flash.)  Our son used to place a check mark on his list as he completed each step.

Here’s a checklist for potty training. (That’s a check mark I’m holding – sorry about the flash.) Our son used to place a check mark on his list as he completed each step.

Help Explaining Do’s and Don’ts

You can use visual aids to teach a wide range of things in your home.  We have “House Rules” that shows the rules we abide by in our home.  Some examples here include no biting, no yelling, no hitting, no kicking…  We also offer “Better Choices” that our son can choose to reinforce positive behaviors.  When my son breaks a house rule, I normally give him a warning at first, if he continues he’ll get a time out with a copy of the house rules to look over.  Now, he can even point at the rule he broke and tell me the better choice he will take in the future.  It’s not always such an eloquent conversation, but it’s an understandable version and I know I’m getting through to him with this.

House rules that include better choices for positive behavioral reinforcement.

House rules that include better choices for positive behavioral reinforcement.

Developing Social Stories to Teach Expectations for Various Events

I won’t go into social stories too much here, because that’s a whole series of discussion in itself.  However, your PECS can help to develop this versatile tool for your Autism arsenal as well.  I highly recommend reading about this subject from author Carol Gray.  She’s the innovative one behind the development of social stories and provides in-depth information for developing your own effective stories to help your child.  We rely on social stories heavily in our home and since my son responds very well to modern technology, I use a program called Pictello on iPhone.  My son has a cheap iPod with the same software on it.  I create stories on mine, then transfer them to his iPod.  Every time we need to work on a specific behavior or teach him what to expect for an upcoming event (doctors visit, special blood test, getting a haircut, going to a birthday party, etc.) I create a story to help relieve any anxiety hem may be feeling.  This helps us to avoid bad tantrums in public and helps to teach him more about good behavior in social settings.  I can’t begin to tell you the difference that social stories have made in our life and there’s just about nothing I haven’t written one for at this point.  Some of the more memorable titles include: Easy Pooping, Why We Shouldn’t Scream, Wyatt Gets a Haircut, Let’s Play and Share, Hooray for Halloween, What’s an Allergy?, etc.  I’ve even published two social stories on for Kindle and will continue to do this as my chaotic life allows.  I had a horrible time finding adaptable stories covering the death of a loved one and dreams/nightmares.  Since I made one for my little guy, I thought I’d put it out there to hopefully help someone else.  It’s just so very hard finding the time to accomplish these tasks.

I hope that sharing some of this information is helpful.  I’ll have more to share in the future – especially since I’m compiling a ton of old notes for a new friend living in Georgia.  I wish you all the best on your journey – even if your child does not have Autism, many of these techniques can be useful for great teaching moments.

All my best,


Alright, I’m pretty certain you’re going to start reading this post and wonder, “Really? Shel is upset about ferret legalization – despite all the other pressing issues?!  Are we talking about the same muckraking chick here?”  I’m sure that you’d like to know why ferrets even matter to me when I’m often so busy ranting about Monsanto, the pharmaceutical industry, autism, and other “bigger” issues.  However, corruption knows no boundaries.

Often, it starts out small and innocuous – say like at the California Fish and Game Commission.  Then it steadily infiltrates our leadership, slowly and deceptively until it secures a stranglehold – like at the CDC, or perhaps by installing a revolving door – such as the FDA.  Sometimes, it simply comes riding along to sneak into proposed bills while, We the People, remain unaware – just like the recent Monsanto proposal that was thwarted, but may still be attached to future agricultural appropriations bills.  It’s important to stay wary and vigilant.

We don’t always understand the gravity of such small deceptions, but before we realize it, we’re eating GMO foods that were never adequately tested.  We’re forcing families affected by vaccine reactions to deal with the VICP ‘kangaroo court’ and facing sneaky riders that want to render federal government incapable of halting GMO crop production or prosecution.  So, many people may look at this issue and think, ferret legislation is worth mocking – but think again, because corruption always starts out small.

The truth is that ferrets have been proven to be fun-loving domesticated animals.  I had two pet ferrets in my life and still cherish their memories and life lessons.  The advocacy groups supporting ferret legalization in California have done their hard work to produce an environmental assessment report that proves there is no legitimate concern for ferrets getting loose, procreating, and over-running the California wildlife.  Yet, the Fish and Game Commission continues to say nay!  In fact, this commission has repeatedly insulted the minority of individuals and groups that have continually worked to present the truths to state legislature. These people have invested their own money, time, and strife to ensure no family’s pet ferret be euthanized due to unjust legal requirements.  There are networks of rescuers that try to help, but there are still too many tragedies associated with these outlawed pets throughout the state of California.

I believe in ferret legalization and have since the day I learned of the California ban.  I have had the honor of loving two of these clever, happy, and sweet creatures in my life named Rooboo and Fuzzioli.  My favorite part of being owned by my fuzzies was playing with them on Saturday mornings and getting them all riled up to the point that they bounced around my living room sounding like two, unsyncopated coffee percolators running at full speed.  Ferrets cannot contain their happiness – so much so that their bodies jerk around in a crazy happy dance that reminds me of how important it is to not give such a damn about what other people think.  They live in the moment and possess such wit and intelligence that a dog or cat will never be the same to me.  My ferrets had little treasure troves beneath the couch and inside my entertainment center.  They coveted shinies, jinglies, and crispies and would smuggle them by scooting them along stealthily under their little bellies when they thought I wasn’t watching.  Rooboo loved shiny gum wrappers and plastic bottle caps.  Fuzzy liked to steal potatoes and empty 20 ounce plastic bottles – I’m still not sure why, but I digress.

My two fuzzies helping with an advertising shoot.  Roo is the sable and Fuzzy is the albino.

My two fuzzies helping with an advertising shoot. Roo is the sable and Fuzzy is the albino.

Please take a brief moment to sign a petition that’s asking Governor Jerry Brown to give California ferret owners a fair hearing.  (Click here to view this right now.)  Imagine how hard it would be if you had to live with the risk that your pet cat or dog could be taken away and euthanized by the order of law!  California and Hawaii are the only remaining states that outlaw ferrets today.  People like Pat Wright have worked so very hard to keep this issue burning and deserve fairness and progress.  Many of these people have invested thousands of hours and dollars to support this cause and they need your signature today.

Anyone that knows anything about ferrets understands that these pets are sweet and fun-loving and wouldn’t survive even a few days in the wild.  Ferret owners dedicate lots of time and special attention to their fuzzies and typically incur expensive veterinary bills throughout their pet’s lifetimes.  Ferrets face hazards for intestinal blockages within the home – pencil erasers, wires, even hardened bits of food on the kitchen floor – all are perilous to these gentle creatures.  Furthermore, ferrets require climate-controlled environments that don’t reach high temperatures because they are so prone to heat stroke.  I’m pretty sure that my Fuzzy couldn’t have lasted 24 hours in Fresno heat if he’d ever escaped our home…such is the case with many ferret lovers throughout California.  It’s absolutely ludicrous for the Fish and Game Commission to maintain their stance of ferrets posing endangerment to the wildlife here, when an environmental assessment has already been completed with favorable outcome…and you can bet it’s likely more thorough than the report filed by the AquaBounty GMO Salmon producer to the FDA!

Let’s tell CA Fish & Game to read the darn assessment and legalize ferrets in California!  Cast your vote for justice today.

Have another marvelous muckraking morning,


Do we really need to go to the Supreme Court to define “All Natural?”

I keep spinning this around and around in my head.  When did the word “natural” become so difficult to understand?  Look it up in the Webster’s and you’ll find a lengthy description.

nat ural adjective \’na-chǝ-rǝl, nach-rǝl\

1         based on an inherent sense of right and wrong <natural justice>

2         a: being in accordance with or determined by nature
b: having or constituting a classification based on features existing in nature

3         a(1): begotten as distinguished from adopted; also:  legitimate (2): being a relation by actual consanguinity as distinguished from adoption <natural parents>

4         having an essential relation with someone or something:  following from the nature of the one in question <his guilt is a natural deduction from the evidence>

5         implanted or being as if implanted by nature:  seemingly inborn <a natural talent for art>

6         of or relating to nature as an object of study and research

7         having a specified character by nature <a natural athlete>

8         a: occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature: not marvelous or supernatural <natural causes>
b: formulated by human reason alone rather than revelation <natural religion> <natural rights>
c: having a normal or usual character <events followed their natural course>

9         : possessing or exhibiting the higher qualities (as kindliness and affection) of human nature <a noble…brother…ever most kind and natural – Shakespeare>

10     a: growing without human care; also: not cultivated <natural prairie unbroken by the plow>
b: existing in or produced by nature : not artificial <natural turf> <natural curiosities>
c: related to or being natural food

11     a: being in a state of nature without spiritual enlightenment : unregenerate <natural man>
b: living in or as if in a state of nature untouched by the influences of civilization and society

12     a: having a physical or real existence as contrasted with one that is spiritual, intellectual, or fictitious <a corporation is a legal but not a natural person>
b: of, relating to, or operating in the physical as opposed to the spiritual world <natural laws describe phenomena of the physical universe>

13     a: having a form or appearance found in nature
b: marked by easy simplicity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or constraint
c: having a form or appearance found in nature

14     a: having neither flats nor sharps <the natural scale of C major>
b: being neither sharp nor flat
c: having the pitch modified by the natural sign

15     of an off-white or beige color

How can such a little adjective strike so much controversy?  Do we really need the Supreme Court or the FDA to provide this definition to us?  Shouldn’t the companies embroiled in the numerous lawsuits for misleading and false advertising just man up on these party fouls?!

Let’s take a closer look at the most potent parts of this word’s definition:  “8a: occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature: not marvelous or supernatural.”  Dear Naked Juice, aka PEPSICO, I disagree with your use of “natural” to include Fibersol®-2, Niacinamide, Cyanocobalamin, and Calcium pantothenate in your fruit smoothie drinks.  (Read the lawsuit details here.) The fact to keep in mind here, is that these chemicals are already federally recognized as synthetic substances!

This may be naked, but it's certainly not honest!

This may be naked, but it’s certainly not honest!

Enter definition line, 10b and c: “existing in or produced by nature: not artificial; related to or being natural food.”   Hello Kashi, also known as Kellogg’s, we’re not very happy about your choice to market your, “7 Whole Grains on a Mission™,” or your, “2011 REAL Tour,” with phude!  It’s too bad that your Real Food Decoder couldn’t help consumers to better understand the numerous chemical compounds, synthetic substances, and GMOs present within your series of products.  I looked up many of the unnatural ingredients that this lawsuit accuses you of including in your product line-up:  Calcium caseinate, Potassium chloride, Sodium molybdate, and Sodium selenite.  Conveniently they’re not included in your ingredient decoder…clearly you couldn’t give these substances a “thumbs up” on your website when they’re derived from a variety of hazardous synthetic substances, by-products of uranium mining (That’s right, as cited by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, “Molybdenum salts are by-products of uranium mining and can be found in fertilizers for leguminous crops.” ), and many of which have not been generally recognized as safe by the FDA – unless you count Sodium selenite, a hazardous substance that has only been approved for use as an animal food additive! (Read all about this class action suit here.)

This just goes to prove that we can no longer remain idle and trusting that food producers will do what’s right and honest.  Even certified organic foods are not without peril.  One of the most trusted brands of organic baby food and rice cereal, Earth’s Best Organic is currently under the gun for including Martek Bioscience’s GMOs:  Life’s DHA and Life’s ARA.  I used to feed their Happy Bellies to my son!  I’m more than a little outraged over this and believe they should immediately lose their organic status on offending products!

The list of offenders goes on and on.  If you’re really curious, then take a look at this article provided by the American Bar Association.  When will this madness stop?  When did we lose the right to know what we’re feeding our children?!

I will end my rant by returning to the first part of natural’s definition, “1 based on an inherent sense of right and wrong <natural justice>.”  Perhaps this the core issue of this matter.  False advertising is misleading and malicious to, We the People.  These companies should be required to correct the erroneous statements and suffer the consequences of their wrongs.  Perhaps, the trick for Big Food is in the addition of the extra word “all” to their phraseology.  Sadly there is no definition available for “all natural” and it may very well take the Supreme Court to explain the implicit meaning of this word to the corporate giants.

all natural

Have a marvelous muckraking Monday,


If you’re like many people, you’ve probably considered your ability to go entirely GMO free and been left feeling a bit disheartened due to the increased costs of organic and natural foods.  However, don’t despair.  Just like any uphill battle, it’s possible to overcome the challenges by simply implementing one small change at a time.  And step-by-step we make the journey, while casting our votes to remove these atrocities from our diets with each trip to the grocery store.

Small changes are all around us.  Last week, I found a larger organic produce section at my nearby SaveMart.  They now carry Rudi’s bread – which is our new GFCF and GMO-free favorite.  They have organic coconut milk yogurt and even grass fed, all natural bacon.  I found Amy’s organic cream of mushroom soup on the shelf competing with Campbells and was overjoyed!


If you want to make this change, just take it a bit at a time and eventually, you’ll find that you’ve replaced your staple pantry items with healthier choices that don’t contain the “phudes” that may harm your family.

Get started with your next trip to the store.  Make a determined choice to only purchase organic fresh produce.  Often fruits and vegetables are the least expensive option when buying organic and as these are becoming more easily available, this is easy to facilitate in most regions.  Perhaps you have a local farmer’s market – go check it out on a Saturday morning.

Is your budget a little more forgiving?  If it is, then jump on the boycott bandwagon and avoid the food producers that contributed funding to the Prop 37 opposition campaign.   Here’s a list of the offenders to watch for:

  • Alexia (ConAgra)
  • Bear Naked (Kellogg’s)
  • Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever)
  • Boca Burgers (Kraft)
  • Cascadian Farm (General Mills)
  • Dagoba (Hershey’s)
  • Gardenburger (Kellogg’s)
  • Honest Tea (Coca-Cola)
  • Horizon Organic (Dean Foods)
  • Hunt’s Organic and Natural Brands (ConAgra)
  • Kashi (Kellogg’s)
  • Larabar (General Mills)
  • Lightlife (ConAgra)
  • Morningstar Farms (Kellogg’s)
  • Muir Glen (General Mills)
  • Naked Juice (Pepsi)
  • Odwalla (Coca-Cola)
  • O Organics (Safeway)
  • Orville Redenbacher’s Organic (ConAgra)
  • R.W. Knudsen (Smucker’s)
  • Silk (Dean Foods)
  • Tostito’s Organic (Pepsi/Frito-Lay)
  • Tropicana Organic (Pepsi)
  • White Wave (Dean Foods)

For a more complete list of the companies that were instrumental in defeating Proposition 37 in California, visit

Start cooking more meals from scratch.  If you require convenience, due to a busy life, then why not cook and freeze?  That’s what I prefer to do and it’s very helpful for those crazy days when you’re more likely to depend on pizza delivery or fast food.  Visit Once a Month Mom for amazing monthly menus that are complete with a shopping list and instructions.  She has a selection of menus to choose from that include whole foods, paleo, and even gluten free/dairy free.

I try to learn a few new tricks each month to continually extend my GMO free arsenal – and this is something that everyone can do.  It’s not perfect and it’s not absolute, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.  One step at a time we can overcome biotech’s bullying together.