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To listen, or not to listen? That's a tough question

Whew, he made it! I'm glad when I'm wrong.

I have what I call “my little voice,” just as Thomas Magnum, Tom Selleck’s character on “Magnum P.I.,” did.

I wish it was a booming tenor, like Pavarotti, or maybe had Ken Jeong’s flamboyant tone. But no, it sounds just like me, with a little bit of an echo. It serves as a conscience (“Kirk, it’s not a good idea to eat an entire jar of salsa.”). It serves as a guardian angel (“The highway is icy. Better take it a little slower.”). Sometimes it sounds just like the devil who is tempting Larry Kroger, Tom Hulce’s character in “Animal House,” to do something he really shouldn’t (“Seventy dollars for a 1970s Scooby-Doo lunchbox isn’t that bad. You’ve got the money – buy it!”). I ultimately decided the price was too steep and didn’t listen to that suggestion.

That voice has become much more important to me as I’ve gotten older. I’ve heeded its advice far more often than I haven’t the farther north of 40 years old I’ve gone. And my ears really perk up when it concerns something related to Nolan.

The kid’s belly was bugging him a little bit Monday, meaning he had multiple bowel movements – some of which weren’t completely solid. Thankfully he was off from school, but my Spidey sense was tingling about sending him back Tuesday. Loose stool at school earns kids a ticket home for the rest of the day, plus all of the next day, per the district’s rules. Overall, Nolan seemed to be feeling just fine most of the day, but my inner voice was debating itself:

“Play it safe and give him an extra day to rest.”

“No, he’ll probably be fine. He’s eating normally. He’s getting on the bus in the morning.”

“Mmmmm … you sure about that? I think it might be a good idea to keep him home.”

“Getting back into the routine will be good for him.” (OK, that last comment was Cindy’s, and it was the deciding factor. Sometimes even my inner voice defers to a higher authority).

By all accounts, Tuesday ended up being a pretty good day for Nolan at school. He did struggle at his after-school program, but other than hitting his jaw with his hand a few times, his teacher said he had done very well. It was noted on his daily sheet his two bowel movements had had a greenish tinge, but apparently it wasn’t enough to send him home.

It turns out my fears of a potentially nightmarish day were unfounded, and the warning my inner emergency system had given me was a false alarm – this time, anyway. I’m very cognizant of the fact it might not be next time.

Sometimes we can just look at Nolan and tell he’s in no condition to go to school, but the fact he’s nonverbal and can’t tell us how sick he really is makes it much more difficult for us. There have been days where he’s been a little sluggish and I’ve thought it was best to keep him home, only to see him laughing and full of energy 10 minutes after I’ve called him in sick. There have been days where I’ve had my doubts about sending him to school even though he had the sniffles and a bit of a cough, but he otherwise was seemingly fine. That’s when I’ve gotten the “Please pick up Nolan” call from the aide in the health office after an hour.

It's a never-ending guessing game that’s further complicated when Nolan’s very irregular bowel movements are added to the equation. (Yes, we’re addressing poop yet again).

Gastrointestinal issues are very much a part of the lives of a lot of kids on the Autism spectrum – they’re eight times more likely to deal with GI disorders than neurotypical children, according to one study I found. If Nolan isn’t dealing with constipation, he’s dealing with diarrhea. Sometimes it’s due to constipation. Sometimes it’s due to something he’s eaten. Sometimes it’s due to a stomach bug, but that’s often not the case.

Still, the folks at Nolan’s school watch him very closely even though last year I sent the district nurse links to four studies related to Autism and GI disorders. I lost count of how many times Nolan was sent home last year due to diarrhea, or something close to it. Last summer Nolan’s doctor, who is really fantastic, wrote a note explaining that yes, Nolan does indeed have Autism-related GI challenges. It seems to have helped, as he’s only been sent home three times so far this year because of belly issues, and he legitimately was not feeling well each time.

I’m always asking myself how concerned I should be when something is a little off with Nolan. The questions start coming rapid fire (“What has he consumed today?” “Did he eat too much of something he liked?” “What will the teachers and paraprofessionals think if he has loose stool?” “Should we use a sick day because we’re probably going to get a call from school anyway even though chances are he's probably all right?”). The doubts start nagging me. I feel like I should listen, or I’ll be sorry if I don’t.

I like it when my instincts are wrong about a seemingly bad situation, as was the case Monday. Nolan has started his last semester of middle school. The first half of the school year went fairly well, and he seems to have some momentum. But I’m also mindful of the fact he still hasn’t had the big illness he’s gotten every year that’s forced him to miss up to a week of school.

I really hope he can avoid it for once this year, but I’ll be listening to that little voice if I feel like something isn’t quite right. I always have to.

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