"Have you had their stools analysed?" asked another mother during one of the many note-comparing conversations in which the parents of autistic children indulge with a kind of gloomy pride.
No, I hadn't, and I didn't fancy it much. I'd had their urine analysed, removed gluten and casein from Sam's diet, treated them for thrush, injected Sam with secretin, put them through auditory integration training, but so far I'd avoided this one. I knew what would happen.
First, I'd reject stool sampling as not practicable, then I'd push the idea to the back of my mind, then I'd allow myself to listen to the arguments, and finally I would - as it were - bite the bullet.
With a heavy heart I took the number of the dietician who reads entrails - or rather, the contents of entrails - and, yes, eventually I rang her. She was reassuring: intelligent, concerned. Stools analysis, she explained, can reveal the presence of harmful parasites. It's not an allergy test, but it shows up deficiencies or intolerances. "Just collect three samples and pop them into containers."
That shouldn't be difficult, I thought, since there hasn't been an inch of floor space uncrapped on in my house in the past 11 years. I sent off a hefty cheque, and received a box full of pots and scoops. The samples, said the accompanying literature, should be collected on three consecutive
days. George only goes about twice a week. I would have to ignore this instruction.
"The sample must be uncontaminated by urine." How could this be achieved? Autistic children won't oblige with the little vessels provided.In the matter of defecation, George and Sam have always been free spirits. The days of Turner-Prize-winning displays on walls and windows are (touch wood) over, but performing to order is not within their repertoire. Months of teaching Sam not to poo in the bath had to be undone. Bathwater, I reckoned, must be less contaminating than urine, so Sam's bath was cleared of boats, penguins, clockwork frogs and the like, and I hovered in my plastic gloves, scoop poised. I had to act fast to prevent the precious morsels from disintegrating.
George, a child of nature, prefers to do it in the garden. I had discouraged this, but now I was shooing him out in all weathers. At last,a substantial prize lay steaming on the grass. Out I hurried. George was nowhere in sight. As I shovelled, it crossed my mind that this might not
be his own production, but that of a fox or badger. I looked forward to the laboratory report: "We recommend that you no longer feed your son on slugs, earthworms and old crisp packets."
Three plastic tubes per day, each to be labelled with the date and hour of collection. You mix the stuff with special liquid until it looks like pea soup, then you stopper it and mail it to the appealingly named Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory. I was called by a lab worker. "Could
you give me the date of collection?" "I filled out the labels," I tersely replied. "Unfortunately, there has been leakage in transit. The labelling is obscured." My heart went out to the poor woman. When she was at primary school and the other girls wanted to be air hostesses or ballerinas, did
she say, "When I grow up I'd like to open leaky parcels of other people's shit?"
Great Smokies sent long and fascinating reports. Both boys were rampant with bad bacteria - pseudomonas, citrobacter freundii, giardia lamblia cysts. Their gut flora resembled my flowerbeds after next door's sheep have broken in. The dietician recommended supplements and antidotes;
six different potions, totalling 19 daily doses. All that remained was for me to insert these potions into the boys.
I mixed them into their drinks. They spat, and threw their beakers away. I stirred them into icing sugar. They abandoned it after a couple of licks. "Mix them with ketchup," suggested the dietician. "That disguises most tastes."
Tastes, maybe, but not colours. The ketchup turned pale orange. The boys smelt a rat - or something worse. These supplements are disgusting. After a few more tries - spoonfuls of honey, freezing it into ice lollies, baking it into gingerbread like marijuana - I gave up. I have a vivid apprehension of the menagerie of undesirables rampaging through my sons' bowels, and a box
of expensive supplements sitting in silent reproach.
Oh, and my bank balance developed a leaky gut. Any cures for that?
Newspapers Limited 2001