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Paupers in castles - Paula Manoli-Gray

We recently celebrated my daughter's birthday with a children's party at our home, and just as we did in March for my son, we invited school friends and their parents, many of whom we had not met before.

And whilst I love holding parties in my home, in the run-up to the 'event' I started to panic about how my abode would appear to those who have not seen it before. And to be honest, it looks pretty darn shocking…

It's not because we are filthy and live like savages (oh who am I kidding, I have two children, so there is never a 'tidy' moment in it), but because as is typical for a house built in Cyprus, it needs constant maintenance or looks completely rundown.

We bought our house 11 years ago from a developer who was building a row of six houses, and are still waiting for our deeds (another, different issue…) I know there are many, many horror stories that range from shoddy workmanship to downright criminal building negligence, but we were lucky to have my Cypriot father visiting every day and moaning at the builders to get things right. Had he not been on their case, I can't imagine how many more issues we would have on top of the ones we have now - the ones that make us look like we live in a house about to be bulldozed with the amount of cracks and pieces falling off!

I am acutely aware that Cypriots are very, very house proud and that many of them are particular with maintaining their homes and keeping them spic and span, hence why I start having palpitations when they turn up at mine for a kid's party and see a house that looks like a) it has been vomited on by a juvenile art fairy (that would be the children's artwork covering the cracks in the wall and the garish colours to make it a cheerful home for them), and b) it is just about ready to fall down on their heads (it isn't, but it sure looks rather sorry for itself). On top of that, our cesspit is far too shallow (another building blunder), and being that we live on a slope, fills up with the waste of all six houses, thus overflowing constantly and costing us a fortune to empty frequently. This is on top of the badly installed water pipes that have caused countless problems, the shower that was not sealed that led to major ceiling damage in the living room, and the cemented electricity pipes. Just a selection of the 'quality' work performed on our significant investment.

And yet, I think we have got off lightly compared to some of the problems I hear from other people. I have one friend who bought a property in Tersefanou who has literally abandoned it as it is a train wreck that won't get rectified by the developer, and is just too much stress and hassle to seek justice for. A very sad situation.
So why is our building industry in such a shambles? Does the nature of our climate condemn our houses to the kind of decay we witness - just as the dust condemns us to a ridiculous level of housework, or is our construction industry too lax? I simply can't understand how we have not yet worked out a method to build houses and pavements that will not start to crack and crumble almost instantly… how do they do it everywhere else in the world?

And so with so much maintenance being needed in our particular home, we just end up looking like paupers living in a castle!

First appeared in The Cyprus Weekly, 22/05/15

Whose to blame?

"So what do you think causes autism?"  is a question I am often asked by parents and therapists alike.  Everyone is looking for something to blame...but why?  I think that people (especially parents) believe that if they can figure out what causes it, then they can somehow avoid their child "catching" it.  But before I tell you what I believe, lets run through some theories...

"You probably already know what causes autism, it is the MMR vaccination."  I have heard this from a lot of parents, and it is a hot medical topic, even today.  Did you know that the link between MMR and autism was suggested by parents.  And that well-documented, wide-ranging studies have discounted any association time and time again, including most recently a study by the Llewyn group published in The Journal of the American Medical Association which surveyed nearly 100,000 children.  Other theories on the anti-vaccination bandwagon include blaming the mercury (thiomersal) that was formerly used in vaccinations and combination vaccines.
So why blame vaccines?
Well I suppose that if vaccines are to blame, then it is not the parents fault.  No, it is the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors.  However, to me this is all false logic as
firstly autism existed before vaccines were invented, secondly, many children who are not vaccinated still turn out to be autistic, and thirdly, modern evidence indicates that it is more likely genetic.  As the mother of an ASD child the suggestion that it's just brain damage caused by vaccinations is actually insulting, as it does not represent who my son is at all.  
In fact a lot of ASD children are brain advanced!  I mean check out Daniel Tammet, Temple Gradin (and of course Jacob Barnett).

Before the vaccines, they tried to blame the mothers, claiming that it was due to some harmful substances ingested during pregnancy.  Others suggested that certain environmental factors are to blame: including being born before 35 weeks of pregnancy (premature birth);  environmental toxins like mercury which are more prevalent now than in the past;  allergies to gluten or dairy products, or exposure to alcohol or certain medications during pregnancy.  However there is no conclusive evidence to prove any of these so called "causes".

Then there is the genetic approach that suggests some people have a genetic predisposition to autism, meaning that certain genes a child inherits from its parents could make them more susceptible to developing ASD.  Although researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to this increased vulnerability, (for example, the most common form of Down syndrome is Trisomy 21, a condition where individuals have 47 chromosomes in each cell instead of 46, so doctors can screen for it), there has not been any specific gene linked to autism.  This is because even though thousands of ASD children have been genetically screened, it is never the same gene affected (in fact I read somewhere that over 15 different genes have been affected in autistic children, so no pattern there!). 
My son's only genetic test was for Klinefelter syndrome which is known as 47 XXY because he was very tall with a large head (but test came back negative).  Although other genetic testing could have been done (the most common being fragile X syndrome) we decided not to pursue it.  Firstly because it took 4 nurses to hold my son down to get blood out of him (a traumatic experience for both my son and husband- thank god I wasn't there!).  Secondly, what would I gain from it?  Knowing where it came from would change nothing for me or my son.  
So what is my theory about the causes of autism?  That nothing that can be controlled is to blame. 
I believe that it develops from the very beginning (in the zygote) but lies dormant in your child.  That it will awaken (this is inevitable) but that the "trigger" is different for each child.  My son's trigger occurred at around 4 years of age - 2 years and 9 months after his MMR.  I had a normal, healthy pregnancy, in which I drank no alcohol, and took no medication (I drank the odd glass of red wine through my second pregnancy and my second son is not ASD).  He was born at 41 weeks, and is not allergic to gluten or dairy. 
Whatever his genetic cause is, I blame no one.  Not the doctors or pharmaceutical companies, not even myself.  I know that this is hard for some people to accept, but it is just one of those things- it happens in life and we just have to deal with it. 

In the end I decided to put all my efforts into helping my son improve, not into finding out what is to blame.  And so far it has worked out wonderfully!   

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