Nearly a decade ago, Kristen Creel and her husband of nine years, Joshua, moved from their native Mississippi to Dallas-Fort Worth so Joshua could attend chiropractic school at Parker University. Creel worked in advertising sales for a small firm in Plano and spent time as a marketing director for Chick-fil-A before trading in her corporate career for a different (albeit no less demanding) gig: stay-at-home mom. Creel says it’s hard to remember what life was like before she became a mom. Even as a little girl, the 31-year-old dreamed of growing up to have a house full of kids, biological and adopted. Now residing in McKinney, where Joshua practices, the Creel brood includes 6-year-old Bennett and 3-year-olds Evie and Maxwell. In a turn of events no one could have anticipated, Creel was eight months pregnant with Maxwell when the adoption agency she and Joshua had been working with called to say they’d been matched. Evie came home shortly thereafter, and Maxwell, who has autism, was born one month later. These days, Creel spends her time caring for the kids and navigating the ins and outs of parenting a child with autism. Since seeing vast improvements in Maxwell through biomedical treatment, she’s made it her mission to help him recover from autism and to help others by documenting her story on recoveringmaxwell.com.
SPECIAL NEEDS: What was it like to adopt a newborn and give birth a month later?
KRISTEN CREEL: It’s not how we planned it. We were six months into the adoption process when we found out we were pregnant with Maxwell, which was a complete surprise. So we called the agency, and the director told us we could remain active. Then, we got a call that a birth mom had chosen us. She knew we were pregnant and wanted her child to go to a family that had siblings.
SN: What put adoption on your heart?
KC: It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. A family in my hometown adopted from China and I was captivated by their story.
SN: When did you begin to have concerns about Maxwell?
KC: Once he hit 15 months, we started to notice a regression. He went from a happy baby to crying constantly, almost overnight. It kept getting worse and our pediatrician urged us to see a doctor for autism testing. She told us that it was level three, low-functioning autism.
SN: What went through your mind as you heard that?
KC: We were completely devastated. We did some research online and read that parents of kids with similar diagnoses were told to start looking at institutions. We left that appointment feeling hopeless.
SN: When did you discover MAPS?
KC: I had one friend with a child with autism, so I gave her a call. She said, “I’m going to give you some hope. There’s something called biomedical treatment with specially trained doctors. They’re called MAPS doctors, which stands for Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs, and they’re recovering kids from autism.” I immediately bought every single book I could find on the topic. I became obsessed with it. We got the diagnosis in January of 2017 and had our first appointment with a MAPS doctor in May 2017. We started a treatment plan, and within a couple of days, Maxwell began to respond really well.
SN: What does his treatment plan entail?
KC: The first step was removing dairy and gluten. When we did that, his crying stopped. Then, we did blood testing to figure out Maxwell’s nutritional and mineral levels. From there, the doctor put together a customized plan. A large percentage of children with autism have comorbid medical conditions, ranging from mitochondrial dysfunction to yeast or bacterial overgrowth and seizures. We just found out Maxwell has Lyme disease. He also has a potentially life-threatening peanut allergy and gut issues. Basically, by treating these comorbid medical conditions, some children with autism can fully recover.
SN: And how is he doing today?
KC: It’s been up and down, but right now he’s doing really well. He has over 300 words. He’s happy. By kindergarten, we expect for there to be enough healing that he can go to a mainstream classroom.
SN: How have you coped with all of this?
KC: It’s been really difficult. Basically, it’s a full-time job. I feel like I’m in the car all day taking him to and from therapy. He does 30 hours a week of ABA, speech and occupational therapy. Thankfully, Josh is available to help at night, and I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I’m able to devote all of my time and attention toward getting him better.
SN: What led you to launch the blog, Recovering Maxwell?
KC: Josh actually came to me and said, “We need to put this out there so other families know this is an option.” Hearing that we helped one family keeps us pushing through and sharing our story. When any parent hears this diagnosis, it’s devastating. I think parents are ecstatic to learn there’s another option.
SN: How have you and Josh navigated this as a couple?
KC: We try to take a vacation together without the kids once a year. We do date nights. I think it also helps that we’re both 110% on board with this treatment, because it’s financially draining. We’re also really grounded in our faith.
SN: How do you balance Maxwell’s care with Bennett and Evie’s needs?
KC: We do one-on-one date nights on the weekends. Like last weekend Josh took our oldest to the movies and to dinner.
SN: And how about you? Are you always an afterthought?
KC: I try to take time out of the house without the kids to go to the mall or get a pedicure. I do girls’ dinners every now and then.
SN: How has being Maxwell’s mom changed you as a person?
KC: It’s made me so much stronger as a person. It’s changed our whole family. It’s made us more compassionate to families that have kids with special needs.
SN: What advice do you give to families just starting their journey with autism?
KC: Dig into research. If you have a doctor that’s telling you there’s nothing you can do, move on to a different doctor. Keep that hope and keep fighting for your kid.
SN: Do you think about where you’ll be as a family five or 10 years down the road?
KC: I do. I’m so futuristic. I just see us as a happy family, with Maxwell recovered, doing well in school and having friends. That helps me stay focused in this journey. Hopefully, in five years we’re past autism. But I want to remain a family that continues to pour into others.