Song helps autistic boy, mom cope with medical mystery

Story highlights

  • Bryn Thomas, a 17-year-old with nonverbal autism, had an unusual drug reaction for two years
  • Music helps Bryn stay calm, and he and his mother recorded a song to help inspire people in similar situations

(CNN)One day in 2013, young Bryn Thomas suddenly became very sick. He was pale, anxious, shaking and pacing. For almost two years, his doctors and parents couldn't figure out what was happening to him. And even worse, Bryn was unable to tell them.

Bryn, now 17, has nonverbal autism and cerebral palsy. He was born at 34 weeks of pregnancy, and by the time he was 18 months old, his mother, Millie Thomas, knew that something was wrong.
Millie, a dermatologist, said her son struggled a lot with communication. She and husband Terrig, a scientist at the Food and Drug Administration, tried using different methods, such as sign language, and eventually they were able to incorporate iPads and tap-to-speak technology.
    Bryn started taking Prozac in 2011 to help him communicate more effectively and decrease his anxiety. When he first started taking the drug, Millie said, it changed their life. As Bryn got older, his doctors increased the dose gradually, going from 10 milligrams a day to alternating 20 milligrams and 40 milligrams. But on October 5, 2013, he got sick, and he struggled to communicate his distress.

    A sudden illness, 'like a switch flipped'

    "We didn't know what it was with this sudden offset strange behavior of Bryn pacing, and the best way we could describe it was, he was like a tiger in a cage," said Millie, whose family lives in Arlington, Virginia. "It was all of a sudden, like a switch flipped."
    CDC reports no change in autism prevalence