Martin retains significant sensory processing issues. Distant background noises distract him; several times a day, he asks, “Mommy, do you hear a helicopter?” or “Mommy, do you hear that airplane?”, and I do hear the aircraft, but only after I stop my other activities and listen carefully. His eyes, on the other hand, never seem to chase sounds; he hears but doesn’t look. Nor do his eyes guide his hands, at least not well. If I lob a ball to him, the ball bounces off his chest before he brings his arms together to catch, even when his eyes appear to be focused on me or to track the ball. And he’s clumsy. Very clumsy, which I think results from the double-whammy of mitochondrial disorder and sensory processing challenges.
I believe Martin would benefit from audio and/or vision therapy. His HANDLE therapist has been recommending for more than a year that I pursue these therapies, and although I trust her intuition, the time has never seemed quite right until this summer. This summer, after Martin’s language made some real progress, I thought: Well, language is finally getting close, and yet he still has the attention span of a fruit fly. If Martin is going to make significant progress in socializing, or moving toward mainstream school, we’ve got to find a way to make him attend. Getting his senses to cooperate could be a key component. I mean, how can he concentrate if any random stimulus distracts him, or if messages get lost between his eyes and his hands?
I started searching for the right therapist. I did not find him/her. The problem, from my point of view, was that the service providers offered either vision therapy (addressing issues like tracking or overreliance on peripheral vision) or audio therapy (addressing issues like sound distortion and sensitivity). Martin, on the other hand, seems to need help connecting his vision, hearing, and fine motor skills. Integrating.
Six weeks ago I paid a visit to a Central New Jersey mom-friend, whom I’ll call Lakshmi. Lakshmi’s son, Partha, is six years old like Martin, and I’ve known him since he was three, not long after he suffered a regression and lost all language following a vaccination. Partha, I would say, is 90% recovered. Strangers who meet him don’t realize he used to have autism, and he is completing first grade at a mainstream private school with no accommodation other than extra help in handwriting and the speed of his work. Lakshmi has worked miracles repairing the damage Partha suffered.
I was lamenting my fruitless attempts to find a therapy that I believed would address Martin’s integration as much as his vision or hearing. Lakshmi knew just the thing, she said, and described excitedly the improvements in Partha’s attention once they started working with Dr. Deborah Zelinsky, an optometrist who specializes in neural aspects of visual processing. As Lakshmi described the exercises Dr. Zelinsky had done with Partha, and what she had prescribed, I realized I might finally have found the “vision+” therapy I was hunting.
The next day or two I read more about Dr. Zelinsky’s work, including her development of the “Z-Bell test” to measure mismatches between visual and auditory processing, i.e., to figure out why a child might be seeing well and hearing well, but not seeing and hearing well together. Then I phoned and made an initial appointment for Martin. We had to wait a while. Now the appointment is getting close. In less than two weeks, Martin and I will travel to Chicago to meet with Dr. Zelinsky.
I am guardedly optimistic. At some point, once the diet is what it should be and an appropriate educational setting is found and the caregiver takes a few deep breaths, the process of autism recovery becomes a slow assembly line of trying this and trying that to see what sticks.
Soon I’ll find out whether Dr. Zelinsky’s visual processing therapy sticks.