Aquí Estamos. Hasta Septiembre

You might want to take a look back at a post from September 2016 titled, “Martin in Paradise.” That post describes how well Martin did during a ten-day stay in Costa Rica, with a clean environment, limited wireless and electromagnetic fields, and daily access to salt-water swimming. The post ends this way: “I find myself questioning whether full and true recovery might require some bolder step, like removal from urban or suburban life. Would I have that in me? Would Adrian?”

Just two days later I posted “Martin Out of Paradise,” which enumerates ways in which Martin crashed when we returned home from Costa Rica. That post ends this way: “Fact. I don’t know what to do with this information.”

Fast-forward ten months, to today. In my last post, I mentioned Nicaragua. In March, I described a conversation Martin and I had about being in Nicaragua.

This is getting obvious, so I will go ahead and say it: I’ve taken Martin to live in the Republic of Nicaragua.

Well, not permanently. We have flights booked back to the States for August 31, in time for Martin to start third grade. We are using this summer to discover whether we can reclaim that paradisiacal magic and kickstart his healthiest school year yet.

It would be cool to tell you that I have the courage to make a permanent change, to roam the world in search of the ideal dwelling place for Martin and then move, for good. Alas, I lack that abandonment. Our biomed journey is financed by Adrian’s job in New York City, and though Adrian is South American by origin, I am ’merican, through and through. I don’t see our family relocating.

At least, not yet.

Pausing for a shout-out to my friend Lakshmi. She and her husband recently sold their home in New Jersey, upended their lives, and returned to India with their two U.S.-born children, in search of a better environment for their son, Partha. I rarely feel alone when I witness what chances other parents will take to achieve full recovery.

But summer! Summer I can do. We’ve rented a house in the hills above the Pacific in Nicaragua’s south, not far from the Costa Rican border. Adrian accompanied us for the first week, to help us get settled. He left yesterday will return for the second half of August. Martin’s babysitter Samara is with us, too, for the whole summer. She’s switching roles to a sort of au pair so that I can work (and blog more!) and seems to be viewing the whole excursion as an adventure. Samara, like Adrian, is South American by origin, and she has never visited Central America.

You might be asking, Why Nicaragua? That’s a good question, given that I myself have never been to Nicaragua before now.

My interest in Nicaragua began last summer. Because we were having family members converging from Boston, California, Texas, and South America, the house we rented in Costa Rica was gigantic, and in a gated/resort community. The rental even came with a “house mother” assigned to keep the place clean and prepare rice and beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole for the vacationers. Contrary to the image “house mother” might conjure, our helper was a lovely young woman named Jasmina. In conversations in my broken Spanish—bless Jasmina for her patience—I learned that Jasmina was Nicaraguan and had left her small children in Nicaragua, with her mother, so that she could work in Costa Rica. When I asked why, Jasmina told me that she could earn much more money working in Costa Rica, even as a domestic.

“Tell me about Nicaragua,” I said.

It’s hard to earn money in Nicaragua, Jasmina told me. But for that, most products are less expensive. The best course is to earn in Costa Rica and spend in Nicaragua.

What is the climate like, and the terrain? Just like Costa Rica, she said. Jungle up to the beaches, which are rocky and sandy. A dry season and a wet season. Consistent temperatures.

Does Nicaragua receive many tourists, like Costa Rica? No. The tourism industry is just beginning.

Are there nice places to stay, and things to do like zip-lining and surfing? Oh, yes! Nicaragua has all those things!

So why are all the tourists in Costa Rica? What’s the big difference between Costa Rica and Nicaragua?

Jasmina didn’t know English, but she knew this word: She replied, “Marketing.”

This conversation stuck with me, when I decided to investigate moving Martin for a summer. Could it really be true that Nicaragua was a discount Costa Rica, perhaps with an even cleaner environment? I gave myself topics to investigate:

* Stability. When I told my mother that we planned to spend the summer in Nicaragua, exactly 14 seconds passed before Sandinistas came up. Memories of the Iran-Contra affair, and the Nicaraguan Revolution, still loom large in U.S. imaginations, my generation and older. In fact, the current elected government of Nicaragua is FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front), and I was able to satisfy myself that that nation is politically stable.

* Environment. I had heard that Nicaragua refused to sign the Paris Agreement, or Paris climate accord. (Before the United States’ withdrawal earlier this year, the only other non-signatory nations were Nicaragua and Syria.) Was Nicaragua seeking carte blanche rights to burn fossil fuels and contribute to global climate change? Hardly. I discovered that Nicaragua refused to sign the Paris Agreement in protest, arguing that the climate accord did not go far enough. Nicaragua already sources well more than 50% of its power from sustainable and renewable sources.

* Safety. The U.S. Department of State makes Nicaragua sound like a scary place, albeit mainly in Managua and the Caribbean coastal towns (which are more remote than the Pacific coast). Private websites, however, take a more measured approach and focus on Nicaragua’s recent strides, noting that high poverty levels (not going to deny them) don’t necessarily mean perilous conditions. In any event, I’ve traveled in developing areas before now, and I resided for a while in India before the economic boom, so I know basic precautions to exercise. I never walk with valuables unnecessarily; only what I need for an outing comes along. No fancy jewelry. No partying on the beach after sundown (as if). The house is always secured. And of course, Martin is never unattended.

* Food supply. Organic farming is on the rise in Nicaragua but far from dominant, or even widely available. Most of our food we can find grown locally and small-scale, reducing pesticide risk. Genetically modified food crops are extremely limited in Nicaragua.

* Illness and disease. Nicaragua is jungle, and tropical diseases are present. Then again, I walk around New York terrified of tick-borne illnesses—so, hey, six versus half a dozen. We came to Nicaragua armed with effective non-DEET mosquito deterrents, and we add clothing coverage when trekking, ziplining, or engaging in other activities in dense flora.

* Activities for Martin. I couldn’t expect Martin to do nothing all summer—boredom breeds iPad whining and pattern behaviors. Nor is Martin the type of kid to make new friends on the beach. Fortunately I was able to find a day camp that caters to both Nicaraguans and international kids. The camp has six week-long sessions, and I hope Martin will be able to attend each. Samara also found a local dojang where Martin can continue working on his taekwondo.

We’ve been a week, and Nicaragua hasn’t disappointed. I am still shopping “like a gringo,” i.e., buying too much at the (crappy!) local Palí, as I ask around to discover the best local markets and fish mongers. Martin has been in the ocean every day, whether just wading or floating for hours. He’s sleeping well and has that handsome sun-and-salt appearance. He had his first taekwondo class and managed to work the entire two hours, even though his class at home is only 45 minutes. Day camp is scheduled to begin next week. I’ve met with the director to explain some of Martin’s challenges. Fingers crossed!

As for Nicaragua itself, I could write chapters on what I’ve seen already, but I won’t. This is an autism recovery blog, not a travel-and-adventure blog, however much I might wish otherwise. Besides, everyone knows that my next career will be as a sports blogger for women.

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Look in the distance. See those white sticks? Those are wind turbines, dozens of wind turbines powering Nicaragua.

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Martin on one of our little jungle adventures.

Martin in Paradise

For the last ten days we’ve been vacationing in Costa Rica. The “we” comprised me, Adrian, Martin, my mother and stepfather, my two older brothers, Adrian’s mother, and Adrian’s brother. Nine people. Nine people together in a house on the beach, off the beaten path.

I had trouble finding organic fruits and vegetables, and I suspect the papaya we ate may have been genetically modified. I used olive oil that was partially refined. The cookware was aluminum. Martin had seafood daily, mercury be damned. He ate way too much rice, probably too much fruit, and even homemade fruit juice. I found some locally made treats with oats, nuts, and raw agave, but I couldn’t get any intel on whether the oats were gluten-free. I gave Martin the treats anyway.

We ran out of several supplements, enzymes, and antimicrobials (poor planning on my part), including mucuna, serrapeptase, MitoSpectra, Nose & Lungs, cumanda, and Boluoke.

We had no set schedule, so Martin never knew what we might throw at him in a day. We didn’t do his vision exercises. His glasses sat abandoned, unworn.

We pushed his limits, sometimes over his protests. We took him zip-lining and horseback riding, made him a passenger on ATV’s and jet skis, insisted on swim lessons.

He had two allergic reactions, one to a horse that left his face bumpy and itchy, and one to an unidentified food irritant (restaurant) that caused a rash to spread from the corners of his mouth down his neck.

In the face of these shortcomings and stress, Martin—soared. Martin’s had trouble sleeping these last couple months. In Costa Rica, he volunteered bedtime by 7:30 pm and slept 10 or 11 hours unbroken. His iPad requests, which at home are a near-constant whine, decreased markedly. On our few prior visits to beaches (I’m not a fan), Martin has refused to let the salt water rise above his knees. After a week in Costa Rica, he bobbed neck-deep as the ocean waves tossed him to and fro. Daily, he refused to leave the beach.

He conversed with his uncles and answered strangers’ questions. He used new expressions.

Overcoming recent food-choice rigidity, he rediscovered tropical fruits and ate mango, pineapple, and papaya with abandon.

Because we were without North American television, Martin could not watch his fixation of late, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. He managed without complaint. Instead, he drew pictures.

One afternoon, Martin was at a local bar/café with Adrian, my brother Eddie, and my brother-in-law, Pancho. The establishment was about 300 yards from our house, past a swim pool, an exercise plot, and a several haciendas. I was in the house showering when Martin entered the bathroom and said casually, “Hi, Mommy. I came home alone.” I told him to scram—after all, I was showering—and his statement didn’t quite register until I was toweled and dressed and found a text message from Adrian: “Martin is coming home. Make sure the door is unlocked?” Adrian had indeed authorized Martin to walk home unaccompanied, and Martin had achieved the feat, without getting lost or wandering off.

Just sayin’, I would not have let Martin walk home alone. But Adrian did, and out of the decision came some measure of independence.

I’m not saying that 10 days in Costa Rica brought a miraculously fully recovered Martin. Not by a long shot. He was too distracted to get the full benefit of those swim lessons. The pictures he drew were all of marching bands or orchestras. (He used to draw only pictures of The Beatles. Now he draws only marching bands and orchestras.) He engaged in a lot of oral stimming: “mouth noises,” I call the sucking-and-clucking sound he makes. He showed virtually no interest in the other kids scampering and riding bicycles in the neighborhood. Our last full day in Costa Rica was a bad day; sneezing and maybe teetering on sickness, he requested another round of zip-lining but then melted down and refused to participate. He repeated himself, nervously. He spaced out.

Still, overall, Costa Rica brought us a behaviorally improved Martin. Indisputably.

I don’t know what made the difference. Sea water? Clean air? Reduced EMF’s and cellular radiation? Extended family? Time to be a kid?

We’re on the plane now, headed home to the New York metropolitan area. (You know how I love to airplane-blog.) Martin just told me he wants to watch Mickey’s Clubhouse, when it’s on at home. I find myself questioning whether full and true recovery might require some bolder step, like removal from urban or suburban life.

Would I have that in me? Would Adrian?

A&A Part I: The Issue

A couple months ago I wrote about mysterious allergic reactions Martin was having: puffy watery eyes, runny nose, and (later) spots on his face. We suspected maybe a food was the culprit and also started searching for environmental culprits. We also started treating for chronic Lyme disease. The spots have not recurred.

We have, however, had more sneezing and watery eyes. Then, last month, yet another symptom arose. My mother-and-law and I took a day trip with Martin to “Fun4All,” an indoor playscape way out on Long Island. We sat in the snack-bar area while he climbed, bounced, and looked for a friend. Every so often Martin appeared at our table, drank some water, and scampered off. I noticed he was sweatier than usual, and breathing heavily. I was happy that he was exercising so much.

After 90 minutes, Martin was too sweaty, and breathing too hard, and his eyes were watering, and he was coughing. I asked if he wanted leave, and he said he did. Whatever reaction he was having was severe enough that I started looking for triggers. I’d noticed a kind of chemically smell, so I took a picture of a sign posted in the restroom, which said that Fun4All is cleaned with “Simple Green D Pro 5,” a “one-step cleaner, disinfectant, virucide, fungicide, sanitizer, mildewstat & deodorizer” that is “hospital grade.” (In my world, that sounds scary. Very scary.)

We exited Fun4All. In the parking lot, I realized that Martin was wheezing. He was having a full asthma attack, like the attacks that strike my older brothers, who are asthmatic. I used my iPhone’s voice-memo feature to record Martin’s labored breathing, so I could share it with his pediatrician. Then I loaded him into the car and gave him a bottle of water. The wheezing faded within twenty minutes.

That was the first asthma incident. In the four weeks since, Martin has experienced half a dozen more, each time after exercising: ice skating lessons, bicycle riding, playground. He’s also coughed, a lot, had a generally runny nose, and breathed heavily at night.

The search for answers entered high gear. I contacted our environmental consultant to retest our house for mold and mildew, which we also had done before we bought the house. I talked to Martin’s autism specialist (his biomed doctor), who advised me to bring Martin to his pediatrician for traditional allergy testing. The pediatrician also sent us to a traditional allergy/asthma specialist, to evaluate the results of the pediatrician’s tests and to conduct additional tests. I requested a phone consultation with Martin’s homeopath.

Soon we were armed with an albuterol inhaler as well as a nebulizer for bronchodilators. (I don’t like to use pharmaceuticals with Martin, or with myself for that matter, but when it comes to breathing, I am not willing to mess around.) We also found, I hope, some answers.

This is the first of four posts on A&A, allergies and asthma. The next three will cover the potential triggers we’ve discovered. I hope that, in a few months, I will be able to write a post about resolving the Martin’s A&A.

I’m not happy about any of this. We’ve been fighting autism for years now. I don’t need any more A’s on my plate.

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