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?

So Here’s Something New We’re Going to Try

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.