Last night, just as I was ready to read Ryan a book before bed, he asked “What is autism?” This came as much of a surprise as his matter of fact statement two weeks ago, “I ride the special needs bus.”
I asked Ryan where he heard that word, but he didn’t answer me. Ryan answers questions maybe 50 percent of the time. It depends on if he feels like it at the moment, or if we continue to ask him the question until he answers it. Ryan truly has to be in the mood if he’s going to talk.
Of course, he probably heard the word autism from us. We’ve talked about it before, And I’m sure there are many times Ryan has picked up on what we were saying when we thought he wasn’t listening, wasn’t interested, or wouldn’t understand. Ryan has always understood. That was his strong point, even when he was three, and only just beginning to say some words. He could have heard the word “autism” at school or during therapy.
So how was I going to answer him? What was I going to say? I quickly replied, “If you have autism, your brain works differently from the typical person.” Then Ryan said, “Autism Awareness Day.” Again, where did he hear that? I answered, “Autism Awareness Day is a day to make other people aware of what autism is.”
That was the end of our conversation. But I know it will come up again. Is Ryan starting to notice that he’s different from other children? Or is he just repeating something he heard? Ryan is on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, so he is verbal. But his speaking often consists of scripting (repeating things that he heard before over and over), or repeating things that he’s interested in over and over. We are working on teaching Ryan how to have a real give and take conversation. We have to teach him how to greet people and say goodbye. And Ryan asks a lot of questions.
So what could be going on inside his head? That’s something we ask everyday. We just wish we knew what he was thinking. But we do know he understands a lot and that he’s always trying to figure something out, whether it’s why a word has a capital letter or why a word isn’t spelled the way it sounds. One of Ryan’s obsessions right now is spelling and capitalization rules. He suddenly gets interested when he sees a word in print and the rules have been broken.
I think the next step is to tell Ryan he has autism. I know the conversation will come up naturally when Ryan is ready. When that happens, I’ll let him know that he has a brain that works differently, but it’s an awesome (Ryan’s favorite word) brain. It allows Ryan to hear something once and remember it. It’s a brain that won’t forget anything, including seemingly minor details about the exact day, school, and grade that I substitute taught in a month ago. He has an amazing sense of direction. We can’t get lost with Ryan in the car. Ryan will tell us when we are wrong, and he is usually right.
Ryan has an awesome autism brain, and I’ll let him know that some day.