Shooting for the Moon with Ryan

Life in the World of Autism

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My Top Five Hopes for My son and His New School Year

IMG_3170I remember when Ryan started kindergarten and my biggest hope for the school year was that Ryan would learn to get from the bus to his classroom without getting lost wandering around the school first. I had basic hopes, like he would be o.k. about using the school bathrooms, since it didn’t have the loud automatic flushing toilets and hand blowers. I hoped that he’d take his hands off his ears long enough to get his name on his paper, that he would at least eat part of his lunch, and that he’d survive the first fire drill.

But now Ryan just started third grade. He’s almost midway through his elementary school career, and I can proudly say all my hopes for kindergarten came true and more. He has learned to handle lots of sensory overload, in addition to learning to read, write and do math. He’s at that grade that everyone says is just hard, the big leap. I have lots of hopes for my big third grader this year. But here are my top five:

I hope that this year he finally gets it. I hope he gets why it’s important to do his school work and why an A is better than an F. Ryan doesn’t have that social understanding of school yet. While most typically developing children want to please their teachers, want to appear “smart,” and want to get A’s, many kids on the spectrum don’t care what others think or how they appear to others. They just know that a teacher is making them do work, and unless it’s extremely interesting to them, they don’t get why they have to do it. “Getting it” is a process, and for Ryan includes lots of rewards along the way. My hope is that third grade brings Ryan just a little bit closer to understanding what school is all about.

I hope that Ryan learns to be more independent in the classroom.  For Ryan, independence is that door between the special education and general education classroom. Ryan might need to have his work modified. He might need special supports like check lists, schedules, and visuals. But unless he can manage his learning in a classroom of 22 other third graders, he will forever be spending time in a special education classroom. That’s not bad, but my hope for Ryan is to slowly work his way into the general education setting and one day find himself spending the majority of the day with his peers.

I hope that Ryan will make some friends this year. Ryan is a likable guy. He’s funny and loves to laugh and be silly. He also likes to watch the other kids on the playground from a distance. If they are playing with a ball, he watches closely. When they finally put the ball down and run away, Ryan picks up the ball and starts imitating what they were doing. That’s Ryan’s comfort zone. He’s interested in the other kids, but only from a distance. This year, I hope that he will get the courage to join them at ball, and not wait for them to put the ball down and run away.

I hope that Ryan will continue to love school. Ryan has always loved school, from his very first day of preschool. I know this is something to be thankful for and something that could change very fast. I haven’t always loved Ryan’s school. My husband and I have struggled at I.E.P. meetings. We have not always seen eye to eye with the director of special education of the school district. We will continue to have to advocate for our son and work to get him what we think is necessary for his success. But somehow, all of this has always gone over Ryan’s head. He has remained happy, and I think it all has to do with his caring teachers and their ultimate support of Ryan and his needs.

My final hope for Ryan’s third grade year is that his new teacher will “get” Ryan, who he is, and what he needs. Special needs children are complex, especially children with autism who can greatly vary in their strengths and challenges. I hope Ryan’s teacher will be able to see his potential and his intelligence. I hope she will be able to enjoy his personality. I hope she will let him explore and assert his independence, but I also hope she will be strong enough to teach him limits.

Just as children with autism vary greatly along the spectrum, I know that all parents have hopes for their child’s school year that will vary greatly. May all your hopes for this year come true and may this be the best school year for your child yet!


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Graduation Brings Milestones and Memories

Ryan graduated from Occupational Therapy today. It was a little sad to say good-by to everyone in the office. Ryan and I have been going to Touch Stone Therapy once a week since he was one and half. At one point, we were going twice a week. It started with physical therapy. Ryan was a late walker. Then we moved onto O.T.

Ryan needed lots of work with his fine motor skills. I remember him learning to stack blocks, pulling small objects out of putty, and reaching into buckets of sand and rice. Later, he practiced drawing and writing. But most of all, Ryan needed help with his sensory processing disorder. Ryan was hyper sensitive to sound. Every time the phone or doorbell rang, Ryan cried. He didn’t want the tv or radio on, and we had to pull our clothes out of the dryer before the bell went off. He didn’t want to leave the house. He was on sensory overload in stores and restaurants.

So we began a daily sensory diet of brushing, swinging, and listening therapy. We brushed Ryan’s arms and legs with a little rectangular plastic baby brush. This helped to desensitize him. I have pictures of Ryan sitting on his indoor swing listening to his special cd’s through his headphones. The music helped him to tolerate different sounds.


But when I look back on our years at Touchstone Therapy, I think what will always stand out for me is the time Ryan spent in feeding therapy. I have to thank his therapist, Courtney, for all she did to get Ryan to begin eating a healthy diet. Because of Ryan’s sensory issues, he had a very limited diet. He couldn’t stand certain textures in his mouth. He had an aversion to the different shapes, colors, smells and temperatures of food. For a long time, all he would eat were cut up hot dogs, vanilla yogurt, and purple grapes.

It took Ryan a year and a half of weekly therapy sessions to begin making progress. Each week, Ryan played with the food, put it up to his mouth, smelled it, put it on his tongue and spit it out. It was huge progress when he started chewing and swallowing new foods. Now Ryan eats a normal, healthy diet.

Today, Ryan walked into the waiting room with his graduation certificate in hand. I tried to take a picture of him with Courtney, but Ryan kept running away. He is terrible about getting his picture taken right now. All it takes is for one person to try to take his picture with a camera that has the flash on, and he refuses to get his picture taken for a long time after. He is also going through a phase where he does everything he can to give his Mommy a hard time.I tried to secretly snap a pictures when he gave Courtney a hug.


Later, when we were sitting in the car to go home, I showed him that my camera doesn’t flash and tried to take a picture of him in the back seat. He did not want to look.



Ryan is still sensitive to sound and prefers to stay home. But now he’s tolerating trips to the store and restaurants. He’s even walking through the airport and flying to see his grandparents. He has come a long way.


Ratatouille is His Latest Obsession

IMG_1594Ryan’s greatest movie obsession is the Disney movie “Ratatouille.” For a while, it was “Toy Story.” Then it was “The Polar Express.” Originially, it was “Cars.”

Ryan loves the cooking scenes in “Ratatouille.” He loves all of the little details of the kitchen. He notices things most people don’t even see, like a sign on the wall in the background.

The other day, Ryan said, “Mommy, when are you going to make ratatouille?” I was thrilled. First, it was great to hear Ryan call my name and speak to me directly. And second of all, it was wonderful that he was asking for something. Ryan doesn’t always make us aware of his wants and needs. So when he asks for something, I’m just ecstatic. And what mother can refuse a child who is asking for a dish that has lots of veggies in it?

Ryan isn’t a big veggie eater. It wasn’t that long ago when Ryan was on a food jag and would only eat a handful of foods that included hotdogs, strawberry yogurt, and grapes. So I wasn’t sure Ryan would eat the ratatouille. I found a recipe and read it to Ryan so he would know what was going to be in it. To my surprise, Ryan told me it wasn’t the right recipe. He said that the ratatouille in the movie was baked in the oven, not cooked in a frying pan.

So I did some research on the internet and found a recipe called Disney’s Ratatouille. This is what Ryan wanted. The veggies were baked in the oven. I made the recipe recently for dinner. Ryan was excited. He ate three giant helpings of the zucchini, green pepper, onion, and tomato sauce dish. Then he wiped up the sauce on his plate with a piece of bread, just like Ego, the restaurant critic, did in the movie. The next day, Ryan asked for leftovers for lunch.

Ryan doesn’t ask for much. I rememeber the first year that Ryan asked for something for Christmas. He just turned five and wanted a train that went around the bottom of the tree. How exciting to get him a gift that he actually asked for. And it must be exciting for Ryan to finally figure out how to ask for what he wants. It’s enjoyable to watch Ryan’s frustration slowly disappear.

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Celebrate the Small Victories

???????????????????????????????This past Saturday, we took Ryan to Lowes for a kids’ woodworking project. Afterwards, I realized just how much he changed in a year. The first time we did a project, Ryan’s ABA Therapist came along since he really did not want to go. But I was determined to get Ryan out of his comfort zone. He needed to spend more time out in the community where his surroundings might be a lot more stimulating than what he experienced in his own home. We guided him towards the back of the store where we could hear all the hammers loudly banging. Ryan had his hands on his ears and would have run back out of the store if it wouldn’t have been for his therapist. He did make his project, when we could convince him to let go of one of his ears and hold the hammer.

The second time, Sean and I took him. We walked with him to the back of the store, and as soon as we let go of Ryan’s hand, he bolted down the aisle. I ended up chasing him through the store. We finally got him to sit down and we put a hammer in his hand. I’m not proud to say that he threw it across the table and almost hit another child. We ended up leaving and completing the project at home. We decided to wait awhile before trying another project.

But, this past weekend, we tried again. It was almost a year later. Ryan was excited about making a woodworking project. We walked into the store and let go of Ryan’s hand. He wanted to walk by himself. It’s a habit to hold Ryan’s hand everywhere we go since he is a runner and will bolt right into traffic without a thought. Lately, I’ve been letting go more and more. Even in the parking lot.

He headed over to the box of hammers with a smile on his face. He carried the hammer and monster truck project to the table and sat down. He worked on hammering the nails by himself. He was proud of his project in the end, even though it might not look like if from the pictures. Ryan is determined to frown or look away for every picture. In fact, he had to be photo shopped into his first grade class picture because he kept turning his head around.

It’s so important to celebrate the small victories. It’s easy to forget what it was like a year ago and to focus on all the things Ryan still has to work on right now. I know that any type of improvement means that Ryan is learning and growing. I encourage all the autism moms and dads out there to keep a short journal of what your child is doing. Then look back at the entry from a year ago. It will make your day to see how much your child has changed. And your child WILL change, as much as it seems like he will stay the same forever.

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Hugs Would Come Later

???????????????????????????????This morning, Ryan participated in his first school musical on the stage. I could tell he was nervous about it. He didn’t want to talk about the program whenever I brought it up. Last night, out of the blue, Ryan told me he wanted to wear his Lego Movie “Everything is Awesome” shirt to school the next day. Ryan never requests to wear a certain shirt. I explained that he was supposed to wear a blue shirt for his musical. Maybe he thought that if he showed up at school wearing a different shirt, he wouldn’t have to participate.

All the parents, grandparents and friends gathered in the cafeteria and watched the first graders file onto the stage. The assistant teacher held Ryan’s hand and encouraged him to keep walking to his place on the step. I saw some smiles on his face. Good! He wasn’t totally terrified. And he didn’t bolt off the stage in the middle of the performance like I thought he would do. He didn’t sing or do any of the motions, either. There he stood, in the front row of the risers, looking all around at the audience, but not singing a note.

Afterwards I saw his teacher. She explained to me that he did do the motions and mouthed the words several times during practice. I had no doubt he knew all the songs. But to me, it was thrilling to see Ryan, despite his sound sensitivity, participate the best that he could and make it through the whole, over stimulating performance of loud music and loud voices speaking into the microphone. And not once did he put his hands on his ears.

The principal told the parents that their child would be waiting in the gym after the performance for a hug before going back to class. I knew Ryan would not want a hug from me or want to give me a hug. In fact, I knew he would be uncomfortable seeing me. Children with autism need certain routines to be the same. And it wasn’t routine to see mommy at school. Ryan has rigid rules about where people and things belong. Mommy belongs at home. Teachers belong to school. I walked over to Ryan standing against the wall in the gym. I knew he was uncomfortable. It was loud and crowded. All this commotion was not a part of the typical school day. “Awesome job!” I said to Ryan. He turned his face away from mine and motioned for me to go away.

I said good bye, walked out of the building to my car, and drove away, knowing that hugs would come later. Right now i was over joyed that Ryan had made the huge step of being able to tolerate being on the stage.