Shooting for the Moon with Ryan

Life in the World of Autism


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Why I Could Hug Whoever Invented Camp for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

I have to admit, I have the same smile on my face as the other parents after I drop my son off at summer camp. A day to myself! I can get so much done at home! I can also relax a little, take a break, and know that my son is in good hands.

I want to hug the person who came up with Camp Boomerang, a YMCA day camp for kids on the autism spectrum. I want to hug the volunteers, mostly teenagers, who agree to get training and spend long hot days in the sun being a buddy for Ryan.

Without all of these people, Ryan would be at home all summer. He would never  have the opportunity to experience camps like other kids. Every day, he gets to swim and play on the playground. He gets to do yoga, art, music therapy, archery, sports, hiking, and play outdoor games. He gets to spend time with typically developing kids, and gets special attention from a buddy.

He’s really growing from this camp opportunity. At our neighborhood pool, he put his face in the water for the first time. Someone must have taught him at camp. Or, he copied what the other kids were doing. Right now, Ryan is very aware of others and is more open than ever to copy what he sees other children doing.

It’s really amazing to see Ryan wake up in the morning with a smile on his face. He seems to really love camp. I say “seems,” because he never says much about it. If I ask him if he likes camp, he says yes. He shows how he feels more with his actions, like being ready and in the car on time for camp everyday, rather than with his words.

It’s hard to find activities that Ryan can enjoy, since they need to be structured and not too over stimulating. His buddy told me that he didn’t want to jump in the bouncy house one day. So they decided to swing instead. They are flexible and they need to be. You can’t assume that fun activities most kids enjoy will be fun for kids on the spectrum, especially if they have sensory processing disorder. Ryan doesn’t like the sound of the loud fan that keeps the bouncy house inflated. He also doesn’t like the closed in feeling and the closeness of other kids bouncing around him.

For me, it’s kind of neat to see other kids like Ryan being dropped off at camp and know that he is not alone. It’s good to see other autism parents and know that I am not alone. One thing about autism parents is that we don’t get out a lot. We tend to be isolated. Our children aren’t always capable of doing well in public. We avoid many places if we can.

But here we are, dropping our kids off at summer camp for kids on the autism spectrum. We look at each other with knowing glances. We smile at the familiar behavior of the children we are ushering toward the camp meeting spot.  I see big kids holding their parent’s hand through the parking lot, even though they seem too old for that. They could bolt. They don’t always understand the danger of a parking lot. I see kids taking a long time to get out of the car. Transitioning is hard. I see the same uneven gait as my son, arms flapping, with happy faces that have a dreamy, far away look, enjoying a rich inner life.

And I hear bits of parents conversations as they try to remember to tell everything to the camp counselors. They ask lots of questions. Is he eating his lunch? Did he do o.k. in yoga today? Did he stay with the group? Did he finally participate in art class?

We all sort of hang around the parking lot an extra minute, craning our necks to see if our child is doing o.k. as the camp buddies lead their kids toward the first activity. Then I see that the smiles on those parents faces match my own as we drive away knowing all is well.

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Summer is Definitely Hard

IMG_1788Summer is definitely hard, even though Ryan gets more pool time and play time. He usually regresses, and this year it’s in speech. He’s being a very quiet little boy. It’s hard to get a yes or no out of him. I know it’s just the summer time blues, a change in routine, anxiety about not knowing everything that’s coming up next. But it’s still difficult to watch.

Today, I looked back in my journal. I tend to write the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, then retype my journal entries into my blog. As I browsed some of my writing, I came across a journal entry I wrote in the spring that I never typed into the blog. Interestingly enough, it was about Ryan’s speech and a break through he was having. Below is the journal entry, dated March 12, 2015:

A few weeks ago, out of the blue, Ryan said to me “Principal Young got duck taped to the wall. It was so funny!” (Principal Young chose this stunt as a reward for the school raising money for a local charity.) That was the first of a series of small stories that Ryan started telling me about school. Ryan never talks about school unprompted. And if we do prompt him, he usually tells us that he had a good day in school, but no specific information.

I was floored when he gave me this information about the principal. I immediately e-mailed his teacher. She said that he was also telling her small stories about home. For example, he went strawberry picking, grandmom and granddad visited, he ate chili for dinner.

I used to mourn the fact that Ryan didn’t speak until he was three. When all my mommy friends were bragging that their child was saying big words and had an amazing vocabulary, I just wanted Ryan to say Mommy. I hated missing out on the joys of watching my child learn to speak. Then one day, close to Christmas break, Ryan had a break through in his three-year old special needs preschool class. His teacher put a microphone in front of him, and asked, “What does Santa say?” Ryan said “Ho! Ho! Ho!” The teacher found what motivated him to talk. A microphone. This was one of the first time Ryan spoke in class.

I was so proud of Ryan’s “Ho, ho, ho!” that I had to tell grandparents and friends right away. That is when I realized that I wasn’t missing out on the joy. I was experiencing the same joy and pride as the parent of the typical child, but just a little later. In fact, the pride and joy was probably even greater because I had been waiting for it for so long.

So now, I’m joyfully collecting all the little stories about school and writing them down as soon as I get them. They’re too great to forget. He said, “Trent wanted me to throw my applesauce at lunch, but I didn’t want to.”

“I looked at a really good book at school. It was Arthur’s Teacher Moves In.

“I read a poem about the moon.”

“Mrs. Perkins had two kids missing today.”

“I dropped my library books on the floor.”

“I didn’t check any books out because I ran out of time.” 

“We didn’t have PE because of a schedule change.”

After reading this journal entry, I realized Ryan is always going to struggle with his speech. He’s going to continue to take a step ahead and then two steps back. But I’ve learned that each step back never completely goes as far back as it was before. There is always progress being made.  It won’t be long before he takes two steps ahead again. I’ll probably be writing down little stories again in no time.

 


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The Best Kept Secret for Surviving the Summer When Your Child has Autism

IMG_1769The long lazy days of summer. No structure. Nothing to do. No deadlines. Just freedom! Sounds like bliss? Not when you have a child on the autism spectrum. I have found that the worst thing I can do is have a long wide open day planned for Ryan. That’s why I developed a summer schedule. I know! Sometimes the last thing I want to do in the morning is try to come up with a schedule for the day. But I’ll let you in on little secret. When I do, it makes all the difference in the world for Ryan and me. In fact, for our entire family.

Ryan often doesn’t know what to do with his free time. He can’t be put into a room full and toys and be told to play with them, since he often doesn’t know how to play with his toys. Instead, he makes up his own activities, like drawing a map of the neighborhood on the wall with pen, putting huge gobs of my hand lotion all over his face and in his hair, or seeing what he can flush down the toilet. He also ends up having melt downs over insignificant things like losing something or hearing a car honk its horn, because he’s feeling anxious and out of control in his unstructured day..

So I came up with a summer schedule. It does not have to be fancy or large. It just needs to be easy to read and your child needs to be able to check off the activities as you go. Ryan can read, so I write his schedule. When he couldn’t read, I printed pictures from the clip art on Microsoft Word. You can also find a lot of pictures on-line if you google “picture schedule.” Sometimes I type his schedule on the computer and print it out. I also hand write it when I’m in a hurry.

Now comes the fun part. I place the schedule in a sheet protector. That way i can use the schedule over and over again. Ryan can cross off each completed activity with a dry erase marker. I like to buy the three markers for a dollar at the Dollar Tree that have little erasers attached to the cap. I can also add more details to the schedule with the marker like the date or a specific activity, then erase them and update it the next day.

Now Ryan wakes up in the morning and asks for his schedule. He likes to cross off his activities as he eats breakfast and gets dressed. This is also a good way to get Ryan to do some summer homework. Ryan usually resists doing homework, especially in the summer. But somehow, when it is written on the schedule, it becomes official.

IMG_1763 Something clicks in his brain that he sees the activity printed in front of him, therefore he knows he has to do it. He will sit down and complete his homework, almost like magic. Also, the melt downs soon stop, since he has other things to occupy his time and he feels less anxious because he knows what’s coming next.

IMG_1767It’s a win win solution, and a little secret that I’m glad to share with everyone. What summer survival skills do you use?