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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.