Shooting for the Moon with Ryan

Life in the World of Autism


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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.

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An Awesome Autism Brain

IMG_1322Last 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.