My oldest son has autism. He is on the higher functioning end of the spectrum. As anyone who is touched by this condition will tell you, early intervention is the key to success in overcoming many of the issues. He is now 10 years old and fully integrated in a general education setting. In addition to his classroom teacher, he receives additional support by two wonderful women that work with him to improve his speech and reading comprehension. With that said, Ryan is also a loving, caring and friendly boy. He is a Webelos II Cub Scout and receives A’s and B’s in school. Ryan has friends at school and is well liked by his classmates. His teachers love his kind, well-mannered behavior and his willingness to learn. .At home, Ryan is able to make anything out of Lego’s, from cell phones to 3 foot houses. Ryan has a keen eye for detail and his memory is incredible. Ryan will remember every exit number on the highway when we are going to visit family or go camping. He is a better navigator than my GPS! He is always trying to improve on something, including a shelf HE made to display his toy dirt bike collection. As I have said many times about myself living with MS, Ryan has autism but autism does NOT have him.
Ryan has difficulty using his imagination. This obstacle has been a particularly hard nut to crack. For Ryan, facts are facts and there is nothing in between. 1+1 is always 2. He does not imagine things that are not facts. This particular issue has become a priority that we are working on in conjunction with his Resource Room teacher. I receive regular updates on his progress from his teacher, as well as working with him at home. Rob and I meet with the staff several times during the school year and this matter is their number one concern. At the end of the school year, my husband and I meet with the entire staff who works with Ryan to discuss his achievements and set goals and guidelines for the next year. This meeting is bittersweet. The bitter part is hearing that new goals have to be met and he needs to improve in certain areas. However, the sweet part is that we are told that Ryan has improved on many things and uses them regularly. This years meeting was particularly sweet. Ryan showed improvement in ALL of his goals. The staff was extremely proud of Ryan and produced a sample of his work, which was a story he wrote. The story was entirely fiction and not based on fact. In other words, he has started to use his imagination in new and creative ways. This is a huge accomplishment and I could not be any more proud of his success.
I began to read his story. The subject matter was what he would do if he looked out of his window and saw a dinosaur on the lawn. Ryan began his story with the dinosaur wearing skateboard clothes and Air Jordan shoes. He was big and green and he had big teeth and yellow eyes. He wrote that the dinosaur was dancing on the lawn, spinning and twirling around. As the story continued, twenty-five more dinosaurs joined the dinosaur. The new herd was also wearing clothes and dancing on the lawn. The dancers were all boys, apparently there were no girls were allowed. He had created this wonderful scene on his own. I was so impressed with how detailed and imaginative his story was. He has shown great progress indeed! Then, I read the final paragraph. Ryan wrote that he became scared of the dancing dinos and wanted them off the lawn. He wrote that they had great big teeth and he was afraid they might be hungry after their lawn dance party. Therefore, Ryan decided to shoo the creatures away from his house. He wrote that he went out on the lawn and kicked them in the balls and they all ran away. It hurts to be hit in the winky, don‘t you know! I was horrified how he ended his story. I imagined what his teachers must think we do at our house or what television shows we allow him to watch. OMG, I was so embarrassed. However, the amused teachers explained that the ending showed great imagination and that was the goal we wanted him to achieve. In addition, his teachers gushed on and on about the story details and how creative they were. After all, just one year ago Ryan would not have been able to imagine 26 dancing dinosaurs on his lawn. This IS a huge achievement for Ryan, despite the subject matter. And just where did Ryan learn about a “trauma to the boys?” America’s Funniest Videos that we watch on Friday night movie night! Now we know how to rid our lawns of 26 green, dancing, skateboard clothes wearing boy dinosaurs. You kick them in the balls and they run away…because it hurts to be hit in the winky, don’t you know! I also know why the girls stayed away…even if they do not have a winky to kick!
Autism, like everything else in our lives, is a condition that has to be addressed and not swept under the rug. I strongly encourage parents of autistic children to seek early intervention. Ryan began his formal education before he was two! He rode his first school bus before he turned three. Seeing my little boy get on that big bus by himself and without me was both a happy and sad time. I was happy to see him as a strong, confident and independent boy. However, I was sad to see that I needed to cut the apron strings at such an early age and let Ryan fly solo. God gave him wings so he could fly…and I just had to let him leave the nest! Ryan loves school and over the years, I have met some wonderful teachers and specialists that have taught me as well as my son. Every autistic child has a special talent. It is our job as parents to nurture that gift and allow them to grow and blossom. Ignore the stares from the people at the store when your child has a meltdown! Honestly, do you really care about what they think? There is not a parent out there that has a child who has not had a tantrum or two in a public place, autistic or not! We know we are good parents, despite the occasional faux pas of our children. Autism is a challenge, but is not a curse. I love my son and I tell him everyday how proud I am of him. I enjoy seeing the light in his eyes when he understands something new. I am proud of his willingness to apply that new skill on his own and tell me that he wants to do the next problem by himself. I love to see his joy when he succeeds. Ryan, I am so very proud of you… my precious boy!