This afternoon, Ryan put a sticker on my hand.
Let me explain how amazing that is.
In Ryan's world, certain objects belong in certain places, and if you try putting an item in the wrong context, the world implodes, he can focus on nothing else, and hysteria ensues. When he puts his shoes on the shoe shelf, they must be on either side of my shoes, soles down, velcro open. He can not play with his airplane if a certain white box is not on the dining room floor, because the rubber duckie that must ride in the plane can only live in that box.
I think this is related to a common autistic trait known as a "figure/ground" issue - the object in the foreground is no more important than whatever is in the background. The white box can not be relocated because the space around the box is as important as the box itself. Also, a tiny detail can define an object - a toy zebra with red eyes is a "red zebra."
Anyway, Ryan loves putting stickers on paper, but try to put them elsewhere and you're begging for trouble. According to Ryan, stickers belong on paper, but do not belong on skin or clothing. More specifically, stickers are tolerable on other people's shirts, but never on Mommy, Daddy, or Ryan's clothes or bodies. This becomes problematic at events that require name tags. The not-on-my-family's-skin rule also applies to ink stamps, temporary tattoos, and microscopic dots of mustard.
Four afternoons a week, Ryan works one-on-one with a visiting teacher - his SEIT, in the alphabet soup of the special ed world. Chrissy is fabulous with him, and he will do just about anything for her. She has been working with him for several months on breaking out ridgid behavior patterns like these, forcing him out of his comfort zone for longer and longer periods until he can, say, tolerate wearing sandals or sit still to play a game.
Occasionally, Chrissy will put a sticker on his shirt and make him keep it on until they finish singing a song or reading a story. One song sometimes becomes two songs, and Ryan will end up wearing a sticker for half an hour without crying. Today, she put a tiny star-shaped sticker on his hand. He stared at it, then started to peel it off. "Put it on your other hand," she suggested. He stuck the star on his other hand and smiled. Chrissy cheered and said, "Go show Mommy!"
So Ryan found me and stuck out his starry hand for me to admire. I oohed and ahhed appropriately, and he actually seemed pleased about it. Then he peeled the star off his hand, and stuck it on the back of my hand. "Here you go, Mommy!" He grinned.
Yay for signs of progress. Something clicked in him today, and he decided that a sticker on the hand isn't the end of the world. It might even be fun.