Friday, June 17, 2011

Things are happening.

Things are happening. Sentences are flowing, open-ended questions are being answered, I can see the gears turning in Ryan's head.

Before I can tell you the next part, I have to introduce a new character. Ryan has a new little friend named Jason. A very little friend: he's 2 1/2.
In a lot of ways Ryan and Jason are on the same level, but in other ways, Ryan likes to act like a big brother. The boys are adorable together. Often Jason is playing in the backyard when Ryan gets off the school bus. When Ryan sees Jason, he runs right to him and they start playing together (or sometimes just near each other) before Ryan has even taken off his backpack. Jason refers to Ryan as "my best friend;" Ryan is clearly happy to see Jason, but I've never heard him utter the boy's name.

And I like Jason's mother, so as the boys play, we're becoming friends as well.

So anyway, Ryan and Jason were playing in the backyard after school. Ryan had stepped off the bus with a fistful of tiny plastic sticks - they looked like pieces of some toy I've never seen. Ryan's teachers have taken to putting random toys in his hands to aid with the transition from school to the bus; once he came home with an assortment of 31 dinosaurs, trucks, and rubber duckies, but usually it's just two small toys.

As a typical 2 1/2 year old, Jason's impulse is to grab whatever Ryan has in his hands and run off with it. After Ryan showed Jason how to roll the sticks down a sloped sidewalk, Jason absconded with the sticks. Ryan went in pursuit, but by the time he caught up with Jason, three of the four sticks had disappeared forever between the patio squares.

Then magic happened.

Ryan stood at an appropriate distance from Jason, looked at him, and said, "Where did the sticks go, Jayden?"

(Yeah, that's not a typo. Jayden is the name of one of the boys in Ryan's class. Just go with me here.)

You get how big this is, right? Here's a recap of the magical parts:

1) Although he was annoyed that his friend had run off with his toy, Ryan didn't freak out. Using words was his first course of action.

2) He initiated a verbal exchange with another child. This is new and significant. Adults are much easier for Ryan to talk to because they are more patient and far more predictable.

3) He stood an appropriate distance from the person he was addressing, and he faced that person. On an average day, Ryan is more likely to speak quietly in a corner and then not understand why I'm not giving him what he wants.

4) He used a name in direct address. It happened to be the wrong name, but it was very close.

And as an addendum, when we established that the sticks were lost forever, Ryan didn't freak out. He accepted the loss and moved on, and continued to play with the child responsible for the sticks' disappearance.

Well played, kid. Well played.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Oh. My. God. (in the good way)

Before I show you what I need to show you, I need you to read this post I wrote two years ago.

Really, go. I'll wait.

OK, so two years ago, Ryan's sensory integration issues were such that he was wearing socks and shoes at the beach and crying when the tiniest bit of sand touched his skin.

Now, two years and countless hours of therapy later, check out my boy:


This was entirely his idea, too. He saw a hole, climbed into it, and ordered me to bury him.

Whenever I'm feeling frustrated and hopeless, I'm going to meditate on that kid buried up to his chest in sand. He is filled with infinite possibility, endless potential. And he may be just a couple of years out of reach.

The Animals! Dear God, the Animals!

The Animals have taken over our lives.

First they took over Ryan's bed.

Then they invaded the bathroom.

Now, they are everywhere. Unstoppable.

They play outside:

They use the computer:

They listen to music:

They watch tv:

They walk from room to room:

And they talk on Ryan's behalf. When Ryan is thirsty, he will hold up a dinosaur, pinch his mouth closed like a bad ventriloquist, and the dinosaur will inform me, "Ryan's thirsty." The animals will also answer questions when Ryan doesn't feel up to the task - they're very helpful.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We now return to our regularly scheduled life.

Stu and I have been married for ten years. We dated on-and-off for three or four years before that. We have nothing in common, but things work well enough that we no longer need to speak to one another in complete sentences.

To celebrate our anniversary, we left Ryan with my parents and jetted off to Jamaica for a long weekend. The last time we had been in Jamaica was on our honeymoon. I could make it sound all romantic like we chose Jamaica because we had honeymooned there, but really, we booked this trip based on where we could get an easy and affordable direct flight from a convenient airport.

Our selection of hotel was based on similarly-practical criteria, like being close enough to the airport that we wouldn't waste too much of our vacation on a bus, staring at filthy shantytowns out one window and glittering resorts out the other, and feeling guilty about our good fortune to be able to vacation comfortably in paradise.

Our hotel boasts the largest water park in the country; this consists of two waterslides and a lazy river. Consequently, there were lots of families vacationing there. Watching other people taking care of their kids gave me a constant reminder to be thankful for my temporary lack of such responsibilities. I'm happy to watch adorable British children splash each other and play peekaboo with their placemats, as long as I am under no obligation to interact with them.

A break from responsibility. A break from autism. The freedom to walk along the beach whenever I wanted, or stay in bed as late as I wanted, or enjoy fruity rum-based drinks at all hours of the day. The chance to just sit and read - and to finish books in one sitting. A break from tantrums and reading food labels and coaching someone through putting on his clothes.

Three nights of perfect freedom.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for babysitting. And for giving us a much-needed break.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Follow-up

A couple of weeks ago, my downstairs neighbor really pissed me off, offering me the age-old advice that my child's disability would magically disappear with a little discipline.

Yesterday, I ran into her for the first time since that encounter, and she instantly, unsolicited, offered a sincere apology. She had clearly been thinking about this a lot, and I have to give her the public credit she deserves.

We can make the world more hospitable for our kids, one softened heart at a time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Don't Go

I've been trying to write this paragraph for the last ten minutes, but it's almost impossible to verbalize why the moment I'm about to tell you about was such a big deal.

Today, Stu's parents came to visit, and when they announced it was time for them to go home, Ryan requested, "Grandma and Grandpa can stay." When they said that no, they really did have to leave, Ryan said, calmly and earnestly, "Don't go."

Saying "Don't go" is the natural thing you expect a person to do if they want someone they love to stay. It's that normalcy, that expectedness, that is so very surprising in this case.

Ryan used words as a means of communicating what he wanted.

He used these words without prompting.

He used these words as his first approach - he didn't start by whining or crying or throwing himself on the floor.

He used appropriate words that were not (as far as I can tell) a script pulled from a book/tv show/video game.

He used appropriate intonation to express his emotion.

And the thing that he requested was social interaction - he wanted his grandparents to stay and play with him.

It was a thrilling moment, and I am not taking this for granted.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Logic of Bedtime

Bedtime used to involve a very predictable cast of characters: Brown Bear, White Bear, Orange Bear, Blue Bear (with Car Bear), and White Blanket, all stuffed in the corner of Ryan's bed next to his pillow. Later, three moose joined this pile, with Gregory the moose placed at the bottom of the pillow, right under Ryan's neck. It was a finite, manageable list - check off all these items, and we're ready for bed.

All bets are off now.

Ryan has been experimenting with selecting new and novel friends to bring to bed each night. I'd understand if he chose soft, comfy things to sleep with, but Ryan's choices tend to be hard, pointy, or just plain weird. Recent bedtime companions have included a variety of plastic animals (horses, elephants, a lobster), foam snowman stickers, toy trains, a figurine of a knight with a sword, and a plastic ear of corn.

I think this grew out of a trick we developed to get Ryan to transition from playing to brushing his teeth. We would ask him "Whose teeth should we brush tonight?" and he would select a toy, bring it to the bathroom, and brush its teeth (or face, or whatever - most of his toys of choice don't actually have teeth). While Ryan would brush the toy, I would start on Ryan's teeth.

This worked perfectly for a while. Then it got weird.

Ryan started gathering two toys to brush. Then three. Then seven. Then when he was done brushing them he would have to line them all up on the sink counter while he went about his business. I would then have to scoop up all the toys so they wouldn't distract him or fall into the toilet.

Then Ryan figured out the logical next step: once the animal (or corn, or Connect Four box*) had brushed its teeth, it was time for it to get into bed. And not in the corner next to the pillow like a common teddy bear: one who brushes his teeth gets to sleep on top of the pillow, or in the middle of the bed, right under Ryan.

There's a certain logic to all of this. But it looks really uncomfortable to sleep on top of a plastic giraffe.

* I wish I was kidding about this one.