What Ryan Worries About

flag_half_staffOn Wednesday I offered a few thoughts on the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn. With a few days perspective on events, I discussed how Ryan reacted, and what we feared, particularly once autism became a part of the conversation. That led to a few words on the lack of support services for adults with special needs.

The post was about my fears. But what about my son?

Outwardly, Ryan has not had much direct reaction to what happened last Friday. He has rarely brought it up, and then only to ask the most basic questions. But something has been … off. He has been unhappy. He reacts with anger to the most basic requests. He had one very difficult night of sleep and has been waking up even earlier than usual.

And while all of these have been somewhat common in our house the last several years, Veronica and I can’t help but wonder — is there a connection? Is he somehow internalizing what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School and is it triggering the reaction we’re seeing?

To be honest, we both had our doubts. But last night, something different happened. Something maybe just a little bit more obvious. The end of the day was a tough one. Lots of overreactions, impatience, frenetic activity and anger. Taken together, they painted the picture of an unhappy child. We were growing frustrated with both his behavior and our inability to get at the reason for it.

At bed time, we discussed with him his unhappiness and tried to draw something out of him. Was anything bothering him? Did he know why he was angry? At first he denied anything at all troubling him, but as we persisted he told a story about one of his friends on the school bus who had gotten in trouble for something he didn’t do. We believed the story, but doubted that it was the cause of Ryan’s unhappiness.

Once again, we reassured him he was loved, he was safe, he had everything he needed. We talked, as we often do, about tomorrow being a new day and a chance to start over. We said goodnight and shut the door, still puzzled about his recent behavior and hoping he would go right to sleep. Fatigue exacerbates all his issues, and chips away at our patience to deal with them.

A few minutes later, he was out of his room. He often makes several trips to the bathroom or for a drink of water if he is having trouble falling asleep. I went to the bottom of the stairs to ask why he was up.

“Dad, are both doors locked?” he asked.

“Yes. Why?”

“I just want to make sure nobody can get into the house,” came the reply.

I showed him the chain on the front door. I did my best to reassure him, but I was bothered by the exchange. This was something completely new from Ryan.

When Veronica came down from putting Riley to bed, we discussed it. Neither of us believed Ryan was reacting directly to the events of last Friday, but his question about the door locks was an eye-opener. All the coverage. The conversations between Veronica and I that he may have overheard. I presume there have been discussions at school about security measures. Could all of that be what’s troubling him?

It’s impossible to know. He hasn’t been able to verbalize it. He has always had trouble to connecting to events or experiences that he doesn’t personally experience.

The kids’ holiday break begins after school today. We are hoping the 10 days together will help us sort through these issues. We are also worried that the break in school routine will hinder, rather than help, Ryan.

It is one of the difficult things about trying to parent a child like Ryan. We can tell when something is bothering him, but he can’t always tell us what it is. And so we will continue to chip away with questions and theories, hoping to find an answer. It’s days like today when I really need my decoder ring.

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