I have a number of ideas for posts swimming in my head, but I’ve had a hard time trying to crystallize into words what we’ve seen the last several months.
Change. Progress. Self-awareness. Self-advocacy. Giving words to emotions. Yes, hormones. All at a speed that makes it difficult to process.
Some of that is the product of simply being 13, but not all. Veronica and I used to talk about how our hope was that as Ryan got older, he would gain the self-awareness that would allow him to fit in. Like many of my thoughts about autism, that has changed. We still seek self-awareness, but not necessarily so Ryan can regulate himself in an effort to be like everyone else. He’s not like everyone else, of course, and though we’ve long known that, we now understand that simply learning to act like everyone else is not the key to anything.
What is important is for Ryan to understand himself, and how others perceive him. For him to be able to judge reactions and seek out as companions those who react positively to him. That is the first step to gaining confidence in who he is. As his participation in the Autism Affinities Project revealed, Ryan is beginning to take a real pride in the strengths that his particular brain wiring gives him.
He is also learning to understand, and express, his feelings about his difficulties fitting in. Throw in a healthy dose of early teen hormones and emotions, and it can be a combustible mix. But we are grateful for that self-expression, which only began to show itself in the last year.
Amid all this change, another school year has ended, launching us into the unstructured summer. The camp the kids attended the last few years closed, so there is much uncertainty (and anxiety) over the new program they will attend.
Ryan’s anxiety manifests in outbursts that sound like general predictions of doom. He is sure he will hate camp because he won’t fit in and since he knows this he’s not even going to try, etc., etc. We’ve seen it before, but it doesn’t make it any easier to hear, or deal with.
Veronica had the kids visiting family last week, and she was relaying this story and others about Ryan trying to fit in with his four cousins. Some were positive, others more difficult.
One text, accompanied by the picture at the top of this post, didn’t immediately register. But when Veronica reminded me what it represented, it stopped all the thoughts about how to describe Ryan’s progress, triumphs and struggles.
That’s Ryan with his cousins’ dog. Ryan is on his iPad, no doubt watching old NHL highlights or checking stats. He’s not necessarily interacting with the dog, although Veronica told me he was comforting her when she was afraid about the noise coming from outside (the rest of the kids may or may not have been shooting off fireworks with their cool uncle).
Whether or not he was actually comforting her is immaterial. There was a time not that long ago when the mere sight of a dog sent Ryan into an immediate panic. If we encountered one on a walk, he turned and sprinted the other direction. Visits to any dog-owning family members had to be carefully managed to prevent Ryan from being terrified.
And here he was, sitting calmly, going about his business, mere inches from a dog. Like it was no big deal. It IS a big deal, of course, another of those Not Little Things and a reminder that Ryan will continue to tackle his challenges according to his own timeline.
Sometimes, a picture really is worth 1,000 words (or 631 words to be precise).