Soon as the bouncy, tin can alleyish theme song began, Ryan oozed excitement! He hugged himself a bit and hummed, grinning from ear to ear. Pure delight. Complete surprise for Mommy. He remembered it, and it was more than obvious that he was happy to hear it again!
So many of the people I read about and know online who have children like Ryan... who have one of the one in 88's... speak of this complete disregard for age-appropriateness in their children. Ryan doesn't care that most six year old boys don't watch Elmo or Bob the Builder. He doesn't care that most kids his age are out of the Thomas stage as well. He just knows what he likes, and he goes with it.
After I dropped Ryan off into the hands of the capable lady who helps him to the door every day, I remembered a simpler time. My mind shot back to our little house in Fairfield, when Ryan was two months old. We had barely moved in before school started, and I was getting unpacked as best I could with a two month old. During packing breaks, I'd pick up my sweet, super easy baby boy and turn on that same CD and we'd dance, twirling around the kitchen, snuggling his tiny body, singing along with the cutesy songs I'd grown up with. That time before I knew what lay ahead, and I didn't really care. I had my dear husband, and I finally had what I'd wanted for as long as I could remember... I was the mommy.
I don't understand why remembering the before time makes me cry. I don't know why it hurts to think about. It was such a sweet time, and I'd not trade it. But it was the before time, so innocent in its own way. Before pediatric glaucoma, before the surgeries that followed. Before he even had his first fever.
Before he started hitting milestones late.
Before he quit hitting them altogether.
Before he lost words and skills.
Before we got scared and called ECI (Early Childhood Intervention).
Before I quit reading the little milestone emails because they hurt too much.
Before we realized that he wasn't just a late talker.
Before the word "autism" was first spoken.
Before I wanted to rip the head off the first person who DARED speak it.
Before I put my sweet baby boy in school at three.
Before I had any idea how much he was (and later is brother and sister would be) my heart walking around outside my body.
But it was also before I knew that no matter what anyone said about or labeled my boy as, he's still my boy. He's still my Ryan.
It was also before life with Ryan taught me what's important... and what's not.
It's also before I learned to embrace who Ryan is, and in the process, who I am.
It's also before I even began to scratch the surface of what true, loving sacrifice is.
It's certainly before I knew much at all about autism and way before I knew how misunderstood these people are.
It's definitely before I wanted to scream from the rooftops the truth... that these people have feelings, they can hear you, and throwaway words like the "r" word really are hurtful. It's before I realized that beyond every tasteless short bus joke there's a mama like me, walking her sweet baby to the short bus, realizing that so many people I know make jokes about it, and how I'd like to go back and tell them how un-funny it is.
It's definitely before I knew so well the pain of the stares, the comments, and the fact that so often random people think they know your child and his diagnosis better than you, the doctors, the specialists, and the therapists combined.
Before I knew what it was like to have someone ask about autism, how it affects Ryan, how it affects our family, and to totally tongue-tie because I'm so excited they asked and there's so much to say. How do you shove the way you live your entire life into a few words?
It was long before I realized how my life was driven by preconceived notions; expectations of how our life "should" be... and how little I cared about what God intended it to be.
Honestly, I felt a little silly this morning as I teared up listening to Sesame Street... but you know what, folks? There's a lot of water under the bridge between the before time and where we are now on this journey, and there will be tons more. So today as I attempt again to spread the word in my own little way about kids like Ryan, I find myself looking back and hugging the past, for it is those experiences that God used to bring us to where we are today.
And after a good, long look back, I'm only interested in going forward.
So have a blessed Autism Awareness day, Light it up Blue, dye your hair blue if you want... all that stuff makes me tear up too, because it shows that people see and are at least willing to hear of what these dear ones go through daily. So many of you support these kids in these ways and through reading blogs like this one, A Diary of a Mom, Rhema's Hope, Pucks and Puzzle Pieces, Open Up and Let Go, and so many other sites that are a message in a bottle to those who need understanding and those who wish to understand. Love and hugs to all the families who live in a household where every day is Autism Awareness Day... and of course, many thanks and tons of love to my little man, my buddy Ryan, who I am blessed, humbled, and honored to call my son.
And thanks and tons of love and hugs to his siblings... to Richie and Maelynn, who bless my heart by blessing their brother's heart. They adore their "pal Ryan", as they call him. Mommy's so proud of you two.
Spread the word, folks. Autism isn't contagious, but acceptance can be.
Thanks be to God for you, dear Reader, the ones who understand, the ones who want to understand, and those who understand because they live it. May your efforts be blessed!