My Ryan, aka the Ry-Ry Man, was diagnosed with autism two months shy of his second birthday. I remember feeling devastated when I heard the diagnosis as if someone had kicked me in the stomach. All I could think about was how my life was going to change. It wasn’t fair; I didn’t sign up for this. Over the next nine years my husband and I dedicated our lives to taking care of Ryan. Like everyone else with a special needs child, we’ve been through the usual list of restrictive diets, endless hours of therapy, supplements, chelation, and, in our case, even an expensive and exhausting legal battle with our school district. However, looking back now I can’t help but think how lucky I am. I have been given the privilege of being Ryan’s mother. I have been able to celebrate milestones that most people expect their children will accomplish and therefore take for granted. I’ve learned patience and acceptance. I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you signed up for, but you get what you need. I need Ryan. My family needs Ryan. The whole world needs to learn from Ryan. I think kids like Ryan were put here to teach us something: acceptance, kindness and sense of community.
I am very proud to say that both of Ryan’s brothers have most people beat in this department, even me at times. I am proud of the people they are becoming. They have patience and understanding for people with special needs. They do not shy away from them because they understand that people with special needs are in many ways like everyone else, looking for respect and acceptance from others. Ryan’s 12-year-old brother, Nick, told me recently that he saw a little boy like Ryan at his middle school and went over to say hello and introduce himself. I wish more people would say hello to Ryan. But more often than not, they ignore him – or worse they are annoyed by him. His siblings are never embarrassed by him. If anything, they don’t understand why he isn’t included with more outside social events and gatherings. They see Ryan as their brother, a person. They see beyond his label. They know he struggles, but it only makes his victories (no matter how small) that much more important. I know a lot of the population doesn’t understand autism and are often frustrated by it; but we, the autism community, share something very special that people outside are missing: We have been blessed; blessed with these beautiful kids who are teaching us so much about ourselves and life.
Rebecca, mother of Ryan