Given Ryan’s fear of dogs and his love of routine, I expected some serious bumps along our holiday highway. I was cursing myself for failing to see the big picture as I booked these various trips at different times of the year.
But Ryan surprised us at every step of the way. The five-hour flight was breeze (Thank you Teletoon!), the seven-hour drive included only one major meltdown and détente was declared with the dog on day one.
As we watched Ryan adapt to new surroundings and new people every week, I was reminded of some wisdom shared with us during our quest for a diagnosis: a health care professional urged us to beware one of the pitfalls of diagnosis: lowering our expectations. I understood what he meant: we would ask less of Ryan, go ‘easier’ on him because he had a specific challenge.
Of course we have made allowances such as:
- Using visual aids rather than relying on verbal instruction
- Helping him choose appropriate extracurricular activities
- Acting as bridge in building friendships
- Being more understanding about his social faux pas
- Respecting his sensitivity to smells/sounds
But our psychologist was equally clear with us early on: don’t let Ryan disappear down his rabbit hole of special interests or stay in his small comfort zone. Keep him engaged in our daily lives. Expect him to join in, to be a part of things. And for the most part it’s worked.
Our parents’ group recently had the honour of meeting a high school student with ASD who candidly shared his experiences of growing up with Asperger’s. He shared so many valuable insights:
- How swimming provided him with an outlet for his anger/energy
- How his Asperger’s led him to argue endlessly with his parents because his way just seemed better or smarter
- How theatre became a passion for him and helped him learn how to interact more successfully with others
But the biggest lesson I learned from this remarkable young man had to do with expectations. His parents had high expectations for him. They expected him to succeed. They pushed him to do his best. And even though he found it challenging, in retrospect he appreciated it.
His words underscored a key part of bringing up any child, but particularly a child with additional challenges: we need to help them push their limits – to stretch themselves – so they can feel the exhilaration of unexpected success.
If you’d asked me in June if Ryan would a) go ‘tubing’ attached to power boat b) jump off a six-foot dock or c) swim out to a raft in the middle of a lake, I would have answered ‘none of the above.’ But there you go, it’s been a summer full of surprises.