Thursday, August 21, 2014

High School??

Ryan’s now a freshman in high school. HIGH SCHOOL. Okay? HIGH SCHOOL. 

It's not that I can't believe I have a high schooler; I have a 26yo and 23yo. I’ve been there done that, although I home schooled those two through that. 

But this is Ryan we’re talking about. I don’t know why it seems so strange, but I do know that sometimes it’s hard not to think of him as being “little.” Maybe it’s because of his Intellectual Disability (that’s the newest term, and he also has ODD, ADHD, OCD, Tourette‘s syndrome, and speech and language delays). Maybe it’s because I still remember the day he came to us, as a small round ball of quite long blond hair and bashfulness. 

But whatever it is, I’m struggling to get used to the fact that Ryan is growing up and on his way to adulthood. That’ll be here in a few short years.

Not many people know the story of Ryan and how he came to be my son. Oh, most everyone knows he’s adopted, but very few people know all the other details. Knowing where he started out and came from really gives you an idea of just how far my son has come in life. 

5 years old

As foster parents, we were in our third year of foster parenting that March of 2002. A 3 year old boy named Orian that we’d had in our home for six months had just moved on, and I had heard through the grapevine that there was a toddler who they were having a hard time placing. Hearing that he might have dwarfism, I called our agency on a Friday and said I wanted him. 

That Monday they brought him to me. In the 10 days since he had been taken, he had been in 5 foster homes as emergency placement. I didn’t know it at the time, but my home was where the buck stopped. He was now in his forever home.

I remember the moment the social worker stepped through the door with Ryan. He was very small, very squat, round, and his blond hair was very outgrown so that he almost looked like a girl. He had huge blue eyes, and later we commented that he looked just like Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story. 

He was very shy as he sat on her lap, and he pushed his face into her shoulder as I talked to him. But minutes later when I held out my arms, he willingly came to me. 

And then our adventure began. ;)

8 years old

Without revealing too many details, Ryan was taken in a drug raid. His mother willingly admitted that she kept him in a crib most of the time. She had and has had other children, siblings of his, who were also exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero, and all have also been adopted. We still don’t know all of the lasting effects this has had on Ryan, but I do know that at least two other siblings are experiencing some issues. 

In the days following Ryan’s becoming a part of our family, I was astounded to discover some things about him, through his behavior and our interactions with him, that were almost unheard of. He was 22 months old, and he didn’t have a bottle, but he had no idea what a spoon was or how to use it. At all. 

He had no language at all, no words, and would grunt in response to us. When he wanted more to drink, he would throw his cup and grunt. 

He didn’t like to be touched at all, and hand over hand manipulation was definitely out of the question, as I found out when I tried to teach him the sign for “more.” Just as an aside about this, through all the years since, Ryan has disliked touch, especially if it seems to be manipulative, like the times we’d be out and I’d put my hand on his chest to keep him from stepping out in front of a car, or try to nudge him forward to go into a store. He’s always been very resistant to that and would jerk away from me.

I quickly learned that with Ryan I needed to let him have his space, and let him initiate touch. There are very few times I go up to him and gently hug him, knowing this; mostly I let him come to me for a hug, which he does when he wants one. The older he gets and the more I’ve come to know Ryan, the more I’m convinced that part of it, at least, is due to sensory issues. And as someone with major sensory issues, I totally get it. 

10 years old

For a while after he came, I noticed that when I’d try to engage him, Ryan would do something like roll away from me, or push his face into the couch. This kind of avoidance behavior further let me know that he needed time and space, and I had to, for the most part, let him interact with me on his terms.

I had never known a child who didn’t know how to play until I met Ryan. He literally didn’t know what to do with toys. The first time I blew bubbles for him was really special. But I had to sit with him and teach him how to play. He just didn’t know what to do with anything.

Food was a big issue for a long time. Ryan would stuff his mouth so full of food that he couldn’t even close his mouth. I was always alert for choking, and tried to work with him on slowing down and small mouthfuls. We gave him plenty to eat, but that never seemed to matter; he would reach over and grab food off of our plates and stuff it in his mouth after eating his own.

He also would take food and run to his bedroom, scrambling under his crib to hide it there. I’d find muffins, crackers, and the like all the way underneath, on the floor up against the wall. 

10 years old

The way he ate and the hoarding weren’t all that foreign to me, after all, I’d worked as a direct care worker in an institution for the mentally retarded for years. I recognized those behaviors.

And I also recognized the hurt in my heart, thinking of what had led him to acquire those behaviors.

As far as suspecting Ryan may have dwarfism, that came about because of his height and the size of his head. At his first visit to the family doctor, Ryan was found to not even be on the charts for height, and the size of his head was off the charts. His legs, and especially his arms, seemed to be too short for his body, even as small as it was. He wasn’t slight, either; he was quite the butterball.

Off to the geneticist in Boston, MA we went, making frequent visits for a year, having tests for this and tests for that. The geneticist said that though Ryan didn’t have dwarfism, his arms were actually somewhat shorter than they should be. He seemed to fit several different syndromes, but test after test revealed that he didn’t have them.

13 years old

After a year of testing and appointments, the geneticist determined that we were dealing with a case of neglect, and that he simply hadn’t grown like other children do because of that. 

Since then, Ryan has of course grown, and though he’s still pretty short, he’s grown into his head and seems more proportionate in every area. 

Through the years, especially once he started formal education, his challenges became more evident. He has always been developmentally delayed and had a speech and language delay. To this day he still has trouble pronouncing some words and sounds, and difficulty processing what he’s told. 

He has memory issues and still can’t remember the days of the week, months, something he learned in class the day before, random words at times…it can be anything at all. He still struggles with reading, and has come to hate it because it’s such a battle for him. His fine motor skills are behind and writing is an even bigger struggle. 

But amongst all these challenges that Ryan deals with, there is so much progress that he has made. He’s come so far, and I’m very proud of him. 

He’s learned how to read, and he’s doing fairly well in math. He still relies on Timmy a lot to read for him and he’ll let Timmy do the math if they’re deciding how to spend some money at the store, but he’s doing more of both on his own. 

The behavior issues we dealt with so long due to his ODD have really evened out, though we still deal with times of disrespect and resistance. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell if that’s the ODD speaking or his age and struggle for autonomy. And as far as the ADHD goes, he is so much more calm and mellow now, that it really gives me hope for Timmy. And y’all know I need that hope where Timmy’s concerned! ;) 

Last Christmas, wearing
my tree skirt as a kilt. ;)

Ryan has been developing his sense of humor for a couple of years now. Whereas Timmy is quite comfortable in his and seems to come by it naturally, Ryan is still somewhat testing the waters and discovering what’s funny and what’s not, what’s appropriate and what’s not, etc. 

It’s like watching him slowly get a feel for understanding humor in various forms and finding his own style and niche where he feels comfortable. 

Sometimes I feel I’m walking a fine line between wanting to bolster his confidence, and wanting to let him know when something isn’t funny or appropriate, being ever so conscious of his delicate self-esteem in these difficult teenage years. And our tenuous and sometimes fragile relationship that seems to be ever changing and evolving. 

It’s a day to day thing, to raise your child, dealing with whatever issues pop up, still trying to teach and sometimes failing, and adjusting accordingly to the changes in him. He’s now a pretty mellow guy, loves lifting weights and shooting hoops. He wants to get a job, but can’t for another year; but he has initiative. 

Last month

He loves art, his own music, and playing racing games. He’s learned how to cook by cooking with me, and do laundry. He likes being given responsibility for some big chore around the house or for fixing something. 

Yet he still likes building a fort in the living room with Timmy. 

I’m proud of Ryan, and in the person he’s becoming. High school? Yes, it’s just another step on the journey. 

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