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I'm on a Mission to Get My Son Better — and Help Others


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Nancy Rones
Redbook Magazine Logo
As Ryan faces new and frightening setbacks in his struggle with autism, his parents search for answers and find both purpose and peace in their new life.

For the past several months, REDBOOK has followed the Kalkowski family as it grapples with the challenges of battling 3-year-old Ryan's autism. In our last installment, Ryan's parents had a lot to celebrate: his birthday, his placement in a preschool class for the upcoming fall that would include both typical children and those with developmental delays, and the major strides he was making in intensive one-on-one therapy sessions at home. This month, the Las Vegas family is filled with mixed emotions as it faces the long-term reality of Ryan's disorder.

The day after Nicole Kalkowski's son, Ryan, took his first dose of medicine to treat an overgrowth of yeast in his little body, he woke up crying and extremely cranky. Nicole, 36, was worried but continued rushing around the house to get her two girls, Ciera, 9, and Ella, 7, ready for school.

Suddenly, Nicole heard a door slamming upstairs and ran toward the sound to investigate. What she saw made her heart sink: Three-year-old Ryan was standing at the entry to her bedroom, methodically opening and closing the door. Nicole was shocked — and scared. This was the type of repetitive behavior Ryan had started to display when he was a little older than 2, while in the grip of what's often referred to as a regressive autism; by that time he had also lost some developmental skills, such as responding to his name and waving. But thanks to intensive treatment, Ryan had managed to regain several of those skills, and many of his repetitive behaviors, including spinning and door slamming, had vanished — until now.

Nicole tried to redirect her son's attention. "Let's have breakfast," she said in a cheerful tone, gently pulling him away from the door. Ryan cried and refused to budge. Nicole grabbed a nearby toy and handed it to him. He couldn't be distracted. Finally, she pried him off the door and carried him downstairs as he screamed angrily.

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