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"We Need to Pull Ryan into This World"

WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Nancy Rones
Redbook Magazine Logo
Every inch of progress that Ryan Kalkowski makes in his battle against autism gives his parents new hope — and new determination. In this month’s installment, we look at how far this little boy has come, how far he still has to go, and what his family is willing to sacrifice to get there.

In the prevent installment of REDBOOK'S Living With Autism series, Nicole Kalkowski was amazed and overjoyed when she began witnessing signs of progress in her little boy. After Ryan started speech and occupational therapy and went on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, a spark returned to his eyes and he regained some of the skills and habits that autism had stolen from him — he began feeding himself and hugging his two sisters again. This month, we watch Ryan delve deeper into treatment as his family anxiously holds their breath, waiting, hoping, and fighting for more progress each day.

It was a moment that might not have been as magical to another mom. One Tuesday morning in late January, Ryan Kalkowski, who was 2 at the time, and his 36-year-old mom, Nicole, were in the family room of their Las Vegas home with three therapists from Nevada’s Bureau of Early Intervention Services (NEIS), the state agency that provides services such as occupational and physical therapy to children under 3 with developmental delays. At the session, Ryan — who’d begun to lose some of his language and social skills at 17 months, what’s often called regressive autism — was smiling and putting simple sentences together, such as, “I can do it.” The therapists were amazed at how spontaneously he was speaking. And when the group, Nicole included, sang “The Wheels on the Bus,” Ryan did the “all through the town” line by himself.

Five minutes later, when Nicole walked to the bathroom for a tissue, she heard cheering and rushed back. Her son barreled over to her, arms open. “Ryan just asked, ‘Where’s Mommy?’” said one of the therapists. This was huge for Nicole — it was the first time since Ryan’s regression that he had called her “mommy.” Wishing she’d heard it with her own ears, Nicole picked Ryan up, hugged him, and said tearfully, “Mommy is right here.”

Not that kid in the corner anymore

Although Ryan is still clearly in the grip of autism — he isn’t yet pointing at things, and he sometimes flicks his fingers in front of his face when he’s bored or in stressful situations, an autistic symptom known as stimming — his treatments are definitely helping. He no longer spends his days stuck in his own world; he’s excited to play with his mom, who doesn’t have to coax him out of the corner with toys or activities anymore. Instead, Ryan chooses things to do — for instance, the cherub-cheeked boy pulls Nicole over to work on puzzles with him, or to make music on a toy piano.

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