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    "We Need to Pull Ryan into This World"

    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.

    Each week, his language improves. Although he does sometimes say words and phrases repeatedly (vocal stimming), Nicole points out that lately, she’s been able to redirect this habit into more appropriate behavior, such as singing and humming. And while some days Ryan is dramatically quieter than a typical peer, at other times he’s a chatterbox. Besides “mommy,” the toddler has regained other words lost during his regression, such as “juice” and “ball.” And he often comes out with new phrases. One recent example: “Okay, I go to table.”

    The Kalkowski family is also thrilled by how affectionate their little boy has become. He used to push his mother away, but now, like any typical toddler, he gets upset when she isn’t around. “The other day, I walked in from the movies with my daughters, and Ryan was at the door with a big smile and his arms out, saying, ‘Hold you,’” says Nicole. “Then, he started kissing me. I can’t put into words how awesome that feels.”

    There are still heartbreaking times when Ryan rebuffs hugs and needs space, but many evenings, he cuddles on the couch with his dad, 38-year-old Tim, who owns a contracting business. Sometimes, when Nicole and Tim are tired and snapping at each other, Ryan pulls them together for hugs. And at the playground, Ryan loves going down the slide with his sisters, Ciera, 9, and Ella, 6. “Ryan is like the glue of our family,” says Nicole. “His therapists are surprised that we’re seeing so much progress so quickly.”

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