What Autism Does to a Mother
Sue persisted, and even packed Nicole's suitcase for a family trip to Laguna
Beach, CA, with Tim's friends and their families. Nicole had contemplated
canceling the vacation because going away with Ryan seemed too hard. But Sue
convinced her that it would be a good chance for the family to have some fun.
"I'm so glad Sue pushed us to go," says Nicole. "I bonded with the
wives of Tim's friends, who were very understanding on the trip — probably
because they got a chance to see all my day-to-day challenges
The following month, Nicole finally felt comfortable enough to ask Sue for a
favor. Every day, Nicole drove by a park near her house, a place she used to go
with other moms but had been avoiding recently because she knew Ryan wouldn't
react well to all the activity. She missed being there. Hesitantly, Nicole
asked Sue if she'd be open to playdates at the park every Monday with their
sons. Sue was happy to oblige. "When I worried that Ryan would scream the
whole time, Sue said, 'Oh, please. Like my son isn't going to scream. They're 2
years old.' Sue's so lighthearted and doesn't make it seem like Ryan is so much
different from her son," Nicole says. "She's helped me laugh more, and
just makes me feel like a normal mom."
Nicole is also grateful to Sue for the gift she gave Ryan — a friend of his
own. "One big fear any mother in my situation has is that her child won't
have friends," she says. "After a couple of playdates, Evan would climb
into his car seat as he and Sue were getting ready to leave and say, 'Ryan, you
my friend.' It touches me every time I hear that.
"I realized that there are people who really do want to help; you just
have to let them know that they can."
"I worried that Ryan was headed for severe autism"
Mondays with Sue provided some reprieve from Nicole's demanding schedule,
but she continued to spend hours each day doing therapies with Ryan. Some were
techniques that she'd learned from the Nevada Bureau of Early Intervention
Services (NEIS) coach. The coach had been coming to the house for the past few
weeks to work with Ryan and to show Nicole and Tim how to do certain behavioral
therapies, such as "heavy work," in which Nicole would have Ryan walk
wheelbarrow-style or play with a weighted ball in order to help him adjust to
After reading the book Engaging Autism, Nicole also tried what's known as
Floortime — a method that would later be used in Ryan's occupational therapy
sessions. Floortime focuses on helping a child with autism engage in
back-and-forth communication — a skill that many children with this disorder
lack. With this form of therapeutic play, a parent will join in on an activity
that the child is already interested in. For instance, if he's rolling his toy
car over a chair, you might grab another toy car and come around from the other
side and bump yours into his, so that the two of you interact.