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What Autism Does to a Mother

continued...

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 firsthand."

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 various sensations.

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.

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