Sunday, April 3, 2011

Little Riley

I found some pictures of Riley when he was little.
He's probably 3 in all three of these pictures. Our digital pictures started at this point. All of the really little shots of him are on film. Remember film???
See what a happy boy he was? So smiley, and so smart.

Awwww. Cute huh? It's strange to think back to those early days. He's our first kid. He was such a smart little guy, so lovable and kind-he still is.

To be considered truly Autistic, there tends to be a significant language delay in kids. Riley did not have a language delay at all. In fact, he started talking at 9 months. By 18 months, he knew all of the letters in the alphabet and could speak in full, complete sentences. He was a tiny thing, and the vocabulary would throw a lot of people. It's funny, but when Quinn was two, he wasn't saying much (compared to what Riley could say at that age), so I took him to the doctor thinking he was a dud. I was assured that Quinn was fine. We later found out that Quinn was farsighted and needed glasses. When he got the glasses, language came right along, but he was still no match for Riley's vocabulary.

Looking back at Riley's early years, there were signs of Autism even then: he lined up his cars when he played with them, he was obsessed with diggers (construction vehicles) and could name them all. He liked numbers. He watched the same shows over and over and over. He would go to bed EVERY night, listening to Perry Como's "Night Before Christmas," never even entertaining the thought of listening to something else. There was more too. He could sing entire songs, all the words, along with the song. He was kind and gentle and seemed to really understand things. He didn't like noisy places and scared easily. He was (and remains) very cautious. All of these things can be attributed to normal childhood, but then again, almost all can be signs of Autism.

When he started preschool, I could sense that he was different. He had trouble almost right away, with another boy who insisted on picking on him. Kevin and I would roll play with him to help him defend himself. It didn't work. This boy had Riley backed into a corner one day and Riley spit on him. I know he knew that he couldn't hit the kid, so he did what he could to get the kid away from him. The teacher was mortified. I told her that we would address the spitting, but that the boy needed to be stopped. He was bullying my child. They moved that boy to another room. That was Riley's first encounter with a bully. At that same time, he could clearly tell us the events at school, but he couldn't ever name the kids in his class. He didn't seem interested in playing with the other kids. We just figured he was shy.

In kindergarten he could name all of the states and their capitals. He continued to play alongside kids, but not really with them. I remember the kindergarten teacher telling me at conference time that she didn't really need to teach Riley, because he knew everything already.

Nothing about 1st grade stands out. He had a nice teacher who seemed to like him. He was quiet and would talk every once in awhile in class. He was smart. He still didn't really have friends. He had kids he would play around, but none that he really connected with. He played with our neighbor (who turned into a bully), but that didn't always go that well. The boy was quite bossy and Riley quite timid.

In 2nd grade he worried at length about global warming. He was timid. It was this year that the crying started. He would cry about everything. When it came time for him to lose teeth, it panicked him. His two front teeth were hanging by threads. He would not wiggle them. It was a boy named Thomas who did us a huge favor by knocking out Riley's front teeth-not on purpose, just being a bouncy 2nd grade boy.

3rd grade was very hard for Riley. He had a male teacher, and I think he was intimidated by him. I also think the teacher thought he could make a man out of Riley and get him to stop crying. It didn't work and his self esteem took a huge dive. There was nothing he could do to please this teacher. It bothered him.

Riley started becoming more withdrawn in 4th grade. I chalked it up to him being the victim of a bully who lives on our street, and who was in the same class. We took him to counseling at that point, as we were hoping to get some answers, and get him help with self esteem. The counselor said it was all me and sent us on our way after only three visits. I tried to change my approach with Riley, and it worked for awhile. We roll played how to deal with the bully.

5th grade was awesome! Best teacher ever! She was so patient with him and "got" him. She's the only one so far who has understood him. He had some more trouble with a bully, but it was taken care of by his awesome teacher. He would participate in class. He had a best friend this year, a boy who was a 6th grader. That boy moved away though. Luckily he's not far away, so we can arrange for them to see each other, and they have stayed in touch.

6th grade was ok. The teacher did a great job preparing them for Junior High. Riley would get into trouble for constantly reading his book in class. He thought nothing of whipping out his book and reading even if his teacher was in the middle of a lesson. He wrote a response to something for an assignment which alarmed us. His teacher made a copy and gave it to us. In the assignment he indicated that he had no friends, nobody liked him (including me) and that his brother got away with everything. It was very disturbing. It was then that we started thinking about having him evaluated. He was nervous all year about the other boys bullying him.

Currently, Riley doesn't make eye contact. He won't initiate a conversation unless it's about something that interests him, or to tell us something he needs us to know. He has a flat affect. He sometimes won't even answer someone when someone has said hello or asked a question. He doesn't call anyone by name-not even Kevin and I. He does not call us mom and dad. He starts everything with "uh" or he just starts talking, but he won't call us mom or dad. He can't read people's faces. He doesn't understand social cues. He can't tolerate teasing or joking. He doesn't understand sarcasm. He has gotten better in many of these areas, but there are still issues. On the other hand, he is very smart. He can find information about anything (he loves his computer) on the internet. He is sensitive and kind, and would never dream of treating another person (besides his brother) badly. He loves history. He likes science. He loves to read (although he tends to read the same books over and over). He doesn't lie. He's becoming a whiz at piano! He's a nice kid who happens to have Autism. As my mom says though, Autism does not have him. We will work hard to help him along-we have all along.

Over the years Riley has also gone through many obsessions: diggers, makes/models of cars, states and capitals, maps, flags, Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, fact books, and currently, Disney.

So this year, as a 7th grader, we finally took the steps to get him evaluated, and that's where we are now. Tomorrow I'll post about all the fun we've had getting testing figured out and the school system. Having a late diagnosis is very difficult. I would have done it sooner if anyone had believed me. I was constantly asking the pediatrician questions. Oh well, we know what we are dealing with now, and we can move forward.

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