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on 22 May 2005
When Ryan Foley was born on May 6, 1985 professionals were just starting to recognize Asperger's Syndrome as part of the autism spectrum. Thanks to previous works by Frith and others, by 1985 spectrum behaviors were starting to receive more recognition.
Ryan was first considered autistic at the age of 3. He preferred shifting grains of sand and dirt through his fingers than playing with peers; he loved watching oscillating fans from infancy and had special interests over the years. Some of the special interests, such as the color blue and any object that was blue limited him in conversing with others; on the other hand, his love for early 1980s club music provided him with a conversational entrance to others. I found it interesting that Ryan said his feelings were not hurt when another child told him she was tired of a subject he had exhausted.
Ryan showed high reasoning and analytical skills. When he was in the early grades, another child falsely accused him of breaking a blue ruler. Since Ryan adored the color blue, the idea that he would damage something that color was highly unlikely. Both sets of parents were called in and the culprit confessed. I liked it when Ryan pointed out quite logically that falsely accusing someone to save your own hide is "what you would do to an enemy and not a friend." I thought Ryan's assessment was accurate and well thought out. It surprised me that the adults involved were nonplussed by his response, but I felt it was good that Ryan pointed this fact out to his accuser.
Since sensory issues are a large part of spectrum conditions, and Ryan was no exception. One glaring example was when Ryan would vomit during luch hour when he disposed of his lunch sack in the waste area. I wondered why Ryan didn't just bring his lunch in a lunch box so he would not have to walk past the trash room and endure the stench. Learning coping methods and compensatory techniques is an excellent navigational guide for people on the spectrum.
Ryan was fortunate in that he was more or less mainstreamed from the beginning. He was also very fortunate to know what his diagnosis was. I like the way Ryan's parents told him that he had a different form of autism when he asked why another autistic child was nonverbal. Ryan sounded as if he accepted Asperger's as being a part of his life. I like that.
Ryan's parents fought tirelessly on his behalf and their check lists at the end of each chapter as what resources and options are availabe was invaluable. That is what made this book more helpful and effective.
The only thing I didn't like was the word "perseverate." That is a damning, damaging, judgmental and highly charged word that has hurt many. While many parents and professionals may feel it is a helpful shorthand, it is still an intensely destructive word. "Repetition/repetitiveness; special interests" are much more accepting and much more tolerable. The excessive use of that word cost this book one star.
This book does an excellent job of debunking speculations. For example, when Ryan was 5 he liked sleeping on a low shelf in his closet. The assumption that was made at the time had nothing to do with Ryan's reason - he explained he did this because an uncle whom he loved lived in a small apartment and Ryan used the closet to "play apartment." That is an excellent example of why it is best not to make assumptions and to ask direct questions instead.
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