Ryan could care less who comes along for the ride, or where we are heading, he is just excited to go. Not because Ryan wants his brother, his best friend, to leave. Oh my, no! Ryan will be pulling on Kyle's right leg, while I desperately cling to his left, to prevent Kyle from leaving us or should I say, pretending to leave us. Ryan is excited about our get away because for a boy who craves routine and worries about change, he never seems to be phased by the disruption of routine for a fun, good, old fashion family road trip...especially if that road trip ends at a hotel.
Ryan could care less what this particular college we are visiting has to offer Kyle. There is no concern about dorm room size, types of majors, the ratio of male to female students, walking distance to the closest college bar, or how many frats there may be for Kyle to pledge, Ryan is more concerned with what amenities the local hotel we are staying in has to offer.
Ever since Ryan was little, Dan and I would compare Ryan's connection, or lack of connection, to us and the outside world to Ryan being "checked in" or "checked out". It may not sound like the proper clinical observation that you would learn in a Parenting a Child with Autism 101 class, and "checked in" is nowhere to be found in the DSM V, but, it truly was the best way to describe Ryan's connection to us, to others, to the world.
Some days, Ryan is present, he is there, he is checked in. On these days, Ryan will be a little more chatty, a little less serious, and a little more aware of others. However, some days, some moments, Ryan has clearly checked out. He ignores your greeting, he fails to answer your question, and he is oblivious to what is going on around him. Ryan no longer seems to be "there" regardless of how many amenities we offer, regardless of how many upgrades we try to give him, or regardless of how many times I beg him to stay for one more day, Ryan checks out anyway. Fortunately, he always comes back and checks in again.
We could attribute Ryan's being "there" to diet, but, Ryan eats the same food each and every day. Ryan does not take any kind of medication, so the pharmaceutical companies can't take credit for Ryan's hotel points when he checks in. Ryan's day to day routine is pretty similar, and changing that routine doesn't seem to impact how long he stays. The one thing that Dan and I both believe impacts Ryan's check in and check out time, is the amount of screen time he has on a particular day. It seems like the more screen time Ryan has, the greater likelihood Ryan will check out early, leaving no tip behind. Whether it's food, routine, or screen time, I often wonder if when the world gets too complicated, too hard to understand, Ryan checks out with us and checks in at the Hotel Minecraft, where everything just makes sense.
In these much more frequently occurring moments, when Ryan checks in, I feel like I have slipped through a crack in the wall, the wall that autism built, the wall that so often surrounds my beautiful boy. I pray that with each crack, the wall will crumble just a little bit more, allowing my son to have the confidence to show me, and others, the young man who is often obscured by the protective wall that he feels is so necessary in order to keep himself safe. And even though I try not to question why the cracked form, or how many more cracks will appear, I can't help but wonder how long I have until Ryan realizes the crack is there and quickly seals it closed, checking back out, until next time.
Last week we attended a party, and Ryan took off his coat and checked in, and let others through the crack. Friends who had not seen him in awhile, looked at me in AWE with amazed smiles, and for once, it was not Ryan who was speechless. Their words were not necessary. I knew what they saw, I knew what they felt. Ryan was smiling in playful in a loud, chaotic party environment. Ryan made eye contact, he shook hands, he gave hugs, he remembered people's names. He checked in and did not check out for the entire party. I was as amazed as my friends.
I think the wall that autism has built will always be visible to some, but, for those folks willing to find the cracks, they will get to see what is behind the wall and believe me, it is a beautiful sight.
Like I said, I don't know why the check in occurs, or what makes Ryan want to just as quickly check out. It is just one of the mysteries of autism. Wasting time wondering what made Ryan chose today to check in and trying to get him to extend his stay means I am missing the time that he is "there".
When we get to our hotel for Kyle's college visit, I will fully appreciate Ryan's joy at check in. I will be grateful that he can handle the disruption of his routine and enjoy time with his family because for many families, that is not the case. I will watch his smile as he uses the hotel key to gain entrance to our room and takes in the surroundings as he claims his spot. In addition to Ryan's joy, I will also have a full appreciation for the desk clerk knowing how much better her day is when guests check in with a smile, eye contact and a presence that let's them know, they are indeed "there".