Yes, undoubtedly my Ryan has areas that are more of a struggle for him and many of those areas will be lifelong struggles, but my amazing little boy is gifted in so many ways that it boggles my sad and feeble mind. I'm pretty certain that by the age of 4 he was already smarter than me (yes, I'm ditzy, but I was the Outstanding Scholar in my Graduate class, thank you, so not every 4 year old is smarter than me).
Ryan's memory is incredible! Like sometimes scary incredible. There have been numerous occasions over the years where I am convinced, without a shadow of a doubt that he must have a photographic memory. Sure, sometimes it's Rainmanish, but sometimes his incredible recall is totally practical. It's baffling to me that on Christmas Eve he can remember the cup he drank out of last Christmas Eve (and heaven help me if that cup every gets lost or broken), but when asked who his aunts and uncles are, he can't always come up with their names. A perfect example, we were at my parents a couple years ago and one of my sisters was in the hospital. I explained to Ryan who was in the hospital and why. Well, my other sister walks in the door and in his somewhat monotone voice he says, "Well, I'm glad to see you made it out of the hospital." My big hearted boy. Right words, wrong sister.
Ryan is able to recall the location of every gold coin in all the Mario games, memorize every word and every facial expression of Jim Carrey in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (yes, he may have a career in Hollywood if he can accurately mime Jim Carrey) and compare it musically to the cartoon version from one Christmas season to the next, but he can't remember who sat beside him at lunch three hours ago. I don't think it's a coincidence that his memory fails him when it comes to people or social interactions. Those things aren't nearly as important to him as gaining entrance into the next Mario world. If he had it his way, I AWEnestly think he would prefer to live in Mario's world than this one. It's much more predictable. You can turn the world off when you are done with it or when you become to overstimulated, the same people show up in the same places and say the same things time and time again and of course there is the added bonus of having multiple lives.
As I mentioned before, on Ryan's second birthday he received those awful alphabet refrigerator magnets that hurt like he** when you step on them in your bare feet, because even though they are designed to stick to your refrigerator, half of the alphabet winds up on the floor, under the stove (if you ever dare to clean under there) and embedded between your toes. When Ryan opened the box of letters (as I smiled, cursed the gift giver and made a mental note to get their child something really loud or messy for Christmas) he knew every single letter, upper and lower case. Since Ryan was my second child, I realized this wasn't because I sat down with him every day and tried to teach him the letters, we know this only happens with the first child. So I patted myself on the back for picking a fabulous daycare who apparently started teaching my son his letters before he could speak. Oh, and I also decided that those Baby Einstein Videos were worth every penny.
Besides knowing his alphabet, Ryan also could count and recognize his numbers up to twenty by age two and up to thirty before he was three. He could also tell time before his fourth birthday as well as add and subtract time in order to figure out how many minutes until his favorite show was on (no, not Judge Wapner, usually Blues Clues). My child must certainly be a genius.
Although Ryan had some language delays it wasn't his inability to say words correctly, it was his expressive language. His ability to convey his thoughts into words and meanings. Since he could mimick every sound and word he heard, he rarely said a word incorrectly. The only two words he struggled with (or so I thought) regularly were, balloon, "ba la loon" and banana "bee nee na na". I still pronouce these words the Ryan Way today. Although I thought the way he said it was adorable, I have since learned that my boy was trying to read those words at the age of 2! He was hyperlexic which is a fancy doctory word for an ability to read words at a very early age. Call it what you want, I called it genius. I was ready for my boy to be the shortest kid in high school. His incredible memory played a big role in his ability to count, recognize letters and read.
Along with his crazy smart ability with letters and numbers, my sweet boy had a built in GPS in his brain. Although my memory fails me regularly, I have no problem remembering his first GPS route. Right around Ryan's second birthday, Dan and I had taken the boys to a new ice cream stand called Brusters in late summer. It was located in a small town about 10 miles from our home in an area we rarely ever travel. If you are familiar with Brusters, you know their logo contains their name and two cherries. No where is there a picture of ice cream on their sign. No where. We had to pass this Brusters four months later to get our Christmas tree. As we drive by Ryan yells, "ice cream". WHAT? It totally freaked me out! You must remember, my pal Denial and I were still hangin' so I was in a complete panic. How could he have possibly remembered that? My lack of knowledge and my denial just chalked it up to genius...again. Temple Grandin, a very successful woman with autism describes her brain like a movie showing the same pictures over and over again. Apparently my boy took a picture of Brusters in his mind and loaded it into his GPS.
His GPS also freaked me out on a first grade field trip. Two weeks prior I had taken the kids for the first time to a local farm to pick apples, a pumpkin and play in the corn maze. Well, here we were two weeks later loaded on a bus with 50 first graders leaving suburbia for a 20 minute bus ride to the country. Ryan sat snuggled up against me looking out the window in order to survive the loud, smelly bus. We were just approaching an intersection and he yelled, "turn left". Oh. My. Gosh. My little GPS did it again! I didn't even know that's where we turned and I drove us there! He's a big help when I get lost.
His mind baffles me. Ryan was able to identify every country in the world in a week playing Stack the Countries on his iPod Touch (by the way, there are 196 countries most of which he couldn't pronounce but he knew their location on the globe). He can tell you the exact date his well visit fell on last year (of course he can), he constantly gets "show your work" on his math papers because he doesn't need to show his work, it's all done in his fabulous mind (no wonder Rainman was so successful counting cards in Vegas...we have no trip planned to Vegas, but if times get tough....well, never say never), but my incredibly smart boy can't grasp all your facial expressions. He may not know if you look embarassed, bored or confused. Ryan understands angry, happy and sad, but more subtle emotions and facial expressions are hard for him to decipher. Ryan also doesn't understand why you say it's raining cats and dogs when clearly water is what is being released from the clouds, not Fido. Sarcasm is lost on him so if he spills root beer on your dress and you say, "oh that's cool", then don't be surprised if root beer then gets dumped on your shoes.
Facial expressions, idioms and sarcasm make understanding people difficult, but not impossible for Ryan and kids like him. That's where his fabulous memory can play a vital role. With the support of his beloved and amazing speech therapist, Ryan can be taught what confused or embarssed looks like. He can learn what an idiom is and although he thinks people who use idioms are "as dumb as a post" ("Mom, posts don't have brains! Are you crazy?!") he can memorize their meanings so when we neurotypicals ask him to "stop beating a dead horse" he will know we are not accusing him of animaly cruelty.
So, don't take it personally if Ryan forgets your name. Your file is just not as important as the file on how many people died in tornadoes in Pennsylvania last year. He probably doesn't even have a file on the tornado deaths in Kansas or Nebraska because he doesn't live there and since those states are in Tornado Alley, chances are good he never will. Failing to recall your name doesn't mean that he dislikes you, it just means that his memory is more likely to recall info that is more interesting to him and in Ryan's mind, people just aren't that interesting. He likes concrete information and facts. For those of us who do not have impaired social interactions, we recognize the complexities of people and understand that people are difficult (some certainly more than others). People don't always look the same, behave the same or speak the same. For Ryan, and other kids like him, the letter A will always be the letter A. Four plus four will always equal eight. Our beloved apple orchard is always a left turn off York Rd. Those things are constant, they are predictable, they are not confusing or scary and that makes my beautiful boy feel so much safer than looking you in the eyes, trying to determine if you are bored or embarassed and wondering why you would ask him "if he got up on the wrong side of the bed" this morning when clearly his bunk beds are against a wall and there is only one side he can get out of...the right side.