Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Owl Ride!

Before we got blown halfway to Oz by the storm last night, Redemske told me a funny thing: "I didn't know your daughter was autistic."

That's funny because Katie's disability is one of the things I usually "lead" with in conversations with new acquaintances. I try to let people know about our family's connection with austism in order to gently educate people about the condition.

It's a spectrum disorder, with many, many permutations. When people find out about Katie, they usually express surprise. She's what the psychologists call "high-functioning." Redemske said, "I just thought she was squirrelly." And she is. Her impulse control isn't as developed as that of her peers--and before you think, "upbringing," don't.

But she usually seems like an ordinary kid. A little weird, but still. She doesn't fit the stereotype of an isolated kid rocking in the corner, refusing to make eye contact or engage with others. Her intelligence is well above average. She has a ton of emotional empathy. She engages others with candor, enthusiasm, and interest. She's genuinely affectionate.

But while "neurodevelopmental typical" kids instinctively pick up the rules that govern interpersonal communication, Katie struggles to adapt her behavior to variables like personal space, conversational relevance, or vocal volume. She has NO sense of irony. She runs up to groups of peers and launches into a diatribe about Sponge Bob with no preamble or feed-forward. She's socially enthusiastic but awkward. And her willingness to get right in someone's face really freaks out some shy, retiring children.

She also suffers from some mild sensory integration issues; cacophonous, echoing voices in a large gymnasium force her to shut down a bit to process all of that noise. The mall on the Saturday before Christmas presents more sensory information that her system can process, so she forgets basic rules of safety or behavior. (But then again, so do I)

But she'll crawl in your lap and talk your ear off about space, or kung-fu, or her guinea pig. She knows when you're sad and comforts you. She has a perfect sense of pitch and a great memory for lyrics.

 My wife was astute enough to get her diagnosed when she was only two and a half, and since we lived in Norcal at the time, we were able to get her a multitude of behavioral, occupational, and speech therapies before she started school. The UC Davis MIND Institute was a godsend. Early intervention is CRUCIAL for autistic kids, and in Katie's case, she has a very good chance pursue any career she wants as an adult because of all the intensive therapies she received as a toddler and preschooler.

Many autistic kids aren't so lucky, and therapy options in Nebraska lag far behind those in other states. That's where the Monroe Meyer institute comes in--she's there right now, at their summer camp. She's quickly becoming the rock star of her group precisely because she's so high-functioning; many of her camp buddies are totally non-verbal. She might be, too, if not for all the interventionist help she received when she was three and four.

Monroe Meyer also serves kids with Fragile X, Down's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, and many, many other disabilities. The facility offers all manner of therapies for kids who grapple with mental and physical challenges.

The OWL ride posters and website don't really highlight the fact that registration fees support Monroe Meyer. So here I am, up on my blog-soapbox. Register here. The ride takes place this Saturday, July 17th. It starts and finishes at Lewis and Clark landing at 11:00 PM. Imagine a chance to ride from downtown through Dundee and past Field Club--at midnight. With a bunch of other cyclists.

I'm jazzed.

It looks to be a pretty chill, social ride with good food and music. Pitch is catering. I'll be rocking my new Team Type I kit, replete with its heady aroma of race-winning karma, so come up and say hi. Maybe I'll even let you sit in my famous draft.

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