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Overcoming autism

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By Trent Taylor

Meagan Graves knew from an early age that something was different about Ryan. After having Haylee a few years before, she and her husband, Tracey, knew what to expect as a parent when it came to raising a child, but nothing prepared her for the journey of autism.

Ryan wasn’t meeting the same benchmarks as Haylee did as a new born and that worried Meagan like it would any mother. Ryan wasn’t able to communicate as well and that made things difficult for the family.

“When Ryan was a baby she didn’t meet all the milestones and such, of course I have Haylee and she is older I knew when Haylee met her milestones. I noticed that Ryan wasn’t doing that as well,” Meagan said. “She crawled later, she walked later, she use to go up to the fridge and point at it and make noises, because she couldn’t tell us what was wrong. She cried a lot and that made things difficult, because we didn’t know what was wrong with her, or what she was going through.”

Ryan needed help as a young child and like any good parent Meagan got her that help. Ryan was accepted into the first steps program where she could work with different therapist to help with speech and other issues she was having.

“She got in first steps which is great. She started doing occupational therapy and stuff like that in home. Then she got to go to preschool where she got to work with her speech. So, she’s been in lots of therapy, from speech therapy to occupational therapy and physical therapy,” Meagan said. “During her preschool years I took her to Louisville in 2011. At that time she wasn’t diagnosed with autism, but with a generalized anxiety disorder. Then in 2016 we went back to Louisville and that’s when we were given the diagnosis of autism.”

Autism can be misdiagnosed, or not fully diagnosed in kids at a young age, as is the case with Ryan. This can be hard on a family and it can be a relief when the diagnosis is finally made.

“It was really tough on me and the whole family. I think it was harder on me than anyone. I knew she was having difficulties and I knew that something wasn’t right. It just weighed heavily on me,” Meagan said. “Experiencing autism is still difficult, but it’s better. After we went the second time and got that diagnosis it was like the tension and stress was taken off my shoulders. I didn’t want my daughter to be diagnosed with autism, but it validated what I already knew.

Kids with autism can develop interest in things and once they do they really stick with it. For Ryan that would be her fascination with flip flops.

“She can be very obsessive about things, and she loves her flip flops.” Meagan said. “She probably has at least 50 pair of flip flops and every time we go out she wants a pair. She wants to wear them all the time too. It doesn’t matter if it is winter and it’s 20 degrees out, she wants to wear them. She also likes food, and going out to eat. She likes Disney, and she loves to watch her sister play softball.”

Ryan also loves to sing and can remember lots of different songs. It doesn’t matter the genre she just likes singing.

“It is amazing because she loves to sing. She can sing anything on the radio. Old stuff, country, KLOVE, Christian music, rock and roll, I just find that intriguing.” Meagan said. “I just found that interesting … One of her first performances she got in the talent show out at North Washington. She sang in front of the whole school. She got up there and sang “Let it go.” The song from ‘Frozen’ and she is obsessed with it. That kind of started her singing stuff. So she sings at church. She get’s up there with a microphone and sings away.”

Meagan and Ryan have been apart of Washington Autism Group of Support for some time but have also found other groups in Lebanon where Ryan can be a part of.

“We have done stuff with WAGS, but we also go to Lebanon to the center over there it is called Working the Puzzle for Autism,” Meagan said. “They have a facility inside the Communicare building. They have a whole space. We have kind of bridged out and Ryan has met a lot of new people. It has been a really great support system for us. It’s great to know that we can ask questions and kind of feel like we are apart of something.”

Ryan has had an impact on many people in her life one of which is her sister. Haylee is a senior softball player at Washington County High School. Haylee plans on attending The University of Kentucky in the fall and major in speech therapy so she can help people like her sister.

“She wants to help people and Ryan is a a big part of that,” Meagan said. “Haylee really wants to help people, and this hasn’t been a easy journey for her. I feel horrible because sometimes I feel like she is neglected because I have spent so much time with Ryan we try to balance as well as we can. Haylee has always been very mature and adult like and has been a huge help to me.”