Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee



Ryan (29), Autism, Hamilton County


"I don’t know who I can turn him over to that I can trust."

  • A Student interview of parent's Perspective
  • Posted on 8/21/2013

Sue is the mother of a grown 29-year-old son with autism. When Ryan was young, he was seen by six different pediatricians, and none of them ever mentioned autism as a possibility. When he entered grade school, he always tended to lag behind the other students by about six months. Many other adults attributed his developmental and academic delays to his being a boy and thus being slower than his peers. He was diagnosed at one point in his child and early adulthood with mental retardation, but his IQ was borderline typical, and his behavior did not fit the typical patterns of those with intellectual disabilities. At another point he was also diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. Some diagnosed him with learning disabilities, so he spent ten years of his education at a private school for children with learning disabilities. Sue explained that while Ryan’s time in private school was beneficial due to the small class sizes (eight students), his schooling did not provide training in necessary social skills—it was entirely academically focused. Thus, he spent his final two years in grade school at a regular public school. The transition from a small school community to a large public high school was difficult for Ryan, and his test scoring dropped significantly after his first year in public school, making it difficult to get his degree.

After Ryan left school, he went to work at a manufacturing company of a family friend who hired only employees with disabilities. Initially, Ryan liked his working environment, but he left after four years because he was tired of the monotony and physical labor in the warehouse, and he wanted to move into a management position. After leaving the manufacturing company, Ryan applied for work though an organization called Job Corps, which prepares adults without high school degrees vocationally. Ryan studied culinary arts, which he really enjoyed, and he also earned his GED during his 18 months with Job Corps. Unfortunately, Ryan re-entered the workforce at about the time of the economic decline, making his job search difficult. Ryan was enrolled in a program through Cisco called Community Re-entry, which helped him to practice life and job skills by planning, budgeting, scheduling, etc. in groups with others. Ryan had applied for 75 different positions prior to being admitted to the Community Re-entry program.

Sue diagnosed Ryan with autism herself when he was 25. She had been watching a video from his birthday experience sky-diving, and noticed that for the first time he would not look at the camera. Previously, all her home videos of her son had been taken by her and her husband, so he was comfortable looking at the camera, but because it was being held by an unfamiliar cameraman in this video, he refused to look at it and kept looking down instead. At about the same time, Sue had been hearing more about and researching autism, and observed many of its characteristics in her son. Before diagnosing her son on her own, none of the doctors or therapists who had seen Ryan had ever suggested to Sue that he might have autism. At the time (1980’s-1990’s) autism was seen as being a much more severe impairment with different manifestations. According to the research at the time, Ryan did not exhibit the primary behaviors associated with autism.

Ryan’s major strength according to his mother is his positive attitude. His occasional bouts of anger are generally short and subside quickly. Ryan has a variety of interests, including music and cooking. Sue says that her son “loves playing the drums. He’s always loved that. And music, that’s like his creative outlet.” Music has been a great therapy for Ryan in relieving stress. Presently, Ryan is playing in a band and thoroughly loves performing with his other band members. Ryan also recently received an Employee of the Year award through his current job. He is a great reader, but he struggles with math. Life skills like dealing with money and budgeting, and even setting the temperature on a thermostat, can be difficult and confusing for Ryan, because numbers have little meaning for him. Consequentially, his parents handle most of his money themselves, and only allow certain amounts of pocket spending money. Additionally, Ryan really struggles in social aspects, and has difficulties making friends and picking up on social nuances.

Sue has expressed her concerns about transportation for Ryan, as he at one time had a driver’s license but had many minor accidents. Currently, he commutes using public transportation, but in the past transportation has been a major issue. Sue also worries about Ryan’s home living situation, because he does not always exhibit self-discipline. She hopes that he will continue making improvements in the future with cleaning and hygiene. Sue has thus identified transportation as well as life skills training and coaching as two main areas that would benefit Ryan’s needs.

In the past, getting specific services for Ryan has been difficult because of his childhood IQ testing, which places him in an average IQ range, so legally he does not have an intellectual disability and therefore does not qualify to receive services. She has also expressed hopes that there might be more technological aids for Ryan’s day-to-day self-management, such as applications on phones with checklists and schedule reminders. She also worries about him being taken advantage of by others. Sue says that her biggest fear is that “I won’t be able to find somebody to continue some sort of supervision of him after I’m dead….I don’t know who I can turn him over to that I can trust.”

Sue expressed that her hopes for Ryan in the future are that professionally, he will move up in his work experience and expand his employment options, and that personally, he will build relationships and find close companions to do things with in the community.

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