Being a hockey wife means being good at picking up and moving — a lot. It means helping my two boys get settled and happy in new places over and over. But one day in 2012, when we were living in Scottsdale, Ariz., while my husband Jason played for the Phoenix Coyotes, we received an email from the director of our son Ryder’s Montessori school. Ryder, then three, wasn’t “a good fit,” she said - there was “something wrong” with him, and he wasn’t allowed to return. We knew Ryder had some quirks, and a speech delay, but hadn’t thought too much of it. We certainly didn’t think he was much different from other kids his age.
Upset, hurt and confused, we met with a developmental specialist. After going through all the steps, we were told that Ryder had autism. Although it was great to have a diagnosis, we were completely overwhelmed. We were already working with a speech therapist, but we also needed to get him an occupational therapist and an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapist, which had horrendous, discouraging wait lists. Fortunately, we found an occupational therapist who was an amazing fit and I decided to take a course in ABA myself while waiting for a therapist. I am so happy I did - I learned so much and gained a better understanding of autism. Finally, we connected with the best ABA therapist in Phoenix and Ryder’s therapy was underway.
The challenge was Jason’s hockey contract. We started working with the therapist in March, and that July, Jason signed with the Edmonton Oilers. I quickly found out that Ryder’s diagnosis in Phoenix didn’t fit the Alberta standards and they would need to re-do an assessment. The process was exhausting and included in-home visits and standing in front of a panel to explain why we needed services. And then, as soon as we were set up with therapists in Edmonton, Jason was traded to Chicago. Moving with him was out of the question, but staying in Edmonton wasn’t really a great option either - we had few friends or family there. We decided that it was best for the kids and I to return home to Calgary where we have more support, and because the move was inter-provincial, we could easily transfer the file. Once in Calgary, I had to start the process of getting wait lists for therapists all over again. I remember one night after putting the kids to bed, just staring at the paperwork in front of me and breaking down. I couldn’t stop crying. We were wasting so much time always being in limbo.
Ryder didn’t deserve this. I called Jason and we agreed that the kids and I would stay in Calgary for the remainder of the season - and also the following one. It would be hard to be apart, but we needed to do whatever we could to help Ryder. Having a solid home base would do that for us. Soon after our decision, we were accepted into a specialized services school and into their home program. Ryder, now seven, has been absolutely thriving. He loves his school and his therapists. It couldn’t have been a better fit. We are so proud of him and how far he has come: He now talks just for the sake of talking, speaking about everything he observes. He has gotten better about some of his rigidities (such as needing to drive home a certain way and how food is presented to him). His relationship with his five-year-old brother Easton has changed and they are now best friends. Their back and forth conversations are amazing to listen to!
When we lived apart, the one remaining strain was Ryder’s relationship with Jason. He would get a bit shy and didn’t know how to handle his emotions after not seeing his Dad for long periods of time. It didn’t take them long to pick up where they left off, but it was hard on both of them. It was also hard on Jason not to be around the kids on a regular basis. It was also lonely for Jason, whereas the boys kept me busy. He missed out on so much and it was hard to fill him in on where Ryder was with therapy. But I loved seeing Jason’s reaction to Ryder’s improvement - because I was with him all the time, it was harder for me to notice the big changes. As hard as it had been, we knew we made the right decision. Ryder’s psychologist was confident that he wouldn't need as many services and he would be able to attend a mainstream school. And she was right! He has been in a mainstream school for four years now! Of course, he has a lot of obstacles to overcome (as we all do!), but he is doing so well. It takes a village to raise a child, and everyone close to us has played a part in Ryder's success! We couldn't have done it without all the love and support surrounding our family.
Ryder is thriving. He is currently in a mainstream school. He loves his teachers, classmates and the resources that have been available to him. He continues to amaze us every day! He has an amazing support system… one we never could have imagined he would have. His peers continue to help him grow, and they learn so much from him as well. His friendships are beyond heartwarming, we are so grateful for how the kids in Ryder’s school care for him.
We love to share Ryder's story, extend support to other families and give back as much and whenever possible. Beyond our annual fundraising efforts, our latest initiative includes a collaboration with Calgary's own Local Laundry. Alongside the amazing team at Local Laundry, we created the Ryder's Crew sweater. We LOVE how it turned out, the design featuring the integrated heart & puzzle is so meaningful as a symbol for Autism, speaking to the idea of "until the pieces fit." It will be available online starting Thursday, March 14th, 2019 for a limited time.
$25 from each of Ryder's Crew sold will be donated to our favourite local group, AAFS (Autism Aspergers Friendship Society of Calgary), with a goal of donating over $2,500 in total. AAFS is a great support system for people on the spectrum, and for me. My best part of AAFS is that they provide opportunities to socialize. AAFS plans outings, such as hockey games, lacrosse games, bowling, movies, camping. They make plays, have theme nights and really push each other to flourish. We are very fortunate that Ryder has friends, but it’s something that is not easy for people on the spectrum, but they get that at AAFS, and a sense of pride for having their own thing outside of their home! Socializing is SO important, and on top of it, they get to build their confidence in their interests.