By Tess Malijenovsky
It was an emotional evening for the parents, teachers and friends of Ryan Molzer when he won 2011 Homecoming King. Ryan is an eighth grader at Lady’s Island Middle School with autism. Even though autism affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills, it didn’t stop Ryan from being a social highlight of the big game.
Ryan was most excited about dressing up in a sharp black suit, said his mother Joann. She and her husband recall Ryan’s patience waiting out on the field along with all the other nominees from fifth to eighth grade as each runner up was called. When Ryan started stepping out of line, his LIMS pals helped him out by holding him back: “No Ryan, you have to wait! You have to wait!”
Lady’s Island Middle School is Ryan’s comfort zone. “All the teachers and students know him. They are the most supportive bunch of kids,” said Joann. In fact, Joann intends to have Ryan stay at LIMS for his ninth grade.
At the beginning of the school year, Joann talks to all Ryan’s classmates about autism. “I think educating [the kids] keeps them from bullying children that are different or that have special needs.” She points out that Ryan is example of the one-out-of-every-hundred statistic. She also explains that everyone has stimming behavior, such as when we twirl our hair or tap our leg up and down without noticing.
While Ryan spends part of his time in school in an adaptive curriculum, he sits in other classes, like English or Social Studies, with all the other students. Joann thinks Ryan may have a photographic memory. She says Ryan can sit down, review a test and ace it without ever having to study. Also, Ryan gets out in the community, raising money before homecoming for the school’s athletic department, every year for the Walk for Autism, and LOVE for Therapeutic Riding (Ryan’s been riding horses for seven years).
“I think a lot of parents will hold their kids back because they don’t think they can handle it or it might be too much for them,” says Joann. “But I think it would boost the child’s self-esteem to be part of the class or school and to be involved in things like [homecoming].”
When Ryan won homecoming king, everyone cheered and he was given a black sash. “I cried like a baby,” confesses Joan. “Ryan was thrilled. He just kept saying, ‘I’m the king. I’m the king.’ It was just a wonderful, memorable moment in my life and his.”