Autism a la Grandpa

My dad wrote a really nice piece about Colin in his column this week. (I’m a little biased on both counts of my dad and Colin.) I thought I’d share it with you.

Pope County Tribune – April 13, 2009
Stoneage Ramblings: Two local heroes that deserve mention
John R. Stone

We all have heroes and people we admire for how they go about life. I have two to mention this week.

The first is Marie Ogdahl, who died at the end of March after a nearly eight-year battle with ovarian cancer. Marie did not stop living when she discovered she had a severe case of cancer but continued to experience life. She saw three grandchildren join the family and a son get married. She was able to be an active grandmother and a wife and mother for many years as well. For those of us who have had our cancer scares, she was a model to emulate, a person who did things her way, a person who made the cancer fight for every cell it tried to claim, a person who did not let cancer scare her from living. She was in charge, not the cancer.

Marie made sure she took full advantage of the good days. Ovarian cancer is a difficult one to diagnose early so Marie and her family have made it a point to circulate information to others about the warning signs for ovarian cancer. Our condolences go out to Bill and all the Ogdahl family.

My second hero is closer to home: he’s my grandson, Colin.

Last year, when he was in third grade, I went along as a chaperon with his class when it made its annual trip to Andes Tower Hills ski area. The idea was to help teach him to ski.

The day didn’t go well. Colin was having a hard time overcoming the anxiety that is a symptom of his autism. Every time his speed made him uncomfortable he would sit down on his skis, a dangerous thing to do because one loses all control. He would fall a half dozen times on each run down the hill. So I skied closely to him and grabbed him each time he sat down to keep him from going into the woods or running into someone else.

But every time he was down he got back up again. He never complained that he was hurt or tired. And he never asked to quit. Frankly, I didn’t know why he wanted to keep trying. In fact at the end of the day he made me promise to bring him back; it was the only way he would agree to leave. Two more trips didn’t go much better than the first, but he was bound and determined to keep trying.

One time as I was helping him back up he looked at some kids going by and asked me, “Grandpa, why can’t I ski like that?” I told him he would some day, not having much confidence in when that day might be.

This year I went again with his class but this year things were different. The first day was a little rough but we worked very hard on one thing, getting confidence in the snowplow maneuver. That meant more time on the bunny hill than he wanted to spend, but in the end it paid off.

The first few runs down there were issues with getting the skis crossed but he was under control and upright. Further runs got better. Again, he would not leave the ski hill until I promised to bring him back, which I did.

We made two more trips in March and each time he got better. By the end of the third trip we’d get off the lift and he would head over to the edge of the hill and take off. He no longer waited, he no longer had to stand there, look down the hill and screw up his courage to a level that allowed him to push off and head downhill. On each of the last two trips to Andes he didn’t fall more than twice in several hours of skiing. When his skis crossed he’d uncross them. When he felt he was going too slow, he’d pull his skis together to gain speed. He got it!

April is National Autism Month. Colin is considered high functioning. He’s in fourth grade and has some wonderful skills. Musically he can remember all the notes to a piano piece after playing it once. He has a wonderful singing voice. As he grows older he overcomes more and more autism symptoms, thanks to his parents and some really great people at Minnewaska Area Schools.

Colin and Marie are heroes to me because they didn’t quit, even when it would have been logical and understandable to do so. They set an example for us all.

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