Ryder at the Beach



Neighborhood: Long Island, Massapequa

My 10 year-old son, Ryder has autism. Ryder is the sweetest boy ever, but he still surprises me and catches me off guard with things, mischievous things. 

Ryder’s always been very physical and that helps him, and hurts me, when he’s carrying out the crazy and creative (in retrospect) and impulsive thoughts that come to him. He has been up to things since he’s been able to walk at nine months old. We used to call him Big Baby (from Toy Story 3) because he was bald and small but had so much control physically. 

Like many on the autism spectrum, he is not understanding any of this pandemic, quarantining business, and does not do well out of his regular routine. So we’re trying to do special things with him through this time. Where we live, in Massapequa Park on Long Island, we have a beach just for residents. He loves the ocean. During beach season, we only ever take him at sunset, when it is less crowded, so we don’t have to worry about him running on people’s blankets. Yesterday we took him at 3 pm. It’s always the same, as soon as we get there he runs as fast as he can to try to get to where the water meets the sky. I usually have a death grip on his hand because I can see this coming, but yesterday I let him run ahead because I knew once he felt how cold the water was he’d back up stunned; and by then, I’d be there next to him.

I’m usually so fixated on Ryder, I don’t see anything else. Yesterday, there was an innocent kid, flying his kite. When I saw the kid, I still did not see the kite. All I saw was Ryder charging towards the boy and, at that moment, I was only worried Ry was going to violate the kid’s six-foot perimeter. So, along with my other son TJ, I start screaming and running towards the two of them. And then I see it—the kid’s got a kite. That’s a trigger for Ry; he loves releasing things into the air. So Ry immediately overpowers the kid and gets the kite and releases it instantly. 

 I’m not a kite expert, so I don’t know if this is typical, but at first it surfed along the top of a wave; that’s when poor TJ was still trying to reach it because I was screaming, “TJ get it! Get it!” He went up to his knees and then had to turn back. It didn’t matter anyway, by then this kite was already far up and as quick as anything it was swallowed up into the blue sky. Within seconds, you couldn’t even see it anymore.  

The kid runs off to his family who’s playing volleyball nearby. I run up to them and I’m apologizing over and over. I tell them Ry has autism, and Ry’s next to me yelling, “I’m a bad boy!” The dad says, “It’s no big deal. It was plastic. He has 10 in our garage.” The kid also says it was no big deal. We’re still under three minutes of having arrived on the beach at this point. 

So we went back to the water’s edge where Ry instantly forgot about the whole thing. Steve, my husband, finally comes moseying over. I ask, “Where were you? Why didn’t you help?” He said, “Deb, what could I have done? You have to see it all from the other perspective: it’s a peaceful beach here, and then all of a sudden three crazy people go running and screaming towards an 8-year old boy, one actually attacks him and releases his kite. You think another full-grown man needed to be in that mix?” I guess he has a point.

Later, when we were leaving the beach, we passed the family so I could apologize again. I said “Ry, what do you say?” He said, “Thank you!” I said, “Say you’re sorry!” And he said a total non-authentic, half-assed “Sorry,” and then proceeded to walk, with bulldozer feet, right through the sandcastle the mother and daughter were building. It would be funny, if it were not so embarrassing.  

When we were in the car, on the way home, TJ said, “It was like Annie’s birthday party all over again!”  Ry had showed up to her party and instantly untied and released her birthday balloons into the air. All I can do is try to come up with why he does these things. Not to excuse it, but I think that when he sees things that are able to fly, he thinks they should. It’s actually beautiful in its own way. But probably not to that little boy.  

Ryder really is the sweetest boy ever. He has no malice in his heart. Hopefully, just like Annie understood, that’s what the other boy will realize in time.


Debra O’Fee lives with her husband and two kids in Massapequa Park. She works as a secretary in Uniondale High School and serves on her school district’s SEPTA board. She will be releasing a book titled “I’m Sorry Jimmy Muscle: The Story Of Our Autistic Eloper” in the coming months.  


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