Topeka resident Ryan Ondracek was diagnosed 20 years ago at age 2 with severe infantile autism, a disorder affecting brain development and characterized by communication and social interaction difficulties.
His parents, Dan and Carol Ondracek, were told the disorder was rare and their son likely would end up in a state hospital.
Today, Ryan lives at home, works a part-time job, earns medals at Special Olympics events and occasionally spends weekends with his twin brother, Alex, a Kansas State University student majoring in microbiology.
“Did I ever think I’d be here where we are today when we got the diagnosis? No,” his mother said. “He’s employable, has interests and touches so many lives.”
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When Ryan was diagnosed with autism, statistics indicated one in 500 children had the disorder, Carol said. The latest figures by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show one in 68 children are thought to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, determined by the level of a child’s functioning. The rate is higher among boys: one in 42.
There is no known cause or cure for autism.
“At first, I felt like we were walking alone. I couldn’t find anyone else with a son with Ryan’s type of autism,” she said. “Now there are so many on the road, it’s overwhelming.”
Ryan and Alex were born six weeks prematurely and a minute apart in August 1991. After a week in the neonatal intensive care unit at Stormont-Vail Regional Medical Center, the babies were released to go home.
When Ryan was about 13 months old, his parents began noticing a difference in his development.