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Campbell: A Story Of Kindness

15 Dec

Tazz and Campbell

Once upon a time, I had a child and called him George. I had all kinds of hopes and dreams for that child. We were going to  take him on the kinds of outings kids love, and for his birthdays, we’d invite his friends to come too. We would delight in watching him grow from babyhood to childhood as he ran and jumped and played with his peers; we would laugh at the funny things he said as he was learning to talk; he would make cookies with me and we’d go for picnics at the zoo. When he became a big brother he would take pride in helping with the baby.

One day, when George was almost four, the hopes and dreams crumbled as a doctor gave me the news that George had autism. As I sat there in shock (strange really, since I’d known for a year that something was wrong) I did not yet know that at some point in the future, I would come to accept a new kind of “normal”, that my hopes and dreams would take on a different, but still meaningful form, and that while the journey would take us on the scenic route, we would still see many wonderful things along the way.

It hasn’t all been a cakewalk. There have been hard times. I have had to learn how to restrain my son with my bodyweight to stop him from hurting himself. Speech is still sporadic enough that we celebrate every single word, every single sentence. It saddens us that George does not have friends, preferring to play by himself.

One of the hardest things to deal with has been the reactions of other people. We get rude stares in grocery stores, and complete strangers tell us that what our child needs is “a good hiding”. When people see George having difficulty in a public place, they jump to the immediate conclusion that he is misbehaving. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes he is. He may have autism, but let’s face it – an eight-year-old boy is an eight-year-old boy. Most times, though, George is having trouble with the brightness of the florescent lighting, or the overabundance of sounds, or all of the conversations going on around him that he does not know how to filter.

I sometimes wish for a magical potion, a Perfume of Arabia that I could sprinkle onto people to open their eyes and help them understand.

In the absence of a Perfume of Arabia, the best I can do is write about my experiences and hope that it will make a difference to someone’s life. Like it did to a reader, Tazz, who along with her dog Campbell, had an incredible encounter with a special needs child. With Tazz’s permission, I am sharing the story here. I’m not even going to bother rewording it. Tazz’s words can speak very well for themselves.

“One thing I learned is to never ever judge what I see a child doing, because for all I know there may be a problem I do not know about. Turns out this info came in very handy for me not long ago. There is a family who are members of the church I am currently attending part time. Their son has some kind of a problem that they have not quite diagnosed yet. However, it causes him to sometimes have horrible meltdowns. I was walking down the hall one day during Sunday School time going back to class from the bathroom when from a room down the hall a ways I heard the most heartbreaking crying I ever heard, and knew it was this little boy having another hard time. His mother was doing all she could to calm the child. I followed my heart and took a chance. I softly knocked on the door, and asked if I could help. She had come to the door with the melting down child in her arms, and when he saw Campbell his screaming stopped. I mean like turning off a switch. I asked if I could bring Campbell in and visit for a minute. She agreed and we all sat on the floor with the little boy calming down and petting Campbell. They are now looking in to the possibility of getting a therapy dog for this child. Campbell has come to rescue this child a couple more times since that day. Because now if we are there, and this child starts to have a problem they come and get me from where ever I am and I happily go and help. Well, Campbell helps.

Is this not the most amazing story? Tazz had an instinct and she followed it. She and her dog were exactly what that little boy and his Mom needed. We special needs parents all need people like this – people who don’t necessarily know the circumstances, but who open their hearts to people who really need it.

To Tazz and all of the people like her, thank you. Thank you for being there. Thank you for being you. You restore my faith in the goodness of human nature.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Head Ant, who gave me this prompt: What would your proverbial “perfumes of Arabia” take care of? Fiction or non-fiction.
I challenged lisa with the prompt: Write about anything you like, but include the following: cotton candy, a dog, and a broken-down taxi.

Photo credit to Tazz. This picture was taken at an event to remember the victims of domestic violence.

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The Cow Whisperer

15 Jul

It was a beautiful summer’s day in 2007. George, who was three months shy of his 4th birthday, had recently been diagnosed with autism, and James was 18 months old. Our world, which had been so badly rocked by the reality of having a son with a lifelong disability, was starting to stabilize a little, but at that point, we really didn’t know how much hope we should have.

The diagnosing doctor had emphatically – kindly, but emphatically – told us not to expect too much, ever. He had not given us a good prognosis.

On this particular Saturday, we packed the kids into the car with a picnic, and we went for a drive. We went in the general direction of some lakes to the north of us, but we had no fixed destination. We picked our route at random, taking whatever country roads we liked the look of. The kids were happy enough: we are fortunate to have been blessed with two fantastic car travelers.

All of a sudden, we heard George’s voice piping up from the back seat: “Cow!”

The van shuddered a little as we screeched to a halt. Back then, hearing George say anything at all was a cause for celebration. We turned around and looked at him, sitting there in his booster seat.

“What did you say?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Cow!” he said again, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

I turned to Gerard. “I guess George saw a cow,” I told him.

Without hesitation, Gerard did a three-point turn on the narrow country road, and we slowly headed back in the direction from whence we had come.

It took less than a minute for us to see them: a field full of cows, lazily flicking their tails as they chewed on the long grass.

“Cow! Cow!” yelled George. The kid was practically levitating, he was so excited.

We parked on the side of the road and got out of the car so George could see the cows. The kids ran ahead of us to the fence, James tottering slightly on his chubby little toddler legs. We all stood at the fence together, silently watching the cows, who looked back at us with apparent disinterest.

Thinking that this would make a nice picture of Gerard and the two boys, I dug in my bag for my camera. The confounded thing had fallen right to the bottom of my bag, so I had to put in about two minutes of dedicated scrabbling. When I looked up again, I was confronted with the most remarkable sight.

There was Gerard standing slightly in front of the fence holding James’ hand. There was George, a little way further down the fence. And there were the cows – all thirty or so of them – flocked right up close to the fence where George was. They were showing zero interest in the rest of us, but they were utterly enthralled with George. He was fearlessly sticking his hands through the fence, and they were gently nuzzling him and softly mooing at him. In turn, he was smiling tenderly at them, with a look of absolute wonder in his eyes.

It looked like my son had some kind of cult following of cows. Like he was their god or something.

I wasn’t merely witnessing a little boy stroking a bunch of cows. I was witnessing this incredible moment of communication between boy and beast, a moment that was so incredibly powerful and beautiful.

George, like most people with autism, has trouble interacting with the rest of the world. But at that moment, he was in perfect harmony with the world, in a way that I can only dream of.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roymontgomery/3993908201)

The Beauty Of Autism

31 May

"Peep And The Big Wide World" by George

It was a beautiful moment. One of those moments that autism parents celebrate, that parents of neurotypical children completely fail to notice.

I got home after a long, hard day at work, feeling tired and cranky. As I trudged my way up the driveway, all I wanted to do was grab a glass of wine, collapse into a chair, and never get up again. I didn’t just feel lethargy. At that moment, I was lethargy.

I opened the front door and stepped into the house. Moments later, I heard a pair of feet thundering up the stairs from the basement, and a seven-year-old whirlwind launched itself at me, almost knocking me to my feet. After giving me a ferocious hug, George said, in his sweet sing-song voice, “Hi, Mommy!”

Without me saying hi to him first.

Without me or anyone else prompting him.

This was a social exchange that was initiated completely, 100%, by my child with autism – my child who has, as one of his biggest challenges, social communication difficulties.

Instantly, my energy was back and I was ready to laugh and play with my family, with this amazing child who always seems to give me surprises of wonder.

As a special needs mom, I find that my life is punctuated with moments like this. I remember firsts that I probably wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t have a child with autism.

Like the first time he pointed. What a joyous occasion that was, coming as it did after almost a full year of me teaching him how to point. I blubbed my eyes out that night, all over the Bob the Builder book that had been the vehicle for this accomplishment.

Then there was the first time he made a request using a full sentence. It didn’t matter to me that the sentence was only three words long. This child who said, “I want juice” was streets ahead of the child who, just a few months before, had indicated his need by grabbing my hand and thrusting it in the general direction of the juice boxes.

And what about the first time he pretend-played? It was a simple game that consisted of George crouching down on the ground, and crawling around with his back arched skyward while repeatedly saying, “Turtle.” So what if it was unsophisticated play that included only himself? He was pretending – something he had never done before.

More recently, we celebrated him drawing his first picture. He’d made lots of scribbly-type drawings in the past, of course (and I have kept every single one of them), but this was his first picture depicting an actual scene. That it was an instantly recognizable scene from his favourite kids’ show, Peep And The Big Wide World, makes it even more special.

We have seen the advent of humour, and this is all kinds of significant. Humour is a complicated intellectual process, and George gets it. And let me tell you, he is funny.

All of these moments, when strung together, tell a story of a very special little boy who is making a journey through life that is somewhat different to the way other kids do it. But the point is that he is making the journey and having all kinds of adventures. He may be taking the scenic route, but ultimately, he does pass through the same places that other kids do. He achieves many of the same things, but it takes a little longer and is accomplished in unconventional ways.

I believe that having a child with autism makes me a better parent than I would be otherwise.

It has given me the ability to spot a single flower in a sea of long grass, and more importantly, the power to stop and smell every single flower that I pass on this journey through my kids’ childhoods.

A Special Moment In The Light

10 May

As Gerard and I made our way down the aisle towards the church exit as just-newlyweds, we shared a special moment. It was one of those moments that succeeds in being private and public all at the same time – and we were lucky enough to have it captured in a series of photographs.

As we walked down the aisle, we saw a ray of bright sunshine breaking through the stained glass windows and landing directly on the aisle, like a beautiful natural spotlight. When we reached the light, we paused and took our moment…