Tag Archives: healing

Guest Post: Animals And Autism

15 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Guest post exchange day was yesterday, but really, with so many phenomenal bloggers in the same challenge, how could I pick just one? Today’s guest blogger, Sarah, focuses on an area very close to my heart: animals, their relationships with people, and how they can facilitate healing. She just finished her first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at LSU-New Orleans. She is  passionate about animals and children and plans on integrating animals into her physical therapy practice after she graduates.

As a lifelong animal lover myself, I am drawn to Sarah’s blog like a magnet, and am thrilled that she agreed to write for me. Today, she shares with us how animals and children with autism can have a very special bond.

When people envision their perfect life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence they also usually include a pet in the picture. After parents hear their child given the diagnosis of “autism”, often the idea of having a pet is questioned. In general, animals definitely provide many benefits to their owners, but as Kirsten recently reminded me “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what works for one child or family may not work with another.

The cool thing is that there have been several groups that have seen a lot of positive effects in children with autism after interacting with animals.

Max is one of Austin Dog Alliance’s “special dogs” available for adoption.

Austin Dog Alliance has group social skill classes where they use dogs to teach children with autism and Asperger’s. Some of the topics touched on in these classes include verbal and motor skills, interacting with and empathy for others, and appropriate behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These same skills can be achieved with a pet at home. The child can practice speaking to the dog and learn to recognize and understand the animal’s non-verbal cues. In doing this they are maintaining eye contact, which some people with autism struggle with. They can also learn to care about and for another living creature. This lesson can then translate to their interactions with other people.

Horse Boy Foundation brings kids in contact with horses to help them through what they call a “simple 6 stage process”. They’ve found that allowing kids to lie down on a horse’s back cuts down on their stimming (a repetitive movement that self stimulates the senses). Interacting with the horse is good overall sensory work while the actual horseback riding can be soothing because of the rocking motion. Again, giving commands allows the child to work on verbalization. I know that for most people owning a horse is out of the question, but there are several places that have horseback riding lessons where your child could get some of the same benefits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V11E-N2pK_o (it’s a youtube video about the Horse Boy Method)

Lois Brady found that a potbellied pig named Buttercup works wonders with the children. She’s a speech language pathologist, so of course her focus is getting the children to talk. But she has found that her pig is great for sensory work because he has different textures in different places on his body. The best thing about him is that people don’t have preconceived fears about pigs, like they might with a dog or even a horse.

(Photo from: http://www.prweb.com/releases/animal_assisted_therapy/continuing_education/prweb9261001.htm)

Buttercup is a great example that really any kind of pet can be used to help with things like speaking, motor skills, empathy and self-confidence. Some people prefer to have an animal specifically trained as a service animal and that has its benefits as well. You can read my post about autism service dogs to learn more about them. The most important thing is to decide what animal (if any) will be a good fit for your family.

Check out more great posts from Sarah Allen on her blog, Animals Help Heal. You can follow her on Twitter @AnimalsHelpHeal.

Advertisements

Finding The Path Of Healing

18 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 18 – Open a book: Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

My random phrase comes from a book called Watermelon, written my Marian Keyes – one of my favourite chick-lit authors. The sentence I pointed to with my eyes closed was strangely appropriate. “I was no longer carrying my humiliation like a weapon.”

I am a natural-born late bloomer. I have done many things in life after most people: I was 24 before I selected a career, my first child was born when I was 33, and I finally got married at the ripe old age of 41.

Now that I am old and wise, it doesn’t bother me that I tend to lag behind other people in some respects, but when I was in high school it was a great source of embarrassment for me. Socially speaking, I was streets behind most of my classmates. I was not exactly ostracized by my peers, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” either.

I got invited to parties from time to time, but I always felt so awkward when I got there. While my peers were laughing and chatting effortlessly, or retreating to private corners to snog their boyfriends, I was sitting by myself trying, and failing, to look as if I belonged. I could only really enjoy social gatherings if my best friend was there too. My best friend was the one who stopped me from drowning completely, and bless her heart, she is still my best friend today.

I had a couple of half-hearted boyfriends as a teenager, but compared to my classmates, I was geeky and socially inept. At an age where people are desperate to fit in and be accepted by their peers, it was painful. I was an unhappy teenager, although I never really admitted that to anyone.

When I graduated from high school, I went to a university 1400km away from my hometown. I figured that being among people I didn’t know would allow me to turn myself into the person I thought I wanted to be. I had always felt slightly inadequate and I didn’t like myself very much, and I wanted more than anything to reinvent myself.

Even though I made friends at university and had some kind of reasonable social life, the truth was that I was lonely. Never really a party girl, I tried to shoehorn myself into a party lifestyle because that’s what college students did, and I wanted so badly to fit in. And so I found myself immersed in a social group who were a laugh to be around, but I yearned meaningful contact. In those days before the Internet made the world a smaller place, I was not able to confide in my best friend. When waves of depression hit me, I had to get through them alone, with no-one to talk to.

And so, when a man started paying attention to me in my second year, I was flattered enough to fall for him. I do not want to share the details, but I will say that the whole thing was an absolute disaster from beginning to end. I was immersed in a situation that I had no ability to deal with.

The effect on my life was catastrophic. It was as if my future had been mapped out for me, and then a tsunami had come along and wiped everything away, changing the landscape of my life.

I floundered in the wake of this personal disaster. I completely lost all sense of who I was and what I wanted. I vacillated between depression and anger, and I blamed myself for having allowed my life to veer so far off the course I had planned. I drifted for a while, literally and metaphorically, and eventually washed up in a career, albeit one far away from what I had originally wanted.

One day, after having carried around the baggage of my past experiences for twenty years, I looked around me at all I have today. I have a solid job and my dream to be a paid writer is starting, in small but definite increments, to come true. I can run half-marathons in spite of not having a “typical” runner’s body. I managed to move halfway across the world and establish myself in a place I had never been to. I have a husband and two miraculous children. Although I make my mistakes, I think I’m doing well as the parent of a child with autism.

That tsunami that had swept so much away also created a new landscape with new paths for me to follow and new goals to shoot for.

This realization, when it hit me, was like a breath of fresh air. Although some scarred remained, I was no longer carrying the humiliation like a weapon.

For the first time, I felt that I owed it to myself to try to heal.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/3140538425/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

No Fixed Destination

30 Nov

Phil looped his camera around his neck and trudged out to his car. The rain was pelting down and the wind was so strong that it was making his eyes burn. For a moment he considered staying home, but he dismissed the thought immediately. Every Sunday for the last twelve years, he had gone driving around the countryside in his battered old Volvo, taking photographs of whatever he happened to see. He was a good photographer, good enough to have acquired a decent following and sold a few pictures.

That’s not why he did it, though. He did it because it gave him a sense of purpose. He had worked so hard to overcome the addictions that had destroyed his life, and he was afraid that if he stopped these Sunday excursions, everything would fall apart again.

Phil pulled out of the driveway and headed north, with no fixed destination in mind. As he drove, he thought of Lily. She had been nine when he had seen her last. His heart ached as he remembered his ex-wife calling him an alcoholic junkie who had no business trying to raise a child. He had begged her not to take his daughter away from him. He had actually fallen on his knees before her, sobbing.

She had stopped yelling then, and looked at him with something approaching sympathy. “I know you love her, Phil, but you’re destroying her,” she had said. He had buried his head in his hands so he wouldn’t have to watch them leave.

After they had gone, Phil had allowed the drugs and alcohol to take over his life completely. Within a year, he had been out on the streets. He had lost his home and been fired from his job, and he had spent a few nights in jail for possession of illegal drugs.

One afternoon as he was staggering down the road with a newly acquired bottle of rum, a woman with a couple of kids had looked at him with thinly veiled disgust before crossing the street in order to avoid him. He stopped walking and stared after her, feeling as if he’d been hit with a sledgehammer. I’ll never see Lily again, he thought.

He slowly started walking again, barely paying attention to where he was going. His head was filled with images of his daughter. He wondered if she still had that pink feather boa that she loved so much. She would wrap it around herself and twirl around so fast that he thought she was going to fall over.

Now, as Phil drove, he remembered how the thoughts of Lily and her boa had stopped him in his tracks, and how the tears suddenly streaming down his face had attracted some curious glances from passersby. If it had not been for the kindly stranger who had offered him help, he did not know where he would be now, or if he would even be alive.

After he had gotten his life cleaned up, Phil had written to his ex-wife.

Tell Lily that I’m clean from the drugs and alcohol,  he wrote. Tell her I that I love her, and that I am more regretful than words can say for the pain I caused her. Let her know that I understand if she doesn’t want to see me, but if and when she is ever ready, I want to be her Dad. And this time I will do it right.

Throughout the years, Phil sent letters to his ex-wife. He told her about the night-course he had gone on, the job he had got, the photos he had sold. He proudly wrote about the modest house he had bought, the quiet, solitary life that he lived, and the handful of friends he had acquired through his AA meetings. He sent birthday cards to Lily.

In twelve years, he had not received a single reply. But he never gave up.

Phil was abruptly pulled out of his reverie when the old Volvo suddenly blew a tire. He pulled over onto the shoulder of the quiet country road and pulled out his cell phone. Damn. Not enough battery life to make a call.

Phil got out of the car and started walking through the pouring rain towards the only building he could see. Maybe they would have a phone. It wasn’t until he got right up to the front door that he realized it was a pub. Instantly his palms started to sweat and he was shaking. He couldn’t go in there. He hadn’t had a drink in well over a decade, but he was still terrified of being in the same room as alcohol. He thought he had enough self-control to avoid drinking – it was the memories he couldn’t face.

He was unbearably torn. He needed to call Roadside Assistance for a new tire, and this place might have the only available phone. But if he went in, the memories of his old life would come flooding back, and he would feel like a ruin in the architecture of humanity. He found himself alarmingly close to tears.

As he stood in the doorway, a young woman ran from her car into the pub. As she was going through the door, she turned and looked back at him curiously.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

Phil stammered. He was not good at talking to strangers.

“Well, you see, my car. It, uh, broke down, just down there, and I need to call for help. But my cell phone died and I cannot go in here because I’m – uh, an alcoholic. That is, I’m dry, but I don’t want to be anywhere near – you know.”

He tapered off and shrugged helplessly.

“You can use my phone,” said the woman, rummaging in her purse. Phil registered random details about her: the scuffed black boots, the flaky nailpolish, the red-gold hair tucked neatly under the hood of her raincoat.

As she handed him the cell phone, she said, “Actually, I’m not from around here and I could use some directions. I’m visiting my dad, only he doesn’t know I’m coming. I haven’t seen him since I was a little girl, and I want to surprise him. But this little town he lives in is impossible to find.”

Phil stared into her eyes, eyes that were exactly the same colour as his. And he knew that the second chance he had been waiting for for so long had finally arrived.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Bewildered Bug, who gave me this prompt: Write about anything you want, but include the following words/phrases:  pink feather boa, Volvo, architecture of humanity, flaky nailpolish.
I challenged floreksa with the prompt: You are at your own 100th birthday party, reflecting back on your life. Tell us about the best day of your life, from the standpoint of your 100-year-old self.

Giving Blood, Giving Life, Giving Hope

20 Jan

I sit in the chair across from the nurse, anxiously waiting for that tiny little needle to pierce the end of my finger.  Has it worked?  Has my healthy eating, strict regimen of iron-enriched vitamins, and consumption of gross vegetable juice made my blood as healthy as it needs to be? If I am turned away now, I will be pissed off.

I am lost in my thoughts, willing my blood to cooperate, trying to analyze everything I’ve eaten in the – OUCH!  Holy crap!  For a tiny little needle that HURTS!

Not as much as the big fat needle going into my arm is going to hurt.

Not as much as the multitude of agony that Captain Snuggles has endured over the last five months has hurt.

It’s a tiny little needle, don’t be such a baby.

The nurse puts a little smear of blood onto a slide and feeds it into a machine.  She tells me that the number has to be 125 or higher.  We wait for a few seconds, the machine beeps, and…

…154.  YES!  As I follow the next nurse into the next screening area, I imagine my healthy blood cells, marching around my body like sergeants, getting ready for deployment into the next human body that needs them.

Screening goes well.  My temperature is good.  My blood pressure prompts the nurse to tell me I must work out a lot.  My heart rate is slightly elevated because I am excited to be doing this.  No lesions or bruises on my arms, all of my questionaire answers are acceptable.

I am deemed Fit To Donate.

I am taken to a row of folding chairs, where I take a seat and wait my turn.  I know that my friend extraordinaire and maid of honour Michelle is a short way behind me in the process.  I look for her and she is not in the room; she is probably in the screening area telling the nurse whether she has ever taken money for sex or taken cocaine intravenously.

As I am waiting, a man starts to pass out with his blood in mid-flow.  The kindly woman seated beside me looks at my “First Time Donor” sticker (which I feel entitled to since my one and only donation attempt, over 20 years ago, ended in disaster and could not be completed) and says, “Don’t look at him.  He’s a man.  Us girls can handle this!”

I am led to one of the stations, and as I take my seat in the thing – it’s not a chair; it’s not a bed; what’s the word for it? – I imagine those blood cell sergeants lining up in my arm, getting ready for their marching orders.

Michelle takes a seat on one of the folding chairs, which means I can talk to her instead of looking in the direction of the nurse who is taping tubes to my arm in an ominous manner.  I squeeze my eyes shut, grit my teeth, and – the needle is in!  Those little sergeants have started marching!  I imagine the blood cells in the Captain’s body straightening up and getting their act together (because let’s face it, they have been slacking off in the last little while).  I imagine them coming together, strong and whole, forming a line of defence against illness and infection.

As my blood flows out of me, I imagine Captain Snuggles getting better.  I picture his broken body healing, becoming whole.

My actual blood will not get to Captain Snuggles.  But it will get to someone who needs it.  Captain Snuggles, through his suffering, will have saved a life.  Many lives, since I am now committed to being a regular donor.

It takes less than ten minutes.  When the needle is removed, I sit in my thing-thats-not-a-bed-or-chair for the prescribed five minutes.  There is more fiddling with my arm and bandages, and then I am permitted to go and sit down in the cookie and juice room (no caffeine for first-time donors!)

As I sit there drinking my orange juice and eating my cookie, I imagine where my blood will go from here.  Samples will go to the lab for testing, and the donation will be added to the blood bank.

I imagine it being transfused into someone’s broken body, transforming the probability of death into the possibility of life, into hope.

I imagine the joy of some family, in some hospital, when they are given the news that their loved one is going to make it.

I imagine Captain Snuggles healing and becoming whole.

I imagine myself someday saying to him, “Thank you.  Thank you for making me a better person.”