Here’s a happy story we could all use right about now. Jonny Hickey is an 8-year-old boy in the Atlanta area who has autism. Xena is a pit bull who was abused as a puppy and abandoned on the side of a road last September, severely emaciated near death. The Friends of Dekalb Animals rescue group found her, named her Xena The Warrior Puppy and nursed her back to health. Xena became a Facebook star, raising thousands of dollars to help other abused animals.
At a fundraiser, Xena ran over to a little boy—Jonny. He’d been a withdrawn child who didn’t speak much or interact with others. The two became fast friends and in March, his family adopted Xena. The dog has turned out to be the best therapy for Jonny, says his mom, Linda. As she wrote on Facebook:
I am certain God has everything to do with bringing Xena to my family…to Jonny. Jonny has a very limited vocabulary, which is growing every day…but since Xena came into our home, Jonny has not stopped talking. He talks to her all [the] way home from school, during homework, and afterwards he plays with her until dinner. Every day he gently touches her nose, wanting to put Band-Aids on her boo boo. He hugs her. He kisses her. He sings to her…and yells at her when she steals his toys. All this is music to this Mommy’s ears. Jonny has personal space issues as many children with autism have, and he doesn’t like anyone too close. So it brings tears to my eyes when I see Xena on his lap in the car with Jonny smiling, kissing and hugging her…. I pray that seeing Jonny may have made you realize that autism does not define these children. They have the same dreams we all have…they want to be accepted and loved…they want happiness.
Jonny and Xena made a video to help promote Autism Awareness Month. As he said, “I think we make a pretty perfect team to spread the word.”
Do puppy-love stories get any better than this? I don’t think so.
From the moment my son Norrin was diagnosed, I’ve been very open. I remember my mom first telling me that I didn’t need to tell everyone about Norrin. And when he was younger, it probably wasn’t necessary. But the older he gets, the more obvious it becomes. Rather than have people wonder, I’d rather educate.
There have been times when I’ve told people Norrin has autism and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I never would have guessed. I know someone with autism and they’re like ______.”
I talk about Norrin’s autism because I want people to know what our autism looks like.
I never fault anyone for not knowing about autism. But autism seems to become more prevalent, and the more I talk about autism the more I hear, I know someone with autism. I think autism is something everyone should know about – whether they have a personal connection or not.
And I’m excited to be one of the hosts along with developmental-behavioral pediatrician Georgina Peacock, M.D., MPH, and board certified behavior analyst Patricia Wright, Ph.D., MPH.
We’ll talk about the early signs of autism, treatment options and services, and I’ll share my own personal experiences parenting an autistic child. Readers can participate in the chat by asking questions.