One of the most important lessons I've learned in the last eight years of parenting my non-speaking autistic son is this: presume competence and prepare to be surprised. There's so much more going on with him than he might be able to express, and my job is to help him learn, grow, and make the environment around him as amenable as possible. For these reasons we do RPM lessons that are age appropriate, give him many choices, try to follow his interests, and support him in tough times when his sensory system gets overwhelmed.
But it hasn't always been this way—we've had whole years without support and times of extreme behaviors that were really, really tough for everyone in our house—and I know many kids with autism still struggle with communication, meltdowns, social interaction, and much more. When I saw a recent Facebook post on Love What Matters' page, I was reminded of how far my son's come and of how important it is to keep supporting him.
The post was submitted by S. Niehaus, and it shows her son with autism meeting his long-awaited service dog for the first time. Although I think her face and his calm demeanor speak volumes, here's what she had to say:
"See this moment? I've never experienced a moment like this. Yesterday was the first day my 5-year-old Autistic son met his new Autism Service Dog, Tornado. We are Americans that live overseas in Japan and have prepared for nearly two years to meet Tornado....
It's worth every fight for services for my son, every diagnosis, every new provider, every dollar spent, every paper filled out, every school meeting, every shed tear, every step forward, every step back, and every wonder of the unknown future. Somehow because of this - because of Tornado - I know everything will be okay. As a mother, I have seen countless challenging and painful moments my son has encountered and cried countless more. Yesterday however, I cried for a different reason. It is a feeling that is indescribable."
I know that feeling well—a feeling of hope, promise, and expectation for what the future can hold for our sweet children—and I'm so happy this mom and her son found a dog like Tornado. Check out the post, and then be sure to read the comments. Inspired by this story, lots of other families have shared stories about dogs (both service and just pets) who are making a tremendous impact on autistic children's lives. I can almost guarantee you'll feel a surge of hope and perhaps shed a few happy tears of your own as you read these beautiful stories.