Thursday, April 28, 2016

Give the Opportunity


In the Fall of 2015, I took Dominic along with me to a local horse farm to meet the owner.  It was a relatively quick visit, but I think it made a big impression on him. This past Sunday, we went back to the horse farm because I wanted to plan some events for the two non-profit organizations I volunteer for. The owner of the horse farm having met Dominic once before, remembered how anxious and wound up he got around the dogs, so she had put her dogs in the backyard of her house where there was a fence. Pretty incredibly thoughtful, don't you think? At one point during our visit, I started to scold Dominic because I thought he was taunting the dogs. I soon figured out that he was playing with them - Dominic would come to the fence and three of the dogs would start barking and then he would run to the other end of the fence and the dogs would run with him! It was a beautiful day and Dominic went in and out of the barn (where he fed a horse out of the palm of his hand), walked around the farm, basically had the run of the place.


Every so often a cat would walk by. In the past, let's just say cats and Dominic have not been a good "mix." He's never had an experience that I can recall which would make him so afraid, I'm guessing that it's because they are unpredictable and Dominic THRIVES on predictability. More and more, I have been hearing that animals are a good "fit," for adults and children with special needs and for those with anxiety and depression. There is definitely something comforting and soothing about petting an animal. Anyways, I figured Dominic would be ready to go within a half hour or so, based on our first visit last fall. That was definitely not the case this time! Since we ended up at the farm for almost two hours, it was very, "eye-opening," watching how Dominic went from trying to shoo the black cat off the steps to petting her,  not just for a little bit, but A LOT!


As it got closer to dinner time, I told Dominic we needed to go. We went inside the owner's house briefly and at first he was a little apprehensive because she had about three or four cats milling around inside her house. Dominic sat down on the couch and the owner said something like, "would you like to learn how to hold a cat?" I thought he would say, "no, thank you," but he didn't!  She showed him how and then he picked one up!  Wow, to go from being terrified and very skittish to holding a cat? Dominic then moved to a chair and would you believe those same three or four cats came over to him and were vying for his attention?!?!?!  I told the owner of the farm that Dominic was the "cat whisperer." It's been nine years since we got the diagnosis of Autism for Dominic. Even after all this time, I am still guilty of thinking he can't do something. Boy, did I learn my "lesson," this past Sunday. I need to give him at least the opportunity to be open to new experiences, because if I don't, then I am doing a real disservice to him.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Awareness - First Step to Understanding

On our Spring Break 2015 trip to Jamaica, both Dominic and I almost drowned in the swimming pool at our hotel. I had went to the end of a water slide where the water was slightly above my head and Dominic followed me. I wasn't able to hold him up and we started sinking to the bottom of the pool. I put my arm up and the lifeguard dove in and brought us back to the surface. It was scary with a capital, "S."  Shortly after we got back from that trip, I decided I better sign him up for a beginner swimming class at the Goldfish Swim School where we live. I asked if they had a special needs swim class available and they said no. I almost didn't sign him up, but then decided I had to let go of my anxiety about it. I love the way the instructors at Goldfish teach. There is a lot of positive encouragement ,"high-fives," and participation ribbons which Dominic thrives on.




About a week ago, I got an e-mail from the General Manager. She said,

"I actually have a few questions that I thought you may be able to help me with in regards to Autism:

1  Do you know of any Autism Awareness Instructor in the area that would be willing to talk/teach my team about specific tactics/awareness in this area?
    
2.   Do you use a PEC system with Dominic? 

3.  What are your thoughts of having a specific half hour of lessons for children with special   needs? Would this be something you would like for Dominic or do you prefer how we have it now, where the children are all integrated together?

I thought you might have some good insight on these topics!"

As one ALWAYS willing to express my opinion, I wrote her back. In response to question #1, I told her that I would look around for an instructor to teach all different types of special needs that could train her "team." Question #2 -  Dominic does use a "PEC" system (Picture Exchange Communication System) - children with Autism, especially, are "visual" learners. Question #3 - I thought it would be a good idea to have a separate class available for children with special needs. I told her Dominic is okay in his current class (he is on his third instructor), but a lot of children with Autism (and other special needs), like consistency, routine and sameness. I loved that the Manager reached out to me, specifically about whether I knew anyone that could talk/teach her staff about specific tactics and awareness of those with special needs. Awareness is the first step towards understanding.