Monday, 27 April 2015

A Side of Autism: (Fake) Dog Therapy

For the past three weeks or so, it's been Hell here.
Every morning and every afternoon when V-Man has to go to day-care or come home - he's been assuming his boulder position and screaming his head off.
For some odd reason, which we cannot figure out - V-Man has been freaking out about the hallway.

Every weekday is the same (unless he's at overnight care).
  1. Wake up
  2. Brush teeth and wash face
  3. Get a diaper change and put on clothing.
  4. Get dressed and go to wait for the taxi to pick him up at 7:30 - usually it's more like 7:25 because they know he's usually early.
  5. Go to daycare.
  6. Come back and someone is waiting for him at about 3:07 in the afternoon.
  7. Go upstairs and get un-dressed.
  8. Have a snack and a movie while Mommy makes supper.
But lately he's screaming and fighting at 4 and 7.  I know the neighbours don't mind because they are all very much aware that V-Man is autistic and because it's not in the middle of the night.  But I worry and don't want him to wake other people up!  Our neighbours are mostly senior citizens with the exception of the family beneath us. :)
We've tried everything.  We tried giving him his favourite cereal bars or rice cakes to take with him - which normally worked before - but nope.
We tried giving him a small toy or thing to hold - so he can play with it with his fingertips.  Nope.
He just doesn't want to seem to go out or come back inside!

And let's not forget, walking TO overnight care (approximately 15 minutes walk away) is also a hassle.  He's happy as a pig in mud once we get there - but en route is another story.

So I had this idea...

Our nearly 8-year old, Loki.
Photo taken by a local newspaper a couple years ago.
What if I brought Loki with us to wait for the taxi?
The taxi wait time is rarely more than five-minutes long and that's usually drivers that aren't familiar with our neighbourhood and get lost.  Because today's driver didn't show up until about 7:32, as opposed to the regular 7:25.
However, perhaps V-Man just needs something familiar to go with him down the stairs (no elevator and it's only just under 3 floors) and back up again.
So he started moaning and mildly freaking out when I put my coat on and his boots.  I grabbed his booster seat and back pack and V-Man's eyes darted towards the dog when I called him over and grabbed his leash.
This is not part of the regular schedule! he must have been thinking.  Yeah no kidding.

So I opened the door, prepared for V-Man's immediate scream fest and guess what?
It didn't happen!
V-Man looked at Loki on a leash and bolted down the stairs.  Every flight, he'd stop and look back to make sure I Loki was still following and then he'd keep going down the stairs.
Not a peep.  Not a screech or a moan or a yell.
Then we got to the door and V-Man started fussing a bit - flapping his hands and frowning and starting to moan and I told him calmly that Loki was still there and guided his free hand to pet Loki. Then we waited outside quietly.

IT WAS AMAZING!  I wish I had my phone with me to take some photos but it was charging upstairs.  I'll try later this afternoon.

It was honestly to the point that I was loving him being away at overnight care far more than I should - simply because I didn't have to fight with him to get into a taxi or out of it!

Of course this just happened this morning and we'll see what happens this afternoon when I pick him up with Loki!
But hopefully this works out for everyone and Loki doesn't seem to mind going up and down the stairs.
It's been proven on a regular basis that pets in general can help (most) autistic children (and adults) with social skills.  However, there's nobody to socialize with at 7:25am and often the yard is empty and the hallways too at 3:07pm.
So I don't know what is in the hallway that's getting V-Man freaked out but I am very grateful to have a dog that seems to understand V-Man is different than the other kids and has the patience to walk at his pace down the stairs and (hopefully) back up.

From the beginning, the dogs (Blue shown below) have known I was pregnant with the V-Man, before I did, and when he was born - they have acted as constant support.
Photo Credit to Keski-Suomalainen newspaper
For the first week or two - they would take turns just staring at the baby and give tiny barks if he cried.
I had a horrible first post-labour heal time - I'm talking at least 6 months  (!) and Blue would be with me in the bathroom as I cried and Loki would be with SH and the V-Man.

Loki with M-Girl - she was 2 days old.
As V-Man got older - I suppose the dogs also sensed that V-Man was autistic before we did as well - and treated him carefully.  They never bulldozed him over and pinned him down with kisses - as many dogs would with most kids.  They never jumped on him once and he's almost five.
They never, ever demanded attention from him - like they do from us and from A-Man and M-Girl.
It's not something I thought about - until now.
Because they're medium-large-ish dogs, they also have a higher physical tolerance of V-Man.  There are times that V-Man is driving his bony toes under their sides on the sofa, as they lie there - usually Blue at his feet - and Blue doesn't budge.
There's times that V-Man will go and pet them on his own and they don't drown him in kisses. Maybe one kiss - but nothing more.
There are also times that V-Man will lie on a dog or sit on one and if the dogs find it uncomfortable - they just get up and leave.  V-Man wasn't bouncing or pinching the dog.  I guess that's his way of seeking a bond and a connection.

Blue with A-Man - he was 2 days old.
I'll be the first to tell you that my dogs would fail horribly if tested to be qualified therapy dogs.
They don't bite - so that's a bonus.
But they steal food, might occasionally jump and love people so much that they can drown them in kisses on their own unless stopped with a verbal command.  They also would pull if they saw another dog, squirrel or hare.  
They also shed like crazy in the warmer months (a true sign that spring is coming!) - so probably not ideal for taking them with us to restaurants, hospitals etc...
However, if they can do something so simple as go up and down the stairs so V-Man feels confident and brave to tackle the doom of the stairwell - then that's good enough for us.


Waiting for V-Man.
PS: Unfortunately my photo of V-Man coming home from the hospital is on an old computer that's no longer usable.  Or on a memory card buried somewhere.
PPS: V-Man sat on the potty yesterday - didn't do anything - but he sat on it for all of 30 seconds! :)

UPDATE:  Picked up the V-Man with Loki waiting and at first he was refusing to get out of the taxi.  Of course he was on the opposite side and couldn't see the dog.  But once he got out - he ran over and started to touch the leash!  And quietly and calmly - went up the stairs with Loki tailing him.

SH came home at the same time -but I think it's really Loki making V-Man happy to go inside.

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