Jaxon in search of his ‘Super Dog’
The day my son was born, I had the same feeling that every other parent has: my son was something special. He was born into a family with two older sisters, one of whom already had complex needs. Three kids was going to be hard, but it was going to be worth it. I knew within myself that this little guy had something unique to share with the rest of the world. By the time he was four months old I began to have that familiar feeling; something wasn’t quite right. He wasn’t hitting his milestones that were set up in all the baby books and on-line resource sites. As the months passed I kept telling my husband “wait for it, any day he is going to burst out with that big hearty baby laugh.” It didn’t come. He didn’t respond to his name, he didn’t interact with toys, he avoided most social contact. At the school my other children went to we would make jokes about not being allowed to look at Jaxon as he would become visibly upset with verbal or eye contact. I knew the truth within myself. I kept hoping that it was a stage of some sort and that it would pass. I wasn’t ready to fully accept that my son could have Autism, I couldn’t travel the road of special needs again. We worked with infant development, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and so forth. By the time he was two, we were in that same familiar office. We were receiving our autism diagnosis. I was in mourning. I didn’t think I had it in me to do this again. But one thing we know about human beings is that they are survivors. When God gives you a special child, he also gives you extra strength. You simply do what has to be done when it needs to be done and then get up and do it again the next day. You try and give extra hugs and drink more coffee in-between endless appointments.
Taking my son on errands such as the grocery store is a daunting task. He screams, he hits, he is overwhelmed. He simply cannot cope with the stimulus that surrounds his sensitive system when out of the house. For a child with autism, it is too much. People don’t realize that he has special needs-he looks normal. People seem to have an idea in their minds of what autism looks like. Well I can tell you what I looks like: it looks like cute sleepers, blonde curly hair with gorgeous brown eyes. It looks like the kid that looks like every other kid. Nearly every day I dread the trip outside. People are cruel. They assume my child is misbehaving running all over the store, crying and throwing things. Then there is the tantrum. We all know it, but we don’t all know it the way a parent with an autistic child knows it. It isn’t just a tantrum, it’s a complete shut off of the brain, a whole system meltdown. Others give me dirty looks on a daily basis, they make rude comments under their breath and too often actually will approach me. They make the uneducated assumption that my child is being bad and that I simply am not disciplining him. Errands aren’t just challenging because my son will not cope, they are hard because I must put on a brave face while I face the harsh judgments of society.
My son doesn’t sleep through the night. He doesn’t eat typically, he plays with the same things over, he runs in circles and he quacks…that’s right he quacks, like a duck. I think it’s funny, others not so much. He doesn’t understand the same things that other three year olds understand. But yet I have no reason to complain because I am one of the lucky few whose son is verbal. He talks…a lot. He doesn’t always understand what he is saying to he repeats himself over and over grain, but HE TALKS! He still sleeps in a crib and drinks from a bottle to provide him sensory comfort. He has many sensory needs that turn my living quarters into something resembling a small circus arena.
An autism service dog is something that is going to change our lives. It will allow us to get groceries, not just the ten item limit before the meltdown which means we have to go back tomorrow, but a real shop. It means we can go to the doctor, to the bank, and who knows, maybe even attend a parent teacher interview or a Christmas concert to support the other children. But most of all, it will keep him safe. My son, like many on the autism spectrum, is a runner. He just runs away into oncoming cars, parking lots, out of doors. You name it, he runs away from it. I can’t count how many times this child has narrowly escaped death because of his running. A service dog will allow my son and our family to do many things that we are currently limited from doing. A dog will calm him during times of anxiety and help him to sleep through the night. It will be trained to track him when he flees and will provide constant companionship over the years to come. Autism service dogs are remarkable animals and I cannot wait to see how life will be different for not only Jaxon, but our whole family.