Mother crying and holding a hand to her mouth as her son lies against his new service dog

Mother crying and holding a hand to her mouth as her son lies against his new service dog

See this moment? I’ve never experienced a moment like this.

I thought about not sharing it out of embarrassment over my ugly-cry face, but I decided it’s too important not to share.

This picture was taken near the end of the day after my autistic 5-year-old was finally able to sit down with his new service dog, Tornado. He flew across the entire ocean, stopped in multiple states, and uprooted his entire routine to travel the globe for this. He was so overwhelmed through the day that he had to leave to take a break for a couple hours before he could come back.

This boy is the strongest child I have ever met. He has faced countless rude and ignorant adults and children who do not understand him, who have hurt him, and who have not valued him because he is different. This picture captures the face of a mother who saw her child lie on his new service dog of his own free will, with a purposeful unspoken attachment. This is the face of a mom who has seen her son have trouble making friends and connections. She has seen the hurt that this has caused him. And now she is sitting behind her son, silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.

She is holding her mouth and silently crying because she doesn’t want to distract him from the moment. This is truly magic. Words cannot explain it.

This is the very first time I have cried for a reason like this. It’s new, it’s painful, it’s wonderful, and I am grateful. I will always stand behind this boy, but I am grateful he will have Tornado to stand beside him, too. The 4 Paws For Ability magic is real. The wait was long, but this moment makes it worth every moment of waiting. 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 tear shed, every step forward, every step back, and every wonder of the unknown future. With Tornado, I know everything will be OK.

After the initial outpouring of love from the viral story above, we have been getting another question from those touched by our story: What can we do to help you? To help Kai? This is an assistance fund page set up for autism-related therapies and expenses directly for Kai’s needs.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Paws 4 Ability Facebook page.

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My daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 9 years old. I’ve learned the way my daughter acts and the way she is feeling do not always match. She can be extremely good at hiding and concealing how she is feeling in public, often, I presume, in order to fit in.

Prior to my daughter’s diagnosis, I read many articles about girls on the spectrum masking their difficulties. In reading these articles, I could understand masking as a concept, but I didn’t really understand what it must be like for someone to continually hide how they feel.

I remember when I got my first glimpse of my daughter’s ability to mask. It was during an examination by the pediatrician when she was 9 years old. It was the first time I consciously witnessed my daughter clearly feeling differently from how she presented.

My daughter sat in the pediatrician’s room looking calm and compliant. The pediatrician lifted a stethoscope to her chest to give her an overall medical exam. As soon as she listened to my daughter’s heart rate for a couple of seconds, the pediatrician pulled her stethoscope away saying, “It’s OK. This is something used to listen to your heart. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

My daughter’s heart rate was elevated, but when asked how she was feeling, she replied with her stock response, “I’m fine.” What seemed unusual at the time was my daughter did look absolutely fine. If it wasn’t for her heart rate being taken, I would never have known she was experiencing anxiety.

This experience taught me so much about my daughter. It taught me she can be amazing at hiding her anxiety, and secondly, I cannot always trust her stock response of “I’m fine.” It led me to learn that sometimes her behavior may be coded and I have to look a little deeper in order to see how she is truly feeling.

Today, we grow and learn together. I can still see my daughter pretending to be OK when she isn’t feeling well. But we now work on ways to express our emotions together, and we talk about why it is important to let other people know when we are not feeling OK.

I think everyone can mask their true feelings on occasion, but for it to be part of your day to day must be exhausting. I know my daughter may find it difficult to express how she is feeling. But I hope with time, practice and support, she will be able to express herself to those she trusts and ask for help when she needs it.

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Stepping into the bedroom, I am hit by a tornado of socks, clothes, and shoes. The drawers pulled out, the chaos on the floor… “Kai, what’s wrong?” I ask my son. With clenched teeth, he replies, “None of my socks fit. I don’t know why we have to wear silly school socks!”

Taking a deep breath, I sit down next to him and start the sock stretching routine. This is one of many steps I need to take to help him find the perfect pair of socks. After a few stretches, I manage to get the socks to feel “just right” on his small feet. Relief washes over both of us as he fits his feet into his school shoes.

Most days, many people see my son as a happy-go-lucky child. He is kind, a great friend to have and a real hard worker! But what most people don’t know is that he struggles with sensory processing challenges. Some things need to be done in a certain way. Things need to feel and look just right for him.

Parenting my child is not always easy — parenting any child is not always easy. But it is rewarding— infinitely rewarding — and requires a wealth of creativity.

Fast forward two years, and I can happily say that our sock routine has been nailed down to 15 minutes max some mornings. Now we also have a pants routine, one that requires some wriggling and stretching in the silly pockets to sit just right.

Getting dressed in the morning is no easy feat, but we do find ways to work around it.

Doing the following things helps us:

When his socks cause him discomfort, I place my hand on the inside of the socks so the sock goes over my hand and does not scrape against his skin. I help stretch his socks, and I talk to his socks. Talking to the socks helps distracts my son from the discomfort he feels.

Once we find the perfect pair of socks, he wears them for two to three days. We also now try to find the perfect socks the night before, and then he sleeps with the socks on to minimize frustrations and anxiety the next morning.

When his uniform feels uncomfortable, I say to him, OK, let’s get moving. I ask him to run to the wall, sit on the floor, do five start jumps, touch his toes, etc. I also swing him around, get his body moving inside his clothes, etc.

These tips don’t always work for us, but this is what I call the evolution of my parenting. What works today may not work tomorrow, and so we constantly push our creativity.

Follow this journey on ChevsLife.

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Who am I?

That book “Tuesday,” how could it be called Tuesday when it was in fact Monday? It really annoyed me because it wasn’t accurate. The pictures in the book were equally annoying as they showed pictures of frogs flying. Frogs don’t fly, right?

I was having an autism assessment to try to finally get a diagnosis as an adult. It wasn’t just the book that annoyed me; it was also the picture on the wall of different colored houses. Not only were they different colors, but they weren’t even made of bricks. How could that be so? Of course I pointed it out to the doctor I was seeing.

How to answer his questions posed a challenge as I didn’t always understand what he was asking, and some questions I couldn’t answer at all. What is friendship? I don’t know, haven’t a clue. Is this something I am supposed to know? Do others who are not autistic know the answers to this question? Friendships are a complete mystery to me as I’m always on my own. If I’m in a social situation, I just stand around alone, feeling awkward, not knowing what to say or how to approach anyone. I don’t know how to make conversation. It seems strange to me that everyone is doing it, seemingly without any difficulty. How do they know how to do it and I don’t? Even children seem to know how to make conversation. I obviously don’t belong on the same planet, but which planet is my home? I’m different to others; that seems obvious straight away.

Being asked to make a cup of tea was also a challenge as there was nothing to use to make it. Apparently I was supposed to imagine everything I needed was there, but this posed another problem. If there isn’t anything there, how can I make it? It’s another impossibility.

It was a few weeks later that I had to go back for the feedback. I learned straightaway that I do indeed have autism spectrum disorder. It seems I have found my planet — the autism planet. I do belong somewhere after all. No longer a misfit or an outcast, I have found my home.

Does having a diagnosis really make a difference? Yes, for me it does. I can now understand myself better and why I am the way I am. I am vindicated; misunderstandings of the past are finally over. It wasn’t my fault I had no friends at school, and it’s not my fault that I am not getting to know others at church. I am special, unique.

Please don’t think I am weird if I do not interact like everyone else. Don’t ignore me. I would love to have friends who are willing and take the time to get to know me and accept my differences. I am still me, even if I am someone on the autism spectrum.

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When you tell someone your child has autism, the reaction can sometimes make things awkward. The response might be, “Oh yeah, my sister’s best friend’s little sister does, too.” Or it might include a story about autism that is full of stereotypes. Or my even less preferred reaction, a look of profound anxiety with no clue what to say.

The best response I ever received after telling someone my son was on the spectrum was from my mom. I called her as soon as we heard his diagnosis and was still coming to terms with it. She said, “I’m sorry you’re upset, but I’m not sorry he has autism.” There was nothing more comforting than to know someone accepted my child for exactly who he is. Honestly, we always knew he had quirks, and that is a large part of why we love him so much. Why should she be sorry because we had a reason for all those quirks now?

It’s been two months since my son received his diagnosis and I finally understood my son is still my son. Receiving confirmation of something we had long suspected did not change who he is or who he will become.

If I tell you my son is autistic, you don’t need to overshare or be anxious. I am OK, my son is OK, and if I share my son’s diagnosis with you, all you need to say is, “OK.”

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