Monday, March 19, 2012

The Tale of a Super Service Dog

Yesterday something happened that we haven’t been able to do for a very, very long time---years in fact. We were able to make an appointment at a portrait studio, keep the appointment, and actually get pictures taken.  Not just any pictures—pictures of both kids together, and even more amazingly pictures of both kids INDIVIDUALLY. Yep, I mean Caden had his picture taken totally and completely by himself. And we walked out without any tears, if you don’t count the ones that my husband shed as he was looking over the receipt. 

Oh don’t get me wrong, we had limitations. Caden wasn’t going to lay down for any pictures and he was pretty determined that he was sitting criss-cross applesauce, but he was smiling and at least looking in the direction of the camera.  In fact, on our way out, he wanted to know when we could get pictures again. Then my husband cried some more because he knows that this may be the beginning of a very long and expensive relationship between me and the portrait studio because there isn’t much I enjoy more in the world than planning and executing pictures of my beautiful kiddos. And honestly I’ve got years to make up when it comes to Caden, but I probably won’t push my luck……..too much.

So what’s changed? Yes, Caden has gotten older, but the one thing we are finding out the hard way is that autism just gets older too. Challenges exist, they just change over time.  Once we figure out one thing, there is something new to deal with. But maybe that also means that we are dealing with the old things well enough to make them…well…old things that we already dealt with. Maybe the stars and moon were perfectly aligned. Maybe the luck-of-the-Irish was still with us even though we aren’t even close to being Irish. 

My best explanation though is that 7 months ago we met Caden’s “bestest” friend Elf. I know people probably get sick of me saying it, but the dog has truly been a miracle in our lives. He has given Caden so much peace and security in a way we haven’t been able to that it has allowed Caden to explore life a little. We’ve had several successful trips to the mall. We have had some major medical procedures that I’m not sure we would have handled so well pre-Elf. His anxiety level has significantly decreased in public, and even before and after school transitions (something that has always been an ugly process) have become smooth…most days. Most nights he stays in his room, and we haven’t had nearly the number of night terrors that we were dealing with last summer. Meltdowns still occur, but they don’t seem to last as long because Elf’s kisses and “over” seem to have him giggling quicker than any other tactic we’ve tried over the years.

Don’t get me wrong, Elf has not cured Caden’s autism. We still have a good ol’ fashion case of the communication challenged, social interacting nightmarish combination of repetitive behaviors that define autism so clearly. We still, without a doubt, have all of the sensory processing challenges that we have struggled with for years. We are still very much in a fight to give our son the brightest future possible. We are still very much in a fight against autism.

What’s different though is that we have someone else, a furry mass of unconditional love, to help us in the battle. He’s exactly the additional tool that we were hoping for. The more we practice the better Elf gets at hide-and-find (tracking), he and Caden tether well together, and Elf has figured out behavior disruption more impressively than we ever imagined. In fact, he heard Caden’s screech the other day at the playground even though the entire Children’s House (20ish kids), E1 (15ish kids), and E2 (15ish kids) were at the park screaming and having fun as well. What can I say…he knows his boy.

All of this and he also just happens to be Caden’s best friend too.