Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pets and Autism

How great are pets?  I mean really, they are probably one of the few creatures besides our children that love us back endlessly no matter what.  That kind of unconditional love is so hard to come by these days and so comforting as well.  If you have a bad day, or don't feel well, or are sad or lonely, a pet can do amazing things for your state of mind.  In fact, it has already been proven that pet owners live longer and happier lives than those without pets and are healthier.

Another wonderful perk of having a pet is if you have a child with Autism.  There was an article that caught my eye in the beginning of the year in the Huffington Post about children with ASD and pets.  A study had been done on 99 children ages 5-13. Some of the children had autism and some did not.  Researchers observed the children playing with toys and interacting with their class pet; a guinea pig.  What they discovered was incredible.

"When they were with the guinea pigs, the children with autism were more likely to talk and look at their peers than when they were with the toys, which included dolls, art supplies and Beyblade tops. They were also more open to their fellow students approaching them and were less likely to cry or whine".

"Children with autism engaged in 55 percent more social behaviors when they were with the animals, compared to toys...the amount they smiled more than doubled".

We have two dogs, Alaska (Toy American Eskimo) and Havana (Havanese).  What is interesting is that I have heard so many people say that their ASD kids simply weren't really into their pets.  I can say first hand that we had experienced that with Aidan.  While he loved Alaska he was never "attached" to her the way most kids are to their dogs.  We figured he just wasn't "that into her" and it was simply part of his ASD. Then, we got Havana when she was 12 weeks old in June of 2011.  Amazingly, he took to her right away. He wanted to pick her up and hold her which was honestly a bit awkward for him at first.  You could literally see the uncertainty of him getting comfortable with holding her close and actually "showing" affection.  After a while it got more natural for him and he no longer looks like he is trying so hard (those with Aspies know exactly what I am talking about).  Soon after that, about a few months, Aidan started to spontaneously say "I love you"  to me and Scott before he would go to bed;  usually we would have to be the one's to initiate it first.  It was quite remarkable and he has maintained that pattern for a year now.

Aidan acknowledges both dogs daily now, and pets them several times a day and always every morning when he first see's them. They have grown accustomed to cuddling up beside him when he is engaged in an intense Minecraft game on the couch.  We have tasked him with giving Alaska and Havana food and water daily as part of his chores, which has been very rewarding for him.  He gets attacked with jumps and licks on a daily basis and loves it!

Of course, as we know, each kiddo is different and not all will respond the same, but it was interesting to see this unexpectedly unfold in front of us.  I feel his age also has a lot to do with it since we are seeing so much development as he gets older and moves closer to his teenage years.  So if you can have a pet join your family, you may get some unexpected leaps in bounds in your child as an added bonus.

Alaska & Havana

Much love...xoxo

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rx for Laughter!

They say laughter is the best medicine and let me tell you, it sure is. Of course it helps when you have a best friend who not only has been a stand up comic in NYC but who also shares your sarcasm. I'm also fortunate to have a quick witted hubby who keeps me chuckling.  Over the past decade laughter has pretty much been my lifeline through this journey.  Of course not everything is a comedic matter, but those times when things are just so chaotic and crazy there is nothing else you can do but laugh!

Every day we wake up with a decision of what we will do with our day and every night we have the opportunity to reflect on our choices. As I sit here writing this on vacation, I am fortunate enough to be watching my two children and husband play and laugh loudly in the ocean on Hilton Head Island. I can't help but to reflect back to a time when we weren't sure Aidan would ever be able to play and interact the way he does now. Seeing his progress and knowing how far he has come creates overwhelming feelings of happiness, joy and more love than I thought possible. 

The day has just begun but I know tonight while Scott and I spend time together after the boys are in bed and chat over a glass of wine (or two), we will look back on today with smiles and fond memories. It has been a long road with many ups and downs but we are seeing that light at the end of the tunnel.  Happiness has never felt so good.  Time to stop and savor it.  We're getting there!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Vacationing with an ASD child

So, we are currently living it up and taking in the beautiful island of Hilton Head.  We are fortunate to live a mere 3.5 hours away so frequent trips are the norm.  There is nothing like the summer time crowd though, as it is filled with so much hustle and bustle and the sounds of laughter and excitement.  I love crowds and chaos so "in season" is ironically the most peaceful time for me.  Could this be from adapting to life with autism?  Probably.

We are a "go, go, go" type of family.  Two boys will do that to you and we NEVER adhere to a schedule.  We are literally making up the day as it goes which works for us.  While we haven't come close to completing our vacation I thought I would share a few things we have done so far to anyone who is thinking of heading this way for vacay.

Dining options are kind of limited unfortunately for ASD kids.  There aren't too many places that have "safe" foods although I do have to say I have started to see more gluten free options available.  However, vegan options are very scarce, so if you have a child like mine who is casein free, you will be hard pressed to find a lot of dessert options.  I have found however, gluten free only desserts at a few places, one being at The Quarterdeck in Harbour Town that looked delish!  Luckily there is a Publix nearby so I did my grocery shopping there and was able to buy plenty of food for Aidan in addition to the food I packed from home.  There is also a Piggly Wiggly right across the street, but options are extremely limited.

Finding activities isn't as hard as finding after dinner desserts though!  The beach is a great activity if your child is up to it.  We are on North Forest Beach, down two blocks from Coligny so while there is a good amount of people it isn't overwhelming and everyone is spread out pretty well.  I personally love this activity because both kids are wiped out by the time dinner comes and they both sleep like rocks. Score!

Today we went on a dolphin tour which was amazing!  The tour is 1.5 hours and while there are MANY tours in Hilton Head that do this, the one we chose was on a very large boat complete with restrooms, snacks, drinks and an inside cabin.  Many others that I looked at were on much smaller boats with no restroom;  a disaster for any parent with a child.  Here is a link  They offer many other cruises as well such as sunset cruises, a fireworks cruise and a children's cruise.  Here is a pic of the boys on board our dolphin cruise where we saw many dolphins swimming!  The captain was very calm and narrated the trip well.  There were no loud noises or over stimulation at all.  Very pleasant!

Miniature golf is also on our list along with a trip to Savannah (my favorite city) and an adventure in kayaking.  Will update on those places in a few days!

Much love...xoxo