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Doggie Boot Camp, the journey to…

May 4, 2013

I am trying to be as quiet as possible as I type this.  My wife Kat is slowly winding down with her Nook.  My two sons, Drew and Alex, have already drifted off to the Land of Nod and are laying on the floor of my brother’s guest room in their home outside of Indianapolis, halfway to Xenia, Ohio.    Unfortunately, the click-click-click of the keyboard is hardly silent.  I’m not worried about Kat or Drew being stirred by the racket.  My concern, like most nights, is how well Alex will sleep.

Each night, I carefully log Alex’s sleep cycles.  I’ve been doing so now for over two and a half years.  The record helps Kat and I monitor Alex’s general well-being.  Essentially, if he’s sleeping well, he’s probably feeling well.  I will go to great lengths to ensure that Alex isn’t disturbed.

Alex was born six years ago.  He was a fussy sleeper literally ever since his feet hit the floor (he was a breech baby).  Kat deserves sainthood for nursing Alex for over 19 months.  Yes–he had long since cut his first teeth by then.  Most nights the only thing that would mellow Alex out enough to sleep was a warm drink and snuggle from Mom.  Given that Drew only nursed for six months, to say that Alex’s needs were fatiguing was a dramatic understatement.  Kat was exhausted.  By association, I was, too.

Alex’s fussiness in this regard was one of those developmental details that Kat and I had to explain to the raft of doctors, therapists and specialists who would eventually come to the conclusion that Alex had autism.  That, his loss of speaking ability, his disinterest in playing with toys “correctly”–if at all, his lack of attention and interaction all pointed like a lazy compass to this cheerless, heart-rendering diagnosis.  Kat sobbed, she and I clutching each other as the synopsis changed forever the tangent of our life.  That was in February 2010.

Fast forward to today.  Kat, Drew, Alex and I are on our way east–ultimately to Xenia, Ohio, where we will spend almost two full weeks.  It’s not really a vacation, but in some ways it seems to be.  Hotel room stays, less than nutritious food, lots of driving.  We are going to “doggie boot camp” to train with our newly assigned service animal, a downright gorgeous 13 month old Golden Retriever named “Merrows”.  She will be Alex’s closest friend, confidant, protector, buddy and likely–warm, soft pillow for at least the next 10 years.  Merrows will probably forever change Alex’s life, just as his autism diagnosis changed ours.  But in a good way.  We are very hopeful about this.  That’s why it’s kinda vacation-like.  There are some wonderful days in store for us.

Our car carefully packed with enough stuff to last us at least a few days.  I was adamant about not taking too much stuff, lest we not have adequate room for our sweet not-so-little four-legged friend when we head back home two weeks from now.

What are we expecting with Merrows?  An obvious question and one that I have answered only vaguely to those who ask.  I have a little experience with dogs in general, but next to no experience with service dogs.  I do know, however, just how patient, obedient and faithful these dogs appear to be, helping steer their charges away from harm.  Essentially, that’s what I want.  I want Merrows to watch over Alex with an extra set of eyes and four extra paws if he tries to walk into a busy street.  I hope Merrows protects Alex by attempting to calm or distract him when Alex has had too much or not enough of something, which can trigger horrible, painful bouts of self-abuse.  And I wish for Merrows to bring a certain constant, warm fidelity to Alex’s life.  Alex will always have his mom, dad and big brother.  But, sadly, Alex might not have many ‘real’ friends.  I want Merrows to be Alex’s friend–the best friend he could have–warm, soft, patient and unconditionally loving, even if Alex may never utter her name.

And here I am tonight, trying to type quietly.  I want Alex to sleep well but it’s not easy when he’s not in his own room laying on his own bed.  Lots of kids with autism are like this.  And if Alex wakes, I will wake with him–a vestige of a time when I got to sleep in because, frankly, I wasn’t the parent that could lactate.  Regardless, he usually wants a snuggle or a sip of water, but sometimes he wakes up with enough electric energy to power a small island nation.  In short, we want him to sleep.  As long and as soundly as possible.  ‘Helicopter parenting’ a sprightly non-verbal six-year old with autism is not for the weak–or the tired.  I need my rest, too.

From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

  1. paula permalink

    your writing is great

  2. Cindy Shisler permalink

    Good luck to you all. My daughter Tori helped train Merrows and is so excited for Alex. Having met Merrows I can tell you she is a wonderful dog. She always showed a special love for children and is so gentle and loving. Our family wishes the best for all of you!

  3. I miss you already, Alex! I can’t wait for the first time you set your eyes on your new buddy, Merrows! I am so happy for you and your family. It is so exciting to think that you will have a awesome new friend in your life who will become your best bud! Good luck with everything while in Ohio.

  4. cindy s permalink

    Good luck to you all. My daughter Tori helped train Merrows and is so excited for Alex. Having met Merrows I can tell you she is a wonderful dog. She always showed a special love for children and is so gentle and loving. Our family wishes the best for all of you.

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