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Doggie Boot Camp, Day 2. Better.

May 8, 2013

Today was a better day.  Lemme just get that out of the way.

Much of what Kat and I do with Alex is tactical.  Recall he’s non-verbal–except for his whining and very occasional verbal sounds like “dah-dee”, “mah-muh” or “dooo!”, which can be loosely translated as daddy, mama and Drew but these are used only haltingly.  He still cannot communicate with us in a reliable fashion.  There are many avenues that offer hope as an address somewhere down the street–like PECS (picture exchange), which Alex has used successfully–but they are cumbersome and require a tremendous discipline that Kat and I do not, sadly, have.  Our hope is a device like the iPad may allow Alex to scroll through an app and then choose the most clear way of describing what he needs, or feels, or whatever.  Alex does like to use his iPad, and he can navigate it with surprising accuracy.  He even tries to use our iPhones in the same manner, all good things.

But I digress, sorry.  As I said, much of what my wife and I do with Alex is tactical–keeping Alex’s immediate needs met.  They may be physiological (like food, water, toileting) but can be others–like providing motion, or sensory input–a playground swing is a good example.  We installed one of these in our living room (they don’t take as much space up as you’d think), and Alex uses it every day when we are home with or without our assistance.  Of course we are not at home.  We are in one of those extended stay hotels 350 miles away.  So we have to make do with what’s around us.  Again–tactical.

The weather cooperated nicely today.  No more rain (at least not when we needed to be outside).  So Alex and I got to spend more time just coming and going inside the doggie training camp and out.  Together we explored the playground equipment that is set up for all the kids that are here.  Alex is happy climbing stairs at home.  Also desks, tables, shelves.  I even caught him in the utility sink in the basement once, having reached this perch only after climbing on top of buckets and the washing machine.  He’s resourceful when he needs to be, too.

After yesterday’s fiasco, I was determined to manage Alex better.  And for the most part, I succeeded.  When I say “I”, I mean it was mostly the David and Alex show today.  Kat settled in to her role as primary trainer to Merrows and Drew happily played with another equally rambunctious 7-year-old boy, the son of one of my friend’s here.

We showed up on time at the training center, all of us families a little more relaxed (if not more tired) from Day 1.  I think it is clearer now to us how each day will go for our class, so we can try to focus our energies where they belong, which is learning to be a good trainer to our dogs.  Kat gamely rose to the challenge.  Each of the dogs were trotted out, with Merrows gently setting herself at Kat’s feet.  Drew gave a stroke or two to her head as a greeting.  I did, too.  Alex sat on my lap facing outward, calmly noting Merrows and gently touching her nose.  Merrows is very tolerant, very patient.  Just as we’d hoped.

We learned today that many of the dogs that are ultimately placed with kids that can be violent are first brought to prisons where they can get used to the cacophony of sounds one would hear, along with the impolite nature of prison life in general. Thankfully most of the homes these service animals ultimately go to are hardly so stark and harsh.   But at least the experience is gained.  Very impressive to me.

Soon enough–too soon, frankly, I could no longer keep Alex on my lap so off he went.  I fired up the chopper and went hovering after him.  One of the skills Merrows will be able to do is literally be tethered to Alex–or vice versa, as she will be heavier than Alex for a few more years.  Kat and I can’t wait for this, as Alex has “escaped” from our house/hotel room/grasp more than once.  Merrows will help try to keep Alex out of harm’s way.

I mentioned the poop episode yesterday.  Alex was constipated.  And this was probably why he was so out of sorts.  Today, Alex still was frustrated a few times–and violent to the point that I needed to slide on his helmet.  But the good news is that these times few fewer and widely spaced.  He was hungry, I made him a snack or got him lunch.  He was thirsty.  I set him up drink side.  He needed motion, we sat on the swing together.  In fact, Alex and I discovered one of those rigid plastic baby swings hanging near the playground.  I put him in that and he happily swung back and forth for at least 15 minutes.  Yes, it’s repetitious and dull, but when your child is content, it is easy to remember it’s about him, not you.  Little successes get me through the day sometimes.

Kat and all the other primary dog handlers took occasional walks outside with the dogs.  Like handing the keys to her new car, Kat handed me Merrows’ leash with the offer of ‘taking her for a test drive’–meaning I could practice some of the most basic commands with Merrows:  sit, free, shake, ‘high 5’, all of which Merrows did perfectly for me.  Of course I did have little pieces of snacks in my hands.  Just like in ABA training with Alex, food is used as a positive ‘reinforcement’ to make the dog do what you want her to.  There it is again–the same stuff that works with a dog will work with Alex (usually).

I felt a little more connected to Merrows today because Kat tried to include me more.  I still need to practice a ton with her, but at least Merrows is agreeable to include my commands.  Besides, I have snacks.

About 2pm or so, Alex was upset again.  He was done with the swing and the playground.  Not up for any more food or drink.  Didn’t want to be held any more.  So he and I headed back to the hotel.  There, he proceeded to have a bowel movement that many adults would be proud to claim.  Okay, maybe not.  But still it must have felt very satisfying to him, it was that sizable.  Funny thing, changing a diaper is not very high on my list of excitable activities (not even close), but when Alex is “productive” like this, I am downright giddy.  Alex was fine the rest of the day.

We headed back to the training center, where Alex was calm and mild.  There, the head trainer announced that the dogs would not be coming back with us today as we had earlier been told.  Reason being our training class is now 12 days long instead of 11 days, so we will get to bring Merrows home tomorrow and still get 10 days of time with her at our home away from home.  Instead, we brought back her kennel, food/water bowls and a garbage bag full of food for her.  We’re all still very excited about welcoming her into our brood.  We’ll see how that goes.  Perhaps less “tactical” and more “strategic”.  We want Merrows to make a difference in Alex’s world.  And not just help us hover over her.

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From → Alex, Autism, Family Stuff

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