Stories From the Heart: My Momma’s Hair

My husband, James, and I have been foster parents for the past four years. The touching moments happen often in the course of caring for neglected or abused children. Sometimes it just breaks my heart to see not only the physical suffering of these children but the silent, mental suffering no sees unless they spend time with each child. Currently we have two children in our care, David, age 4, and his sister, Susan, age 3.

Every time these two little ones return from a parental visit they are sad and tend to act out for a day or two. At the breakfast table after such a visit David appeared to be sad or maybe not feeling well. His head was down and his favorite breakfast of biscuits and gravy sat before him untouched. One hand covered his forehead and eyes so that we couldn’t determine whether he was actually sick or upset.

James, noticed and asked, “Say, Buddy, aren’t you hungry this morning?” David remained hidden and silent for a moment. Then in the broken language of his youth and speech impairment, he replied so softly it was difficult to decipher. “Hair.” Puzzled, my husband asked him, “Is there a hair on your food? Just brush it away, Buddy, and eat up!” “Face,” was David’s reply. James and I exchanged puzzled glances. After a while you get to know the intricate workings of a child’s mind.

From an inner intuition I suddenly knew exactly what he was saying…the reason he was sad and unable to eat. “David, did your mother hold you on her lap yesterday and give you lots of hugs and kisses?” I asked. He dropped the hand from his lowered head, looked up at me with pools of unshed tears filling his eyes, lower lip quivering and said, “Momma’s hair. On my face…” As he spoke his small little hand brushed the side of his face ever so gently.

My heart nearly broke. Barely holding back tears of my own it was all I could do to speak as I opened my arms. “Come here, precious, and let me hold you for a minute.” The sobs were released at last as he jumped from his chair and ran around the table and into my arms. I engulfed him in a fierce hug as I lifted him onto my lap. For long moments I simply rocked him and whispered in his ear, “You are so special…we love you…God loves you too…so special…” Until the tears were spent.

But the pain of this child will never completely go away. We can love him and try to reassure him that he matters…that he is special…but what he really needs and craves so badly is not ours to give. All he wants is to be with his mother. Oh that she could know what she is doing to her precious son and daughter. Would she try harder to get her act together and gain back custody of her children?

Every child deserves a mother. This is my wish and daily prayer…not only for this particular little boy…but for all the special children who remember the simple touch of a mother’s hair on his cheek.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Two Special Babies

The day I had waited nine months for finally arrived. My beautiful, perfect baby boy was here. Three years later my beautiful daughter arrived. Like every new parent, I had concerns. They were quickly put to rest by our pediatrician. By the time Emily was born, I was more relaxed. Many of my friends were jealous. I had gotten perfect children. My children slept while my friends’ children stayed awake.

I wasn’t experiencing the “terrible twos” and “horrible threes” my friends were experiencing. I gleamed with pride at the two gifts I had been given. The seemingly perfect reality I was experiencing was simply a facade of which even I wasn’t aware.

My son, Jacob had been receiving early intervention services at our home because of what we believed was a simple speech delay due to many ear infections. When he turned three, we were given the opportunity to send him to a full day speech and language school. Within months, Jacob was beginning to talk.

At the same time, our Emily was growing more beautiful with each passing day. She had a glowing personality. People everywhere were drawn to her smile and she warmed the hearts of all who met her. She wasn’t however, meeting some necessary milestones as quickly as other children her age. The pediatrician reassured us that Emily was merely “low tone” and that she would catch up eventually.

Months passed and Emily became more frustrated. When she was eleven months old I called early intervention services. She was evaluated and it was determined that physical and occupational therapies were required. Therapists were assigned and Emily quickly began meeting milestones. We cheered her on as the frustration lessened.

Our perfect world had been restored. Once again, however, perfection would be shattered by reality. We began to notice certain behaviors in our son had persisted despite his new found ability to communicate his needs. My husband and I realized that this needed further investigation.

Jacob would be entering kindergarten and we would have decisions to make. I took Jacob to a neurologist expecting him to laugh and say, “He’s a kid. This is what they do.” I sat in the office on that April afternoon, my stomach churning. I finally met the doctor, who instead of confirming my hopes, said, “Jacob is Autistic,” I was speechless. Questions loomed.

Autism was one of my worst fears. To me, Autism meant a child who could not connect with others, a child who did not want to be touched, and a child who would spend his adult life in a group home or institutionalized. Through tears, I tried to listen to the prognosis.

“Jacob could not be Autistic”, I thought. He loved to be held and hugged. Jacob was too smart for that-he already recognized all the letters of the alphabet! I didn’t understand. There were behaviors, the doctor said, which clearly pointed to Autism: the repetitive movements, the echolalia, the inability to make eye contact. Yes, this child was Autistic and would need a lot of work if he was to have any semblance of normalcy.

After Jacob’s diagnosis, I began to worry about Emily. I worried that some day we would get bad news about her too. She continued to improve and unlike her brother, she was very social. Fear subsided and we breathed a sigh of relief that life was once again returning to normal.

When Emily began to talk, however, we noticed that her speech patterns sounded muddled and she was difficult to understand. Once again, the wheels of fear turned in my head. Why was she having so much trouble? I felt an urging to find out, but chose to push the fear and doubts to the back of my mind.

I had been speaking with a family friend whose daughter has Down Syndrome. We discussed Emily’s therapies and she urged me to rule out bigger problems and not just treat the symptoms. I had felt this way too, but it’s unnerving to have someone else say it and not know your thoughts. Emily needed to see a specialist. We went back to the neurologist.

After looking at Emily, he said he felt it wasn’t anything terrible, just something that a simple blood test would reveal and could be “cured.” Much relieved, I took Emily home, thankful we had been spared. It took three weeks for the blood tests to come back. I went back to the neurologist’s office confident that all was well, while my son went to school and my husband went to work. I promised to call as soon as I was finished.

Finally it was our turn to see the doctor. He looked over Emily’s charts and said, “Ok, today we are here to discuss how to handle Emily’s Down Syndrome.”

“Emily has Down Syndrome?!” I asked in horror and disbelief.

Confused, the doctor looked back at the charts and quickly realized he hadn’t given me the bad news before because I’d had to cancel the previous appointment. Apologizing, he retraced his steps and explained to me that Emily had a rare form of Down Syndrome. This is why it had not been detected in my prenatal tests. Here I was, sitting in the neurologist’s office listening as he told me I didn’t have a normal child…..for the second time!

Hysterical and shaking, I left the neurologist’s office and called my husband. Now it seemed hopeless. Both of our “perfect” children would face insurmountable challenges that we could not take away. Over the next few days I cried. I begged God to inflict this upon me and spare my children. I begged Him to help me to understand why this tragedy had befallen our family.

Then, from out of deep depression and confusion came a soft voice in my heart urging me to do something. I realized that sulking and feeling depressed wasn’t going to help Jacob and Emily. I got to work. Using my knowledge as a teacher, I made endless phone calls to anyone I could think of.

Appointments with schools were made. Additional evaluations were scheduled. It took less than three weeks to place Emily in a half day preschool program. A process that should have taken months took a few weeks. Everyone wondered, how did we get it done so quickly? I had been through it before.

Emily’s diagnosis did more than help her. It helped my husband and me. We had been financially struggling and had been wondering all summer how we were going to pay the costly daycare Emily was enrolled in. With the diagnosis, Emily became eligible to attend a preschool program five mornings a week free of charge and a family friend became available to watch her in the afternoon.

The blessings have been endless. We are watching them learn and grow at their own pace. We realize that it won’t be easy, but we are prepared. We were especially excited to discover that Jacob’s prognosis has improved and with the right help he should be able to grow up and be like everyone else.

Happiness shines through Emily and it is impossible to feel anything but joy in her presence. Her ability to light up the world outshines her disability and all who meet her are amazed by her warmth and compassion.

Truly, a lesson has been learned. God gives us not what we think is best, but what He believes we need. He knew I needed them to teach me about love and acceptance. He knew that I had strength I thought was impossible. He knew that I was exactly the mother these two special babies needed. I am honored to know that I have been chosen to do His work.

By Susan Friedenburg

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: My Sister Isn’t Stupid

My little sister Kelly was diagnosed with Autism and Sensory Inauguration Disorder. The day my mom told me about this I was shocked. Until that day I thought my sister was just stupid. I know that’s not nice, but I was just a little kid who didn’t know better.

I didn’t take the time to care for her like I did when she was a baby. I didn’t take the time to see why she was different, or how I could help her. I was embarrassed by how she was. I know better now because I’m 12, and my little sister is 4.

My little sister didn’t ask for this no one did. It came as a shock to all of us because of how beautiful she is and how “normal” she looks. We later found out that she couldn’t intake a lot of information at once because of how her brain processes things. Don’t get me wrong, my little sister and I are very close now.

I was eight when she was born. I was able to be in the room when she was brought into this world and I cut her cord. Then was the bond that begun. I broke that bond when I thought she was dumb for being what she is. She isn’t dumb though. She’s very smart in her own way, and she is my world!

I couldn’t have gotten this far without her. She knows when I need to talk to her or someone to play with. She is very tall for her age. She is smart in my mind because of certain things she can do that I can’t. She is a great person to be around when you need to be cheered up.

We always play this game called tickle game. I run after her and she screams and tries to hide but I find her and tickle her like crazy. Her laugh and her smile light up my world. She knows how to make you feel happy. If it was possible everyone would want a little sister like Kelly.

She goes to Early Childhood at an elementary school where a lot of people understand her and help her needs. She has a terrific teacher and I am glad she has taken time to help her.

All I can say to you is if you have ever made fun of a disabled person you better think twice. They may indeed be smarter than you think they are. And they are somebody’s sister, brother, son, daughter, or best friend.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: In Life and In Death, Always Faithful

Like most military children, Marc Tace knew how to wait. He knew how to wait for his Marine Corps dad’s next job, his next homecoming and the next deployment. Marc knew how to wait even when his dad’s absences only could be explained by the words “Semper Fi” (Marine Motto, which means “Always Faithful”).

And for a child who’s missing his dad, that’s a hard concept. But unlike most military children, Marc waited without moving. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of four, Marc was wheelchair-bound by the time he and I were in elementary school.

I remember his wheelchair, decked out with 17th Street Surf Shop and USMC stickers, like I remember my grandparents’ brown Volvo station wagon coming up the street. Marc’s wheelchair was simply part of my elementary school experience, long before “inclusion” was a word tossed around in newspaper editorials.

Marc’s mom became somewhat like a beloved aunt. I looked forward to seeing Mrs. Tace in the school hallway as she helped Marc with the things he needed. She’d come down the hall, dressed in a jeweled sweatshirt with the American flag on it, singing something like, “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family” to me, and Marc would roll his eyes with feigned embarrassment.

My favorite memory of Mrs. Tace and Marc was when they found me crying in the hallway of the junior high school. “Now, we can’t have our little Sarah crying,” Mrs. Tace said, and then she let Marc and me play hooky from school and took us to get donuts.

Later, Marc and I went to the same high school and college. He was always there. And so was Mrs. Tace. While our dads were away on military assignments, our families spent Easters and Thanksgivings together. And over time, Marc’s wheelchair got bigger and more complex. There were more machines, more contraptions keeping him still, and keeping him waiting.

Then I got married, moved away and had children. In some ways, I had left my military childhood behind. I no longer knew exactly when my dad was out on detachment or home with mom. But each time I went home and saw Marc, I was reminded how faithfully he still waited, the world coming to him as he waited for his dad’s homecomings.

But in 1994, Col. Tace died of a massive heart attack while serving overseas and never came home. Everyone wondered, “What will Mrs. Tace and Marc do? How will they manage?” No one could have anticipated the strength and support of the greater military family that would keep them going. No one could have anticipated the way Marc would rise to the occasion and become the father figure for his family. And no one anticipated,although we should have, the way the Marines would take care of their own and embrace Marc and his family.

Last week, more than 10 years after Col. Tace’s death, it was that same strength and support that cradled Mrs. Tace when she laid Marc to rest next to his dad. With an American flag in one hand and the Marine Corps flag in the other, Mrs. Tace kissed her son’s coffin and told him, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here with you.”

A military jet screeched overhead, rustling the flaps of the tent where we stood.  I smiled as I thought, “Leave it to a Marine to arrange a fly-by for the funeral of a Marine’s son.”

Muscular dystrophy finally took Marc Tace’s life, just a few months shy of his 30th birthday. Yet in some way, death also freed Marc. Because the morning Mrs. Tace found her son lying still in his bed wasn’t any ordinary day. No, the day Marc slipped from this life to the next, to find what he’d been waiting for, was Father’s Day. And so it was, on the day set aside for fathers and their children, Marc went home to be with his dad, where this time the Marine stood waiting for his son.

Semper Fi.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: I Really Do Understand, Let Me Show You My Way

I am an early childhood teacher in a class of 9 Autistic children from the ages of 3-5 in an inclusive program with typical children. I have one student this school year that has been a great challenge for me (she is 4) but she shows me everyday how much she really understands, and how she communicates with us. This is her story!

We were reading a book during an apple unit. The book was about apple orchards. One student of mine was screaming, singing at the top of her lungs as we sat at circle and read this story. We tried everything to get her to quiet down by showing her pictures of being quiet to verbally telling her it is not time to sing.

We had not even gotten through the story and she had to be removed from the activity. She independently went to an area in the classroom, got out a marker and some paper and began to draw. She had never done this before.

She drew the most amazing story of her own. It was a story of apple orchards three pages long with the most amazing detail from a full drawn bicycle with a person on it, a tree with the green and red apples, a person climbing the tree, picking apples and then climbing back down. She proved to me that she did understand the whole concept of our story she just could not demonstrate her knowledge in a large group with many other students around.

After that the other students transitioned to the next activity. She finished her story and handed it to me. She said, ” Schrubbe, I know”. I got goose bumps all over and began to cry! I couldn’t believe that I had finally broken through to her! I was so excited!

From this point on this child has shown me her strengths through her drawing. She even writes stories of how she may handle stressful situations and through her stories I have been able to help her better! I hope you find this as exciting and enlightening as I did!

By Betsy Schrubbe

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Conquering Challenges

In the center of our kitchen my son screams. He turns his hands over repeatedly and looks closely at each one, holding them out as if they were poison. I quickly pull a paper towel from the roll and dry his hands. The screams subside and he bounces contently from the room. The screams experienced here are evidence of sensory deficits. This account is one of many episodes that occur with my son as he struggles to deal with his medical condition.

My three-year-old son was diagnosed nearly two years ago with PDD, otherwise known as pervasive developmental disorder, borderline Autism. Michael wasn’t always like this. Until the age of eighteen months, there had been no indication of any abnormal condition, and certainly not PDD.

Having raised another child before him, I was well aware of the milestones to look for as proof of how well he was doing. All the normal achievements were present; some were ahead of their time frame. Michael rolled over at the proper time, he crawled by ten months, and he walked prior to age one. There was no evidence to support anything other than normal growth.

At eighteen months, I realized something had gone wrong. There was a lack of words in Michael’s vocabulary. His attempts at conversation were not with normal child-like gibberish or jargon. Basic childhood words like, juice, cookie, bye-bye, and even Mommy, were not a part of Michael’s daily interaction. In addition, Michael was more at ease playing alone rather than with other children.

Concerned, I took my son to his pediatrician. His doctor was not disturbed, and informed me that some children do not acquire words as quickly as others. He encouraged me to wait for words to appear. I did wait-no words came. This warranted a second trip to Michael’s physician. This time my concerns were addressed and he referred us to the Sparks Center.

The specialists and therapists at the Sparks Center ran numerous tests, the results of which gave weight to my suspicions. Michael was diagnosed with PDD. PDD can manifest itself in numerous ways. The symptoms are as varied as the individual.

In Michael’s case, this disorder alters his perception and causes him to have aversions and intolerance to certain stimuli. Many of the things you and I take for granted, are not so commonplace to my son. This condition complicates Michael’s verbal and sensory skills, but also inhibits his ability to interact socially.

On the social scale, Michael is well below the average toddler. Social situations are challenging for us, so we avoid the social scene as often as possible. The smallest amount of interaction: a smile, a hello, or a pat on the head from a stranger, can send Michael into a screaming episode. Those watching assume this reaction to be one that requires a disciplinary co-action, so it is not unusual to receive a negative comment or sharp looks from observers. Those who know the symptoms are sympathetic.

I recall one incident in particular at the supermarket. A cashier attempted to start a conversation with Michael. Although this interaction triggered an episode, the cashier did not abandon his conversation, which sent Michael into an even deeper anti-social spin. When Michael would not calm, the cashier proceeded to pick him up. Michael’s limits had been reached.

He tried to escape and hid himself behind my knees. When I did get Michael calmed down, I asked the cashier to give him some space and Michael soon regained his composure. This caused an enormous amount of frustration for all involved.

Although the cashier had done what he thought was best, his efforts had made things worse. Situations like this one remind me of how much work is yet to be done to help my son. Michael is presently undergoing Speech Therapy. To increase his social skills he engages in one-on-one and group occupational therapy on a regular basis. He has made huge strides since the onset of these therapies and now speaks many words and phrases too. His screaming has decreased somewhat as he adapts to the social scene more readily.

This may seem trivial to some, but to us these accomplishments are tremendous achievements. Sometimes I feel so alone, as if no one understands or even cares to. At times it is difficult to explain Michael’s condition. It takes a tremendous amount of diligence and prayer, and will require even more energy from our family before my son is beyond this.

I hope in what I cannot see right now. After all that is what faith is all about. I will continue to strive to get beyond the barriers this dysfunction causes. The rewards well outweigh the obstacles: watching my son play with other children at the park, or observing him as he shakes another person’s hand at church. Each achievement affords me the strength to conquer the next hurdle. However, each day brings with it a new set of roadblocks. We have learned to set attainable goals.

There are yet occasions when I’m overwhelmed with the extra effort required to insure that my son processes and comprehends all the necessary information. There are many concerns and questions. I choose my battles. It brings me great joy to see Michael smile and exchange eye contact now, something he was unable to do initially. This is proof our efforts are paying off. Because of the my diligence and of others, we can now relish in one of Michael’s greatest successes: calling me Mommy!

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.


Stories From the Heart: Conquering Mountains

When they cry; I am unemotional.
When they are down; I stay positive and keep my chin up.
When they are at school; I am in hospital.

When they learn math and languages; I learn about life’s importance and overcoming struggles.
When they are on study leave; I am at school.
When they are sleeping in and doing a few hours study; I am alert, surrounded by teachers, learning and catching up ready for exams.

When they go bowling; I have physio.
When they are having fun with friends; I am slowly making progress, all the while learning patience and determination.
When they go shopping; I have appointments.

When they are spending money on clothes and prettiness; I am meeting different people, listening to their comments and learning the difference between opinion and fact.
When they go tramping; I walk on crutches.
When they are walking up steep slopes; I am learning to walk, truly appreciating each step I take.

When they are conquering mountains; I am doing exactly the same.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Finest Hour

The car was hot, and the air conditioning was high. Our family was on our way to Bay Cliff Health Camp, way Up North. It was the summer of 2005 and we were spending a week of it helping handicapped kids. My dad had been a counselor year before, and he wanted to give us the opportunity to be one too. “The experience definitely changed my life,” he explained. “You guys will have fun for sure,” he reassured.

The drive seemed to last forever, and the humid air made my legs stick to the leather seats. We soon pulled into the long driveway of a beaten up hotel. The wood that was supposed to be pure white, was a rusted yellow, and the grass was sharp and brown. From the very beginning I thought, “Wow this will be interesting.”

The next morning my family woke up at 10:00 am to head to Bay Cliff. The camp was so close to the hotel you could walk there without getting tired. It was July 4th, and all the kids would be going in a parade later in the day, but we went early to get to know some of the kids there.

We were greeted by a big sign that read, “BAY CLIFF HEALTH CAMP”. We walked out of the hot air into a big air-conditioned building. The inside was just as big as the outside had looked, and the smell of new wood stuck in my nose hairs. The woman behind the wooden desk greeted us with a big smile.

“May I help you?” she questioned. “We were just wondering what the kids were going to be doing today,” my dad replied. “Well, since today is the 4th of July, we’re letting them play games until the parade,” the lady smiled again. “They always enjoy that.” “Thank you very much,” my dad said, and then we were out back into the heat again.

We soon saw a ton of kids in wheelchairs and crutches playing games. The kid’s smiles reached their ears as they played the various games. The kids giggled when their faces were getting painted with any design they wanted. I went over and sat on a bench because the heat and mosquitoes were getting to me.

Immediately the kids started to come up and just tell me their names. “Hi, I’m Cody. Who are you?” a little girl, maybe seven, asked me. “I’m Shannon. I came here to see if I want to be a counselor when I turn sixteen,” I replied. “Oh! You’re going to want to be one Miss. Shannon, it’s a lot of fun here, and everyone is really nice,” she explained. Not five minutes had passed before tons of other little kids came up and told me their names.

I was invited to five tables at the “Big House” also known as the cafeteria. The meal was set before me, and I didn’t feel right eating the food they had made. They made this for the kids, not me, I thought, maybe I should just not eat, and maybe they won’t notice. After a while of debating, I decided to eat because my stomach was growling louder than the kid’s laughs were.

“How long are you staying for?” one of the younger counselors asked. “Just for a week,” I told her. “I’m planning on being a counselor when I turn sixteen.” “Oh, that’s really cool of you to do,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun working at Bay.”

Before I knew it, the parade was going. The kids threw candy, and their smiles lit up their whole face with joy. The kids made their wheelchairs into cars, and they made signs for their cabin. The kids dressed up in cheerleading costumes and basketball uniforms. I had already fallen in love with these kids.

The week I was at Bay Cliff went by way to fast. It was soon departure day, and I knew it’d be pretty hard to say goodbye to all the kids. I hugged every kid I had gotten to know, and every time I did, there was a feeling in my stomach. It was as if this whole vacation, the whole camp was all for a reason.

That’s when I realized what I wanted to do when I got older. I wanted to work with little kids, with or without disabilities. This camp made me open my eyes to my possibilities. I loved being with little kids, and I loved seeing them happy. From that moment I knew what I wanted to be.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Evelyn, Queen of the Jungle

I asked Evelyn for what felt like the hundredth time that day to spell a word she probably couldn’t…and we both knew it. She and I sat together twice a week in the freezing school library where the librarian glared from behind a desk, sighing as she scanned each checked-in book.

The first time I went there, I remember thinking, “This is a school where kids do not like to read.” That was a complete understatement. In third grade, Evelyn still confused her b’s and d’s. Reading and writing were horrible bullies to her, and she was beginning to find out that the antagonistic subjects loomed in every corner. On my first day as a tutor, I learned that this was not only a school where kids did not like to read, but one where many could not read.

In a perfect world, I would have given the children I worked with at Sims Elementary a clean slate – loving and available guardians, a community with more money and energy to invest in the school, and financial stability. But even in an imperfect world, I managed to hand Evelyn a relatively clean slate and a piece of chalk. I drew six short lines on the slate, preparing her for our own version of Slate of Fortune, a fill-in-the-blank game where nobody got hanged or went bankrupt. Best of all, contestants never feigned illness of sobbed in frustration.

“I have another word from your book for you to try,” I said. “Now listen very carefully to all the sounds and take your time. The word is ‘jungle.'” I began to prepare my consolations. Evelyn had already missed easier words in our session that day. She was always the last to finish the book, to master the concept, to be dismissed at the end of the day.

Evelyn smelled like the oil in her cornrows, stale milk from lunch, and the accumulated sweat of clothes handed down years too long. Among other painful inheritances were her mother’s poverty, her father’s absence, and her community’s lack of resources.

The first time I asked her to read for me, Evelyn hid under a desk crying. I took it personally. I assumed she must not respect me, but really she dreaded another defeating session with the printed word. Evelyn did not have any support outside of school, and this outraged me. How could I undo her years of pain and neglect?

I was disheartened that I could not help someone who needed it the most.  I was just born into great fortune – the victor, rather than the victim, of my family’s circumstances. These circumstances allowed my parents to nurture me by communicating with my teachers and helping me learn. They made my education one of their priorities. I grew up “sheltered” and “comfortable,” though at the time I called it “bored.”

When Evelyn said she had written “jungle,” I asked her to think about it again. It is a difficult word to spell. I don’t even know why the first letter is a j instead of another g. I was hungry and shivering in the fluorescent lighting of the library, fidgeting in a too-small chair, and getting impatient with my inability to reach Evelyn. I wondered what would have happened if I had never boarded the #6 to East Austin that day. I will probably never know. However, I can guess that Evelyn would not have spelled “jungle” correctly, because to my amazement, that’s exactly what she did.

“You spelled it right!” I marveled, and even the librarian knew this was not an occasion to be shushed. “I was right! I was right! I can spell ‘jungle!” Evelyn hollered until we were finally asked to lower our voices. This was my loveliest parting gift from that day’s game of Slate of Fortune and my entire year as an Americorps literacy tutor.

Evelyn gained a newfound confidence that day. Reading and spelling became easier and more enjoyable to her, because she finally knew she could do those tasks. So did I. Evelyn may have taught me more than I ever taught her. I discovered that teachers and tutors will never manufacture epiphany; they can only ease it along. We must keep the faith that if we try our best, we will eventually be successful. Just when I began to think that my efforts had been fruitless, I was pleasantly surprised. There was a whole “jungle” out there.

Author Unknown

Stories From the Heart: Mason and Zeus

When Mason was born I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that I would be a Mom walking down the mall with a beautiful autistic boy attached to his best friend and protector. A god sent gorgeous eighty-pound golden retriever service dog, meticulously trained for our son by National Service Dogs.

Mason developed just like any other child until he was eighteen months old. He was a great baby. Hit all his milestones and started cooing and talking early. Then he started to regress. He no longer would talk, look us in the eye, or respond when we yelled at him and he seemed deaf. He also developed a scary habit of bolting out of the house or yard and had (and still has) no sense of danger. He is also extremely fast.

We sought the help of the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Mason was diagnosed with Autism and we were unsure of what to do. How could we keep Mason safe and provide a out going life for our family? A sympathetic mom in the waiting room told me about a show she had seen where an organization called National Service Dogs was training dogs for children with Autism. So I went straight home and hit the net.

I was convinced that Mason had to have one of these dogs. Little did I know that we wouldn’t be gaining a dog, but that our son would be receiving his best and only friend. So we applied for a service dog and were accepted. We started fundraising and then just before Christmas they emailed me and said that an anonymous donor had paid for Mason’s dog. How do you express gratitude to someone who is gracious enough to give to a child a future and his only hope for safety? A child that they did not even know.

It was the best Christmas gift our family has ever or will ever receive. It gave Roy and I a renewed hope for mankind and let us know that there are still people in the world that care for others more than they do about themselves.

Then we were introduced to Zeus, a wonderful, gentle, huge golden retriever. My husband and I spent the week bonding and learning how to work our new angel. He was a great help, gentle and very forgiving of these two new masters that forgot the commands and were so unsure of them selves. By the end of the week we knew the commands inside out and backwards and had made a new family with the other new families and NSD’s staff and volunteers.

Tears flowed as we said our good byes and headed back home to introduce our son to his new companion. Our son shocked us with his reaction to Zeus. Mason whom at the time was completely non-verbal snuggled into Zeus as if he had been waiting all along for us to bring home this dog for him.

Mason had earned his ticket to freedom. He new if I took out Zeus Jacket he was going out and he loved it. In the first month we were given our life back. We went out to parks and shopping and even camping. Our daughter was thrilled with her new found freedom as well. Unless we could get a sitter for Mason, we had literally been stuck inside our house were Mason was safe.

Zeus seemed to blend into our family like he had always been apart of us. Then over the next few months amazing things started happening. Zeus was getting the idea that Mason was his boy.

The first event occurred when I came into the Kitchen one day I noticed Zeus lurking in the hallway to the laundry room like he had done something wrong. I called him to me and he wouldn’t come. I tried to pull him out of the hallway but he wouldn’t move. Then I heard a sound in the Laundry room.  There was Mason sitting stuck in the washing machine full of water.

We were getting out of the van to go to church when I heard this little voice say, “There’s my puppy dog”. I turned to my daughter and said “Hayley, Zeus is not your dog”. She said “Mom I didn’t say that. It was Mason”.  I couldn’t believe it Mason was talking! He still has a hard time with speech but before Zeus, he had no speech at all.

One day Mason, Zeus, and I were walking in the mall. A gentleman was looking at Mason and Zeus, laughing really hard. I looked over to see Mason on all fours walking next to and just like his best buddy Zeus.

Another time, while shopping, I stopped to look at something. I guess I took to long because when I went to gather up Mason and Zeus their they were lying next to me on the floor of Wal-Mart, Mason with his head on Zeus, and both fast a sleep.

One time I was downstairs when Zeus ran down and barked at me, so I followed him, only to find Mason out in the garage. Or another time Zeus was barking around the house out in the back yard so I stopped weeding to find Mason gone. We opened the gate and Zeus rounded the corner of the street to show us were Mason was.

Going out to eat at large restaurants would have been too much for Mason before Zeus but now he loves to go out. If it gets too much he crawls down on the floor with Zeus and he feels better. He loves going to amusement parks and zoos now. All would have been too overwhelming before.

Zeus also goes to school with Mason. The teachers and Mason’s aide wonder what they did without Zeus, and claim that Mason is much calmer with Zeus there.

Zeus has given Mason and our family a whole new life. Don’t get me wrong it is not always easy to travel with an eighty pound golden and we have had a few issues regarding public awareness, but know that we would never go back. Zeus is our extra set of eye’s and hands. He has brought quality back to our lives.

For this I am eternally grateful to: Zeus’s donor Kevin, Cathy for raising Zeus, our anonymous donor for funding Zeus, and also to Chris, Heather, Wade, Sharon, Danielle, Allison and all the other people whom give of themselves with National Service Dogs.

In my opinion National Service Dogs is not an organization; it is a group of angels that are working on earth.

Thank you NSD. We love you!

By Roxanne Davis

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Contact Info

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