February 19, 2018

How We Help Our Son Live with Autism

A lot of people ask me what all goes into having a son with autism. What do we do to help him navigate this world? This is different from family to family. The needs of people with autism can vary greatly, so our steps for support, treatment, or intervention can vary as well. For us, the main goal is to try and get Brandon to a point where he can either live independently one day, or be able to communicate how people are treating him should he need care after we are gone. It can be unsettling to think about, but my greatest fear is that after my husband and I are gone, who is going to make sure he is living a safe and happy life? 

I could talk for days about how autism affects not only Brandon's life, but everyone in my family as well.  I could go on and on about all of the little things we do on a daily basis.  However, this post is to share some of the steps we are currently taking to try and help our six-year-old son, Brandon, grow as a person:

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy
Brandon has ABA therapy in our home three days per week. This is a private therapy, which is partially covered by insurance. We are very fortunate to have therapists who truly love Brandon, are professionals, and are very good at what they do.

Autism Service Dog
Brandon’s Autism Service Dog, Bingo, is a godsend. Bingo does three main things for Brandon. He can track him, should Brandon ever elope and leave our home, school, etc. Brandon can be tethered to Bingo, allowing him to be free of the death grip of my hand, or his special needs stroller. Bingo can also disrupt Brandon’s behavior and is a comfort to him. We spent a lot of time, money, and effort to have a legitimate (amazing) Service Dog for Brandon. Bingo is everything we thought he would be, and more! My last 10 blog posts have had something to do with Bingo, so if you would like to learn more about his and Brandon’s relationship, just check out my recent posts.

Speech Therapy
Brandon’s speech therapy sessions are 100% covered by the public school system. His speech therapist is a friend of mine, and she is one of the most amazing people I know. She is yet another therapist who would walk to the ends of the earth for him.

Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy is also covered by the school. She along with his speech therapist, provide and services within his classroom. I don’t know his OT as well as our ST, but she comes recommended, and is very sweet!

Clinical Trial
Brandon is in a clinical trial for a medication that treats autism directly. More specifically, it replaces essential amino acids that many people with autism are missing. We were initially in a double blind study, but now we know he is receiving the medication. 

Comprehensive Development Classroom (CDC)
Brandon is in a Comprehensive Development Classroom in the public school system. He goes to a general education classroom to spend time with and learn from his typically developing peers. He often seems like he is unaware of what is going on around him, but he is much more observant than he appears to be. I know that a lot of special needs families have not had a great experience in a public school system. I have a unique scenario. I am a teacher, and Brandon attends the school where I teach, so I have the luxury of being able to check in and communicate with his teachers more regularly than I could if I did not work there. I decided to become a teacher before I knew my son had special  needs, so God’s plan for us is unfolding beautifully there.

Home Sensory Room
We have turned one of the rooms in our house into a home sensory room. My husband gave up his office, and hasn’t regretted it for a second. In this room Brandon has a swing anchored into the ceiling, a bubble tube, and several other things to meet sensory and calming needs. You can read more about his sensory room here.

Special Needs Dance Class
Brandon has been a part of a special needs dance class for a few years now. His dance teacher is certified in Autism Movement Therapy. No matter how many meltdowns he has had at dance, including one where he bit one of the teachers leaving a mark for weeks, they have always welcomed him with open arms. Starting dance class when he was younger was one of the ways we were able to teach him to wait his turn. Like many six-year-olds, he is not perfect at the skill, but having to sit and wait his turn for the dance floor every week helped us get to a point where he has the stamina to wait for longer periods of time. This seems like a minor thing, but imagine waiting in line for a ride for for food and having an extremely strong child melting down on the floor and screaming and crying because he doesn’t understand why you are preventing him from doing something he wants to do. Waiting is an important skill, and one that many children with autism severely struggle with. 

Special Needs Baseball League
Brandon is in a Miracle League. Our town has a Miracle Field, which is a beautiful and adaptive field and playground where special needs children can play baseball. As hard as it can be for us, we want to expose Brandon to new things. He does not have the same childhood of a typically developing little boy, so it literally brings me to tears when people put forth time, money, and effort to make sure that children like mine can have experiences they deserve.

January 13, 2018

As Seen in the News: Meet Brandon and Bingo!

Brandon and his Autism Service Dog, Bingo, made the news!  Below are two sweet videos showing parts of Brandon and Bingo's journey. The first video is a preview to the news story, and the second video is the full story.

December 30, 2017


I have truly been in awe of the connection that Brandon and his autism service dog, Bingo, have made so far. 


Their relationship was not love at first sight. First of all, when they met it was while we were out of town for the training, and Brandon was just off a six hour car ride and a night in a strange hotel. Brandon had little interest in Bingo, and Bingo was nervous due to Brandon’s severe meltdowns. In fact, at one point in the car while we were parked waiting for our turn to track, Brandon flipped out, screaming and flailing his arms and legs everywhere. Bingo was so scared he leaped into the front seat of the car in my lap. I don’t blame him one bit! Brandon was out of control. Bingo didn’t even know him, and feared being hurt. Those two weeks we were in Ohio training were two of the worst weeks we’ve had with Brandon’s temperament and behavior. He was off. the. chain.

Now that we are all home together it is different. Better. There are a lot of things we can do to help strengthen their bond and by golly, we do it! Brandon is still not a perfect angel, but he comfortable at home. Now that Bingo seems to be used to his new environment and our craziness, he seems more confident. He has approached Brandon several times when he was upset, chased him around the upstairs while Brandon squealed with joy, and has snuggled up with Brandon, trusting him not to flail around on him. (Uhhh...hopefully Brandon doesn’t break that trust!) Oh my...Bingo’s patenice! Brandon feeds Bingo, and two nights ago Brandon spilled his scoop of kibble EVERYWHERE.  Bingo just sat there. Literally. He sat there and patiently waited for us to clean up all that food and get it in his bowl.

Brandon has more confidence with Bingo, too. If Bingo is too “up in his face,” Brandon gently moves him away. What blows me away more than anything is seeing Brandon interact with him on his own. I have seen Brandon rub Bingo’s ear, pet him, and even hold his paw. Those of you who know Brandon well...who have been rejected and ignored by him (I sure have!), understand how truly astonishing this is.

It may not have been love at first sight, but it sure is love!

December 23, 2017

Bad Juju in the Absence of Bingo

After we left 4 Paws, training with Bing, we were heartbroken. We had to leave him there to finish the rest of his training. As hard as it was to be without him, I had to trust God‘s timing this. Had we brought him home with us after training, we all would’ve had to go back to work and school, and Bing would have had to stay at the house by himself, likely kenneled up. He came home on our last half day of school before Winter Break, allowing us two weeks to be at the house with him and get him used to being at the house without us. If he does go to school with Brandon, it won’t be for a few months. He is home now, and we are thrilled! On the eve of Christmas Eve, I am reflecting on the goings on in our family in Bing’s five week absence. 

On the drive home, we hit so many road closings in Nashville, that we had no idea where we were going. We were so close to being home, yet so far! The kennel we purchased for Bing never showed up. It was supposed to arrive while we were gone, but the tracking information never moved. When we finally received it, it was the wrong size, so we had to return it and buy a new one. A few days later my step-daughter nearly totaled her car after continuing to drive the rest of the way to work on a blown tire. Her phone broke and needed to be replaced. Then James’ Jeep had something wrong with it, and we were down to one car with three people who needed to get to work. The diamond in my ring broke off, prongs and all, and we could not find it - we still haven’t, although my diamond has since been replaced. The outdoor furniture we ordered was delayed for three months, so we returned it and had to get the ones that were already delivered, picked up. In the midst of that return, our credit card was stolen, leaving the furniture store without a card to return our money to. My step-daughter got the flu, missing all her mid-terms. Brandon got the flu, and we both missed the last two days of school before winter break (I’m a teacher). James got the flu. I’m just am sitting here praying that I make it through this flu-mania unscathed.

Will our luck change now?

Bing is now home, and it’s the best Christmas present we could ever receive! He already seems to feel at home. On the first night, Bing was laying next to me on the couch and heard Brandon crying in his sensory room. All on his own, Bing hopped up to check on him.  I taught Brandon how to feed Bing. It turns out I have to hide the food because Brandon decided he could feed Bing any time he wants, and randomly gave him a second helping! I imagine Bing thinking, “Yep...I’m going to get along with this kid just fine!” 

We need to continue to work on their bond because Brandon’s social skills, even with a dog, can make it very difficult to interact positively with him. He doesn’t understand how a dog likes to be pet, or even that Bing probably doesn’t like it when Brandon pets him with his feet! Brandon melts down, and we have to teach Bing that it’s okay, and there’s nothing to be afraid of. This was all done while we trained at 4 Paws, and while skiddish around Brandon’s sometimes explosive behavior at first, Bing is now totally comfortable around Brandon. Yay! Yesterday morning we made getting Brandon out of bed a fun experience. They ran around the upstairs and Brandon was belly laughing! This morning, Bing parked himself outside Brandon’s door, ready for the fun to begin again. The bonding is in full effect, and we will continue to build that bond!

November 15, 2017

Autism Service Dog Tracks His Boy

We’ve worked on tracking nearly every day we’ve been training at 4 Paws. I hope we never have to do a real track, but our reality is that Brandon has a high risk of elopement. Heaven forbid we lose Brandon or he exits our home or his school and takes off, Bing will help us find him. As you can see in the first video, Brandon is fast. In the second video you will see see Bing tracking Brandon!

November 11, 2017

Brandon and His Autism Service Dog Walk Through The Mall

Today was an exciting day.  Brandon has had a rough couple of days behaviorally, but today was much better.  With Bing, we've been working on tracking, tethering, and commands such as sit, stand, heal, down, and under (lay down under a table).  When we sit down to eat a meal at the hotel, Bing goes right under the table and lays down with no prompting.  It is obvious how frequently and consistently he has been trained.  He is so easy to manage in public.  We have one amazing dog!  I am so thankful my husband chose 4 Paws for Ability for us to go on this journey with.

We went to the mall today as part of our training, and Bing was perfect.  Lots of people stopped to ask us questions about Bing, and we were more than happy to answer!  Everyone we talked to asked us if they could pet him before doing so, which was great!  We do allow people to pet him, as long as he stays in the command he is in.  So, if he is in a "sit," and someone pets him, it's fine as long as he remains in a sit.  I am relieved that this allowed because with as many people that stopped us today, someone will inevitably pet him without asking, and he will be used to it.

Below is a video of us walking through the mall.  You can't really see him in the video, but the person I am talking to is Bing's trainer.  For the first time, Brandon was able to walk through the mall without having to be strapped down in a stroller, or be stuck with me having a death grip on his hand.  We rarely go to the mall.  I mean, almost never.  It is way overstimulating.  It's loud, there are lots of people, and Brandon will only tolerate being strapped in a stroller for so long.  He is six years old, after all!

November 8, 2017

First Day of our “New Normal” with Bing

We are starting to get in a routine, and so thrilled that Bing now gets to be a part of that routine by coming back to the hotel with us every night. I got in touch with a woman who fostered Bing, and she sent me these photos of him as a puppy!

Today at training, Brandon was whining, unable to communicate what he wanted. I asked, “Stroller or play?” as I pointed to the stroller, then the playroom. He clearly said “Bee!” (aka Bing). I was blown away. Shocked! Thrilled! Overjoyed! We immediately started giving Bing some treats. There were smiles all around.

I promise to get more pictures and videos of Brandon and Bing in our hotel room, but we have just been soaking in all the love tonight and I haven’t gotten very many pictures.

November 7, 2017

Two Days of Autism Service Dog Training Under Our Belts

Well, we are now on day two of twelve days of training.  Yesterday, at our first day of training, Brandon melted down right away. It wasn't a severe meltdown, but he did bite himself and was crying for about an hour.  That probably sounds severe, but the crying was not astronomically loud, and he was not trying to injure me.  In fact, he didn't want me to leave his side.  I had pulled him to the play room right off of the large training room at 4 Paws, and we decided to lay on the couch together and watch Miss Spider on YouTube.  If I moved an inch, he grabbed on to my leg in a panic that I was going to leave him.  

What caused this anxiety for him?  I can only speculate that part of the anxiety was that we were in a large space with lots of people and noise.  He had never been here before, and perhaps he thought we were going to leave him.  

I was heartbroken. Yes, I always feel bad for him (and sometimes me) when he’s  having a hard time, but I feared he was going to miss his special moment meeting Bingo.  Thankfully, as you can see in the video in my last post (here), he enjoyed meeting and feeding Bingo.  I didn't get the first second reaction, because I didn't want to miss the moment myself trying to get a video.  So, that video is a few minutes after that initial meeting.  They were both moments James and I will never forget!

4 Paws has a pretty cool playroom that has been a necessity for us to take breaks from the training room. It has also allowed Brandon to run around and play, making it easier to limit screen time. We break for lunch each day for an hour, but we’ve spent most of that time in the car.  As much as I can’t stand eating in the car, Brandon needs that quiet time in his safe place in his car seat. We tried going into Chipotle today, but he wasn’t having it. He is perfectly content to be in the car!

Tomorrow we get to bring Bingo back to the hotel room with us! I will also have some more pictures and video of Bing and Brandon working together in the coming days as we move toward more complex commands and training.

November 5, 2017

Brandon Meets His Autism Service Dog for the First Time

The moment you’ve all been waiting for...Brandon meets his autism service dog!

We Made It: Day One

We made it! We believe we have thought of everything we might need for this 12 night trip to train with Brandon’s autism service dog, Bingo, but only time will tell! Brandon was a little cranky about the long trip, but overall he was fine.

We are staying in a hotel suite. As you can see, we brought his swing with us, and I am so glad we did!

We meet Bingo tomorrow!

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