This week we visited a camp for children living with Autism run by the Torino Foundation. It was our first trip to this particular camp and we were not sure what to expect.
We have worked for years with children on the spectrum and even thought we may know some of the children.
Burt we have also learned that no two meetings are the same, no two experiences the same, even the same child will react and respond differently each visit.
So it was decided best to consider this a pilot visit and only have my two fluffy little poodles.
The children had just arrived at their four-day camp adventure the day before and were hyped up with energy. Some were fearful of the dogs, some were overly enthusiastic and some did not want to interact at all.
We met with children scheduled to come meet us and children walking by on their way to other activities.
We met teachers who invited us to their schools in the coming year and parents who had heard about us, particularly Benny and his work with children with autism.
Several people came up specifically because they heard Benny would be there. What a little rock star!
Petey and Benny were ready for anything.
But one child made a lasting impression, as one always seems to. This young boy was obviously and seriously afraid of dogs. He screamed and backed away and tried to hide in the arms of his counselor. He did not want to get within four feet of the dogs.
I could see him out of the corner of my eye as we focused on the other children learning how to greet a dog. The other children all took their turn having Benny and Petey sniff their hands and then learning a safe way to pet a new dog.
The other young boy was still on the sidelines, not calming down at all.
So I wrapped Petey up in his blanket and covered him completely and quietly walked over to them. I asked the boy if he would like to play Hide & Seek with Petey. At first he did not look up so I just stood a good distance from him and lifted the blanket from teeny Petey’s face and said “There he is!”
I did this several times, covering his face and removing the blanket over and over and over again. The little dog just loves this game and smiled each time his face was revealed.
After a bit of time the young boy looked up. He did not look at the dog but was fascinated by the plastic badge I was wearing around my neck. Any response to intervention is welcomed so I let him get close enough to hold the badge. Of course the little dog was now touching his hand as I was holding the dog!
All of a sudden the young boy looked up and right into Petey’s eyes and direct eye contact was made. Success!
The dog was silent, the boy was silent. No screaming, no rapid movements, no running away.
Just two boys looking at each other.
This is the moment we work for – that human-animal connection.
From that connection it took seconds to have his counselor assist him to pet the dog’s rump. Then his hand moved to the dog’s side.
All the while the boy was focused on what he was doing.
Petey was quiet, steady, calm and loving it.
This capped off the perfect day for us and we look forward to our next two visits at camp.
Visit Torino on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TorinoFoundation.