Excerpts from A Journey of Love by Jennifer Althaus
If I could have one wish that would last a day it would be for a day full of happiness for Celeste. Aday in which she felt good about herself, her anxiety allayed, smiling all day. Each day for my girl is a day of ups and downs. Happy and sharing to screaming and abusing and back again. I never know what to expect from one moment to another. Today we bought shoes which caused anxiety, but thankfully only minor meltdowns at the shop. These meltdowns happened when she wanted to put the shoes on. We purchased clothes for her and myself, again minor meltdowns but we dealt with them. We had a beautiful lunch together, talking about and sharing her clothes purchases keeping her happy.
It all happened when we got home. From 4pm until she eventually went to sleep at 10pm it was down hill. Screaming, calling me names, abusing the animals, thumping walls, throwing things. Why? Everything and anything was too hard. According to her the world was against her. She was on sensory overload from the stimulations of the day. Her mind was trying to absorb and make sense of her day. Too many new things, too many wants, too much everything. The more I tried to bring her down, to calm her, to talk to her, the more she abused me, cried and screamed. Leave her and she throws herself at me with abuse. It is a no win situation.
Overall I am tired, stressed and feel sad. To watch your child live like this, to have to live with this, is heartbreaking. What does the future hold for my baby?
Our World of Autism
Having a child with Autism is something no parent anticipates. Although my son, Alex, had been diagnosed as autistic, I did not expect the same fate for my daughter. Autism ( ASD ) can be defined as a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people, and in using language and abstract concepts. The definitions and understanding of Autism varies from one person to another and one professional to another but what we can all agree on is that it is a debilitating disorder that controls the ability to understand social cues, language and to function within society in the way seen as the norm. No two people with Autism are the same, with the degree and difficulties varying from person to person. In the Autism community there is the well known saying, “ If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve only met one person.”
Celeste came into this world induced two weeks early due to gestational diabetes. She was eager to meet us, taking no time to show her presence once the induction started. From there on it was a different story. She was sluggish and really didn’t care for the world. She struggled to suckle, suffering daily from severe reflux which medication seemed to alleviate only for very short periods. This lead to her gasping for breath with scary episodes of blueness. Sleeping upright on my chest became the norm. Today I question if these episodes were severe anxiety attacks present from birth.
As Celeste got older the gasping attacks got scarier. Gaining mobility only gave the attacks more power. When crawling or walking she would frequently stop to gasp, with episodes often lasting a minute or two. I remember clearly one episode where I thought we were going to lose her. The family was gathered around the table when Celeste instantly went blue in the face. No gasping, no warning. At the time she was sitting on my lap with nothing in her hands so I was sure she could not have put anything in her mouth. As the blueness covered her face her body became rigid and she started to throw herself forward as if having a convulsion. This lasted one to two very scary minutes until she eventually took a deep breath and sighed. With a rolling of her eyes her breathing, although laboured, returned to normal rhythm. Not long after this episode she fell asleep in my arms. A few weeks after this attack an echocardiogram was done on her heart but all was found to be normal. No reason or explanation medically or physically has ever been given for this attack.
Celeste continued to have these gasping attacks on a regular basis until around the age of three. These lessened as the headbanging and self-harming became worse.......
Let the journey begin!
Our Smart Pups journey started late one night when my head was aching and my emotions were all over the place. I was ecstatic that I had finally got some answers to Celeste’s meltdowns and that we were on the right path, but I was exhausted as there was no end to the battle each day. To say I was desperate was probably an understatement. I think only parents with children with disabilities or illness truly understand the level of desperation that is involved. One of the hardest things for any parent is to see their child battling or hurting on a day to day basis. Some would argue that a child with Autism is incapable of experiencing pain but those of us who see and live with an autistic child understand that this is not so.
To watch the confusion and sadness that overcomes your child, to hear your child apologize for what they have done with the pain evident in their voice, yet do the same thing again at the blink of an eye, causes emotional pain to both child and parent. It is as hard to explain as it is to understand but a child with Autism is not in control of their actions. They are instead controlled by the overload of the senses, be it touch, smell, sight or hearing, that is causing confusion within their mind. Imagine an annoying piercing noise that invades your ear space for hours on end. Eventually you are going to get headaches, feel stressed, anxious and angry. Not being able to escape would lead to pressure that would soon test your limits. Add to this the instructions and conversation of those who love you and you can understand why a meltdown eventually happens. Seeing my child live like this is what drove me to find something, anything that would assist my daughter in her daily struggle with life.
Animals have always been a part of our family. This was one of the driving forces behind my initial internet search on animals as therapy for children. We already had a Labrador x Kelpie named Beauty who had been in Celeste’s life from the day she was born. As soon as Celeste started moving around Beauty was climbed on, cuddled and seen as a constant companion. Beauty is a maternal, loving dog who, never having had puppies of her own, saw Celeste as her responsibility from the day she came home from hospital. When Celeste started walking you could guarantee that wherever she was Beauty was there too. As Celeste grew so did the bond between her and Beauty. They had tea parties together, dress ups, dug in the sandpit, threw a ball and ran a mile together. Celeste loves to run. For her it is relaxation that slows her brain. When we were out and she had a meltdown I could be guaranteed that finding a place where she could run around in a circle would bring her back to me. In the beginning Beauty thought it was great but as the years passed and Beauty’s age saw the onset of arthritis, the running became too much. The anxiety of Beauty not running often led to a meltdown. Eventually Celeste simply had to run by herself as Beauty sat and watched. Beauty isn’t the only therapy animal that Celeste has had in her life....