Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Worthy Autism Read

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this book - not even sure I recall how - but I quickly bought and read it.  While the story isn't exactly like Charlie and Tim's, (the dog was not a North Star placement nor was it trained as a service animal) it did resonate with me.  Much of the story reminded me of our early days with Tim before his diagnosis.   Later in the book it becomes clear that Ms. Gardner's son shared the same response to his beloved Henry as Tim has with Charlie.  Some of the similarities are uncanny - the most notable being that they both immediately began speaking to their dogs.  

The Gardners seem to be very resourceful folks (like so many folks I've met in the A Club) and they used a number of unorthodox strategies to exploit the obvious bond between their son and his dog.  One that struck me as simple and sweet was their use of the dog as a "voice box" to communicate to their son.  It started with the father using a deep voice and stating to their son that he was Henry (their dog.)  Their son immediately responded and thus a new gateway for communication emerged.  The Gardners were suddenly able to easily get through to their son and used this method for several years.

I think the Gardner's story is a good one and the book is an emotional read.  My favorite part of the book comes in the last chapter written by their son, who was 18 at the time he wrote it.  It's a very insightful examination of the story written by his mother and includes his own explanations for some of his childhood "autistic behaviors" described by his mother.  All in all it was a worthy read, full of hope, for anyone in the A Club.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Making New Friends

When we first started researching service dogs for kids with autism we were especially enthused about the idea that a well trained dog could provide a bridge - a gateway of sorts - for Tim to meet typical children and develop relationships.  I never expected that we'd all reap that benefit.

We've been quite lucky this year to befriend some folks who often invite us to join them (and their three extremely energetic little boys) on all sorts of outdoorsy outings.  Charlie played a big part in our introductions (a long story best saved for another post) and consequently, they are as enamored with Charlie as we are.   In addition to the fact that we've gotten the opportunity to know this warm and dynamic family, Tim LOVES to hang with his new little buddies.  When he's with them he is extremely motivated to speak and imitate their behavior.  (Those of you in the A Club can appreciate what a HUGE deal this is.)

Of course, the boys also managed to give Charlie an olympic work out by running with him endlessly over hill and dale.  After a great day of hiking our EXTREMELY hospitable friends hosted us for a BBQ and were kind enough to introduce Charlie to the rest of their menagerie.   Turns out that Charlie made some new friends too.  (I wasn't exactly sure how he'd react to this little piglet but true to his usual docile temperament, he treated her with curiosity and respect.)  

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fun at Fort Funston

We decided to take Charlie to Fort Funston today for a little hike and a good romp on a leash-less beach.   The trek down the "Sand Ladder Trail" was quite pleasant, ...

... we stopped for pictures ...

... and even made some new friends along the way.  This little guy named Murphy stopped to partake in an impromptu dig-fest about half way down the trail. (Tim found this all very, very amusing.)

Once we arrived at the bottom of the trail it was time for some pure unadulterated and un-leashed dog fun.  Charlie got to run with the wind and found loads of other happy dogs chasing waves, digging holes, and retrieving driftwood logs.   

Of course no trip to the beach is complete without a full on game of "Chase Tim" which seems to delight both of the boys.

As the tide rose it became time to make our way back up the trail that seemed so harmless on the way down.  

Make no mistake, the "Sand Ladder Trail" is a short but heart pumping climb up the side of what looks like a sheer cliff.  We stopped about half-way up just to snap another picture of the magnificent scenery.

Then, right at the end of our ascent we spotted this sign:  

We'd seen the hang gliders at Fort Funston before but we weren't sure we'd see them today, a rather windy and overcast day.   We opted to head to the top, get a drink and check it out.  (One thing I've noticed in CA is that almost all water fountains are equipped with dog fountains at the bottom.  Tim was happy to help his buddy quench the thirst he'd worked up after his aerobic workout on the beach.)

Next we found some seats on the hang glider viewing platform (yes, they actually have one of these ... it is California after all!) and we waited.

Sure enough, within about 15 minutes the hang gliders were soaring.  This always thrills Tim and not surprisingly, Charlie seemed to relish the experience too.  All in all, another great outing with Charlie.

Charlie's Made the Big Time!

So I get up and check my e-mail this morning and what do I find but a note from an old friend in Florida advising that he's profiled Charlie on his law firm blog!  David Wolf is a long time advocate for the rights of children and the elderly and he and his family have been supporters of our family for years.  Check out his blog and take some time to peruse his article archives.  There you'll find many interesting articles, including several about autism and its impact on families.  Thanks for your support David!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Everybody Loves Charlie

We had a visit from some very dear old friends this weekend and we decided to show them some of the sights outside of San Francisco.  So we packed up the truck and headed off to Capitola for a little stroll through the town and a slice of pizza on the beach - in my opinion, the quintessential California weekend.

Charlie was thrilled to be included and he bounded into the back of the truck, happily peeking his nose over the seat to remind us all that he was there.  Tim was equally thrilled to have Charlie join us and he periodically rolled down the window so Charles could enjoy a bit of fresh air as we made our way through the Santa Cruz mountains.

Because they're from the "other coast" our friends have only been able to get to know Charlie through his blog and our endless tales of Charlie's superlative temperament.  However, it didn't take long for Charlie to ingratiate himself with his inimitable charm.
Within minutes, Charlie and our old friends were snuggling up like old pals.  (This is actually an extraordinary development as our friends are life long, shameless cat people!)  Charlie even executed a few commands given by our friends (although not perfectly ... that's a topic for another post.)  By the end of the weekend our friends were completely smitten and ready to go home and research Golden Retriever breeders.  (Have I mentioned how much we love Charlie?!!)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Santa Cruz: Take Two

Happy to report that Charlie finally made it to Santa Cruz!  (Actually, it was Aptos but close enough!) Aside from Baker Beach in SF (which is NOT a swimming beach) Charlie had not been to the ocean and it was really fun to watch him discover the waves for the first time.

Tim really enjoyed having Charlie with him in the water and repeatedly urged him to join the fun in the waves.

This outing was also an opportunity for Tim and Charlie to practice being out in public together in the presence of countless distractions.  (I must note here that CA beaches are loaded with dogs and this presented a great opportunity for Charlie to practice behaving in the face of all those other distracting canines.)

I even managed to fire off a few pix of my boys hanging together in the sand.

Alas, what would a trip to the beach be without some old fashioned sand digging?  This was clearly Charlie's favorite part of the trip and he managed to dig several large chasms, including one right beneath Tim's chair as he was seated in it.  (Didn't have the foresight to photograph that one!)  Check him out here while I was trying to set up a family shot.

Surely any trip to the beach is better than a day landlocked but I must say, it is SOOO nice to have your entire family included in these types of events.  Charlie is such a cooperative dog and, in spite of his adolescence, he is so well behaved that it is simply a treat to have him with us participating in our family adventures.  

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pampering the Pooch

Anyone who's been following Charlie's progress knows that there are loads of wonderful things to say about him - I admit that I can be shamelessly boastful about the wonderdog!  However, I haven't yet 'fessed up to my obsession with finding cool dog toys.  I CONFESS!  I love finding unusual and useful toys like this little number which we picked up in Sausalito last weekend.

At first I couldn't quite figure out what it was but fortunately Charlie offered to demonstrate and I quickly understood.   For all of those Gene-Simmons-wannabes, this is your toy!