Dallas Zoo Reaches Out to Boy Who Said He Has No Friends

dallas-zoo1Last week, one New Jersey father took to Facebook to share his son Christopher’s “About Me” project for his school’s Open House night for parents. Christopher, who has autism, filled out the project questions to include his favorite food, sport, TV show, and more. However, where it asked for the names of his friends, Christopher wrote “No one.”

By sharing the story, Christopher’s dad implored those reading it to talk to their children and have a real conversation about inclusion and empathy, and understanding. He asked that we help make stories of kids being kind the norm, rather than the exception.

This week, the Dallas Zoo — although it’s hundreds of miles away from Christopher in New Jersey — posted a video meant specifically for him. In it, two zookeepers, Sam Herber and Mary Marvin, extend some “Dallas love” to Christopher, with the help of an African porcupine. The animal, they explain, has a bad reputation because of its quills, but it’s actually quite friendly when you get to know it.

“We would love to see you come visit us here at the Dallas Zoo where you have over 300 employees and over 2,000 animals that would really love to get to know you and to be your friend,” states Herber in the video. “We would be honored to be friends with you, Christopher.”

My Three Hopes for My Child

jodie-eaton-photo1I guess you could say I have few expectations for the hopes of my child. They’re not going to be the same, day to day or week to week, let alone year to year or decade to decade. Right now, at this very moment in time, the only hope that I have is that she can learn to understand and control her emotions.

You see, it’s a Saturday at lunchtime, and we already feel like we’ve been dragged 20 miles through the hot desert with no shoes, water or sun cream. We are exhausted to the point that I just said I wanted to go to sleep so I wouldn’t hear anyone anymore. We’ve had multiple violent outbursts and meltdowns and we need a break, even though we only just paid for a few hours respite last night.

I guess I would categorize my hopes for my child into short- and long-term hopes, just like the way you would fill out and set targets for an IEP, SAP or EHCP. Breaking down the long-term hopes into smaller parts makes the hopes reachable. Additionally, you won’t be disappointed in the long run if those hopes aren’t achieved.

When you parent a child with autism, your hopes are somewhat different than parents of children with no additional needs and disabilities. Your hopes aren’t the sort that define your future, or even the usual hopes of having a well-paying job, a nice house, the perfect illusion of 2-4 children. Instead, they’re things like: “I hope my child has friends, and can socialize appropriately.”

I am going to list three long-term hopes for my child, along with shorter-term hopes. You’ll see how, in time, these hopes will become the future. My long-term hopes will look like those of a “normal” family’s hopes and dreams for the children they are bringing up. However, when you check out my shorter-term hopes, they will help you understand that it’s going to be a long slog helping my children to reach the hopes that come so naturally to any typical family.

  1. Long-Term Hope: Independence.

Shorter-Term Hope: For Lola to be able to recognize and regulate her own senses.

To access things like parties, cinema, ice skating, and socializing with friends, Lola needs to be able to recognize when she is becoming overwhelmed with the world around her. She then needs to be able to self-regulate these emotions and senses so that she doesn’t bubble over and become a danger to herself and those around her.

  1. Long-Term Hope: Friendship.

Shorter-Term Hope: To be able to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, and interpret them into clear social rules. Lola cannot sustain friendships in the way that normal children can. She doesn’t understand the unwritten rules of social communication and gets confused easily, thus making it difficult for her to be able to play appropriately and enjoy games and other children’s company.

  1. Long-Term Hope: Communication (because communication is the key to Hope Nos. 1 and 2!).

Shorter-Term Hope: Communication is a tricky one: It ranges from understanding emotions and how you feel, to being taught how to express those emotions properly, and thus being able to communicate emotions. It also interlinks with my hope for friendship, being able to have reciprocal conversations and understanding when it’s appropriate to talk, how to express your language and how to interpret others’ thoughts, feelings, tones and facial expressions.

Making sense of the world around you is very important for communication. The world is a very confusing place for people with autism, and having too much information to process can be very overstimulating, which may lead to a breakdown in the regulation of senses. Lola will need to be taught all of these things, little by little and step by step. She will need repetitive teaching and over-learning in order to gain these skills that come naturally to you and me.

These three things are my main hopes for Lola at the moment.

I’m not hoping for a well-paid job, finding love, having children and getting married. Right now I don’t care about her travelling the world and seeing new and exciting things, or for Lola to be successful in a career or sail through school with straight As.

Of course, I would love for Lola to achieve these things. I would love for Lola to one day be able to settle down and have a family of her own and a good career, but those things aren’t important to me at the moment. Right now, what is important to me—and above anything else in the world—is that I hope Lola is happy.

On the Days I Want to Scream at the World, I Do This Instead


Some days take me to my absolute limit.

I am a mother of two children with autism. Sleep is a luxury, not a necessity; worry for the future comes with every waking moment.

Many times I want to scream at the world, but I have found it doesn’t help. But there is one thing I do that DOES help, every single time.

When I have had another rough night with the kids and exhaustion is inhibiting my ability to even remember my name, let alone what day of the week it is, I know it is time to go to my “in times of crisis” list.

When my son has screamed so long and so hard that my head pounds and my heart bleeds, I know it is once again time to find my bank card immediately. The greater the hurt, the more I HAVE to find that card. It becomes a matter of survival.

When my daughter’s anxiety becomes overwhelming, I do this. When the tears won’t stop, I find this helps. When facing another day of meetings, more forms, more phone calls and home visits, this is my biggest way to cope.

This one thing has saved me from breakdowns, given me hope when I felt there was nothing left, and been the rock that keeps me going.

On the days I want to scream at the world… I instead find a way to give to someone else.

I have a secret list I keep. Social media helps me add to this list, as do the mundane trips to supermarkets and even the school run.

My eyes become my heart as I look for people or ways that I can make a difference, even when my own life is extremely challenging.

Let me show you how it works.

The other morning, I was walking my daughter (who suffers from autism, severe anxiety and an eating disorder) to school. She had struggled so much with breakfast, yet again, that I had to feed her myself — like a baby, despite the fact she is almost eight. She had woken six times the night before with night terrors, anxiety and stress. Her weight had dropped off the growth chart once again, and I was scared. She had a packed lunch with her, and I was certain it would come home exactly as I packed it that morning. I wanted to scream.

But as I took her into the school, I overhead a staff member talking about some new equipment they had delivered and how she would love to have her class use it —  but nobody had time to set it up. Compared to the stress of my morning, that seemed so insignificant. However, instead of screaming, I asked if they would like some help.

Instead of screaming at the world, I gave a little of my time to someone and it made me feel so much better.

Another time I was feeling so sorry for myself, I had just had the results of my son’s MRI. I had been told that one of his eyes had microphthalmia and the other had an optic glioma. With a diagnosis of severe non-verbal autism already, these added medical issues were making me depressed. I felt like life was so unfair. Nobody seemed to understand or care. I wanted to scream at the world, again. So I dug out me “in times of crisis” list.

This is simply a list of names, ranging from my next-door neighbour to people on my social media lists to local charities that are struggling. I pick a name and set about deciding on a way to bless them. That day, I sent a bunch of flowers to someone anonymously. As soon as I got off the phone to the florist my spirits lifted, thinking about how someone would be smiling that day. The miraculous thing was that it took my pain away, too.

I am no saint. I freely admit. I am using my list to help my own mental health and not just to be some super-amazing individual. I have reasons to scream and I actually do think life sucks at times. But what I have realised is that other people suffer too — just in different ways than I do.

Do you feel like screaming at the world today? Does life seem incredibly unfair to you or your children? Try doing something for someone else: knit a hat for someone’s baby, take a neighbour to an appointment, send someone flowers or even just write a message of encouragement to someone on social media. It isn’t easy, but then life isn’t easy for anyone.

Perhaps the person you gave to may have been feeling like screaming at the world that day, too.