I often wonder what it would be like to have just a peek inside the mind of my eight-year-old autistic daughter. I wonder if I could catch just a glimpse of her difficulties—how she struggles to understand and communicate—and then I could find a way to help her be less confused, less frustrated. Just to see things through her eyes for a moment, to work out how those cogs work and which bits need to be oiled, to ensure they’re working smoothly.
I AM allowed into her world. She regularly welcomes me with open arms on her terms, but I am just copying her and feel like a fraud. I still don’t fully understand how all those pieces work together. I am well and truly winging it.
Many different clinicians, including a speech and language therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist, and a pediatrician have assessed Lola and told me her difficulties, but none of them have offered any direct help. None of them have attempted to help me put the pieces together or told me which bits need oiling and which to leave well alone. Lola has NEVER received any therapy.
I have asked for therapy sessions, including music, play, and animal therapy, but each request has been denied. Her anxiety is so severe that she needs more than the little I could provide for her. Even at her special school, she doesn’t have any therapy sessions in her timetable to specifically help reduce her anxiety.
I knew I had to do something, and so I started researching. If you are a parent who has an autistic child you know that I don’t use the term “researching” loosely. I wanted to get a therapy dog for Lola, but it wasn’t that easy. Most places I came across charged £9-10K, which is way out of our price range.
I was looking for a breed that was intelligent but calm, not too big, only needed small amounts of exercise and would be easily trained. Finally settling on a Cavapoo (King Charles Cavalier crossed with Toy Poodle), I searched for reputable breeders and looked at Google images to see what the dog would look like. I wasn’t having much luck in the beginning; I didn’t quite take to any of them right away. I started having second thoughts about whether we’d be able to have the time for a puppy and Lola’s needs.
My head was telling me not to go ahead with this plan, but my heart was winning the battle. After finally persuading my partner that this would be amazing for all of us, I Googled one last time and found the most adorable little red Cavapoo I had ever seen. That was it. It was literally love at first sight. Two days later I had left a deposit without even seeing her, and a week later I was introducing Callie to Lola.
I knew Lola wouldn’t pay any interest at first and I was right. She hid behind the sofa, processing the new information in her own time. When she was finally ready, she came and said “hello.”
Callie has been with us for three weeks now. Lola absolutely adores her and it is clearly reciprocated. Just today, when I picked Lola up from her summer camp, I belted Callie in and she came with us. As soon as she heard Lola’s voice, she literally couldn’t contain herself—she was jumping and crying to get to her in the car.
Watching this friendship blossom has been absolutely beautiful. Lola has been training Callie to use her toilet mat, and has been caring for her, feeding her, brushing her. She waits with her and gets her treats ready, asks her to sit and gives her lots of praise. Lola is embracing this new chapter with such enthusiasm and zest that it really is astounding.
Overall, Lola has been so much calmer than she was before. In the three weeks that Callie has been here, Lola has only had one serious meltdown.
Lola’s biggest challenge in life is transitions, and Callie has helped with that immensely. When Lola walks from room to room, gets her shoes on, brushes her teeth, gets in the car—Callie is there. Like a little living mascot, she provides courage and distraction to a little girl who would normally scream for 10 minutes because I’d asked her to put her shoes on. She has brought joy and peace to our family, and I am so glad that I listened to my heart and not my head!
I am hoping that we can have Callie trained to become a fully fledged service dog. That would enable us to transfer Lola’s newfound skills from inside to outside the house and maybe have some fun days out, a meal or a cinema trip. Dare I dream about taking her clothes shopping?
A year ago, I would have laughed at that suggestion. Now? Thanks to one little puppy, our future is hopeful, and my faith has been restored.