Adam and Grant

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Watch our film about Adam and Grant that appeared on BBC Children in Need

Adam_and_GrantOur son Adam is nine years old. He is a bubbly boy with lots of energy, plenty to say for himself and he has bottomless blue eyes. Adam loves animals, he loves trains, he loves cake and he loves the outdoors. As a toddler he was very engaged in activities he chose – pushing trains up and down the windowsill, running through the fields, splashing in the swimming pool etc. but by nearly two years old still had no speech.

We pushed for him to see a specialist but his high level of intellect in some areas made the NHS reluctant to refer him. At his two year check there was still no speech and as he approached three we insisted that he saw a paediatrician. He was then referred on for assessment involving two days at a child development centre, where they asked us to leave all the strategies we used to help Adam communicate at the door so they could see what he actually could say and understand for himself.

When Michelle the Autism Assistance trainer rang, we were on cloud nine!

For me that day was the lowest point, watching his desperate attempts to get us to help and seeing how hard his life was without us communicating for him, but it was worth it – two weeks later he was diagnosed with Autism and we were able to start getting help for him.

The optimism, pride and also sadness we felt were all-consuming, but those feelings were empowering and so was his courage. We fought to get professionals to help with his speech, his communication, his hand strength, his sensory integration, whilst trying to develop his social skills. Adam responded well, his speech came steadily and is quite clear now. It is becoming more relevant now too.

We were always encouraged to use his interests to motivate and engage him and animals were a great motivator for Adam. He showed empathy towards them and knew instinctively to be gentle and calm around them. We took him to Riding for the Disabled and the volunteers there were incredibly moved by the relationship he had with the ponies.

Adam’s brother and sister were full of encouragement and excitement.

When we saw an Autism Assistance Dog on Crufts in 2006 we knew it could be the one tangible thing we could offer Adam to help him with the one thing that is so easy to overlook – his self-esteem. I read a quote recently that said “The problem with putting a square peg in a round hole is not that the hammering is too hard, but that you are destroying the peg.” So true, as a parent you are so focussed on helping speech, reading, play skills etc. but you have to balance it so carefully to protect their self-esteem.

And so our incredible journey with Support Dogs began. We were too far away to be in the first group of accepted applicants, but in November 2010 when Michelle – Autism Assistance trainer rang to say they were ready to proceed with our application we were on cloud nine! Michelle brought Brinny, a Labradoodle and Grant, a black lab cross, to visit our three children and the following week the call came to say we had got through to the next stage. Michelle also said that she was hoping to match Adam with Grant. Once my husband had peeled me off the ceiling we sat down to work it all out, how I could attend the training, how Adam would manage with me being away etc.

Peter took the two weeks off work so I could travel up and down without worrying about getting back for the school runs. Adam really struggled with it but we knew we just had to get through those two weeks to get to the other side. Adam,s brother and sister, Charlie and Beatrice, were full of encouragement and excitement. The training was tiring but fun and, I can’t deny, it was nice to do something that felt like a challenge and an achievement that didn’t involve small children! The support from my family, friends and from Michelle was amazing. Grant was gorgeous to work with and easy to relate to – he reminds us of our older son Charlie, who works on the same principles – if you feed him well, give him plenty of exercise, play with him and make sure he gets enough rest he will do anything for you and make you laugh all day.

The training was tiring but fun. It was nice to do something that felt like a challenge and an achievement.

Grant was a superstar throughout the training. We won’t mention dog distraction-nobody is perfect and as long as he is doing his best that is all we can ask – and he is! He had some extra “steam train training!!” Adam is a huge steam train fan and it was important that Grant wasn’t spooked by whistles or horns and he wasn’t. Just before I took him home on the last day, we made a quick visit to Butterley to take him on a steam train one more time. Hearing the Thomas the Tank Engine music and looking at Grant by my feet and knowing the challenge that lay ahead, I was completely overwhelmed.

When Grant was first home we played lots of games. We didn’t push the attachment and had a couple of blips where, as a prolific bolter, Adam suddenly saw Grant as someone who was about to stifle his freedom so we had to back right off and take things slowly. It didn’t take long though – a couple of weeks of only attaching him to the coupling rod (wrist strap!) to go to places he really loved and he soon got the hang of it. He can open the wrist strap himself but seldom does – he doesn’t want to be away from Grant for long.

Now, ten months later they have shared trips to model trains, steam galas, the seaside, the hospital, to school, into shops…so many places. Adam is currently being educated at home and this means I have to take him everywhere I go and without Grant this just wouldn’t be possible. Only yesterday my car had a flat tyre so we had to take it to be repaired. There was a lot of waiting and lots of people talking to me and we got through it without a hitch. We just couldn’t have done that before. Adam loves walking and walking with Grant gives us a great opportunity to wind down and relax.

Six stone of self-esteem came his way in the form of a Labrador Retriever

His bolting is almost a thing of the past, as he doesn’t seem to want to get away any more. If Adam lies down during a meltdown or if he becomes over anxious, Grant lies with him and rests his head on Adam’s tummy – its the most moving thing I have ever seen. Most important of all, Adam’s self-esteem is climbing. He tells me daily that he is a super-boy. Six stone of self-esteem came his way in the form of a Labrador Retriever – Mother Nature has all the answers really.

It’s not all fun and games – sometimes it is hard to resist the temptation to push them closer together, when letting their bond grow naturally is the only way. Sometimes walking, working and grooming a dog is another thing on top of an exhausting day, but it’s worth it a million times over. When we are out Grant helps Adam in so many ways as a companion, to stop him bolting, as a sensory “teddy” to stroke, as a welcome distraction from waiting and also as a visual clue to other people that Adam is a child who deserves their respect and admiration, not criticism or judgement. People admire Grant and Adam wherever we go now and we are so proud of them both.

Having a child with autism has exposed us to so many amazing experiences, ideas and things that we would have missed out on in life if we weren’t living with autism. Grant is certainly the greatest of those. Thank you Support dogs, thank you Grant and thank you Adam.

Grant helps Adam in so many ways as a companion and as a welcome distraction.

Please click here to sponsor Grant and help others to benefit from our work