Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Here's to our year of glad tidings and cheer!

What a difference an entire year makes....and bringing home a service dog.  This time last year, as in January 1, Joe and I welcomed 2012 with much gratitude, and truthfully relief, after a pretty miserable 2011.  We could not wait to bid farewell to 2011 and move on to bigger and better things in 2012.  And, move on, we DID!  :)   There was definitely something to be said for starting anew in 2012. 

There were lots of high points between January and May 2012, but Memorial Day Weekend began our highest points of 2012.   Zachary was sent his "match" from 4 Paws for Ability.  He got a personal email and picture from Twinkie, and his life hasn't been the same since....clearly, neither has ours.  :)  (God love our "energetic" pup!  LOL)   Since Zachary is a couple of years older this time around and has been to 4 Paws before, he definitely understood what this email was all about and couldn't wait to meet Twinkie.   For the next week, he carried a picture of Twinkie with him where ever he went, and after the 540 minute drive from New Jersey to Ohio and just one more  sleep...THE big day had finally arrived!
On June 5, 2012, Zachary met Twinkie.  He was beyond excited!!  His world changed for the better and in ways we really could not have imagined because seeing is believing.  Many of our experiences leading up to and including training with Twinkie were both surreal and emotional.  There were many days and nights throughout 2011 that I tearfully questioned why one child who struggles everyday of his life had to struggle with the loss of his first service dog and the, now, inevitable loss of another?   How could this happen to one child...in one year no less?  Many people told me that perhaps these challenges that we faced in 2011 were all part of the path we needed to travel to get to Twinkie.  We would've much preferred traveling a smoother path with fewer detours and road blocks, but we DID eventually make it to our amazing final destination in June...a service dog certified for public access!!  Xenia, Ohio has turned out to be the best destination vacation EVER!!  :)

Prior to leaving for 4 Paws in June, Joe and I very seriously began to discuss the need to adjust the medication Zachary takes to address the significant amount of anxiety he experiences and planned on moving forward with a medication increase after we got home mid-June.   Above all, anxiety is and always has been the most pervasive challenge Zachary faces.  His level of anxiety and his ability to appropriately manage it is the driving force behind most, if not all, of what Zachary does...and does not do for that matter.  

A new challenge that we were facing with Zachary throughout 2011 and up until Twinkie became a part of our life this past June was the fact that is was becoming increasingly more difficult to get Zachary to leave our house.  He no longer wanted to go out into the community doing the things we knew he enjoyed.  He just wanted to stay home.  Period. At the end of the day, when the world is an unsettling place because it's too loud, too bright, too crowded and moves faster than you're able to process, staying home is a much better option despite the fact it's the worst possible option for a child like Zachary.
Visit to the ER...asthma.  
Lunch on the patio at Applebee's
Upon arriving in Ohio, we had no doubt that Zachary would absolutely love Twinkie and bond with her, but we did not expect the fact that he would so quickly associate a feeling of safety and calm with her while out in the community.  We explained that Twinkie was different than Aubrey and Elfie in that she was allowed to go out and about with him...where ever he goes, she goes.  He loved the idea of this from the very first time we went out into the community with Twinkie, and the rest, my friends, is history.  For the first time in a very long time, Zachary seemed happy, relaxed and was eager to leave without hesitation.  There has not been one, single time since we've gotten home with Twinkie that Zachary has balked at the idea of leaving the house....no tears, no stress, no frustration, no "fight", no bribes, no pleads--- no nothing.  Not once.   In fact, he's even asking to leave and do things with Twinkie by his side.   
Watching the RC Airplanes at the park.  
When we first got home, Zachary always asked if Twinkie were coming with him just to make sure.   Now he just assumes she'll be there with him because that has become his norm.  Wherever he goes, she goes.  What has also become his norm is the happiness and confidence he now leaves our house with.  He has his girl with him everywhere he goes, and he knows she makes it easier for him.  He doesn't entirely understand why, but he knows that Twinkie helps him, and that's all that really matters.  As a result of all of this, we never did have to move forward with that medication increase.   Since nothing else has changed other than Twinkie becoming a part of our family, there's really no other explanation for this change in Zachary's life and ours.   It's all very hard to explain, but saying we're eternally grateful to is a good start!  

Relaxing and watching TV with his girl.  :) 
Twinkie brings a calm to Zachary's sometimes stormy world and continues to make his world a much happier and more peaceful place.  Twinkie is a constant companion and friend.  Twinkie helps Zachary in a way no one or nothing else ever could.   When the going gets rough, he wants Twinkie...even when he doesn't want to admit it.  When the going gets rough, Twinkie knows he needs her.  She has a very special job to do for a very special boy, and God knows she does it well.  Better than well, really.  She's amazing!  We can't wait to watch them as they continue to learn and grow throughout this amazing journey they're on together.  

Lately we've even been talking about flying on a plane somewhere.  "Twinkie can come on the plane, right Mommy?"  Maybe 2013 will continue to bring us more than we could have ever imagined and hoped for; seeing is believing.  

So cheers to you, 2012!  Thanks for a great year.  We can't wait to see what our 2013 destination is.   Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

4 Paws of Luv :)

Twinkie has shared lots and lots of luv since she's been home with Zachary.  Here's a link to the photo book I've created for him.  :)  

Lots of Luv from these 4 Paws!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's the WORD on the street?

So, the morning didn't start off quite the way Zachary had hoped.  We went to Party City to buy Halloween costumes, and Zachary was banking on the fact that Lloyd the Green Lego Ninjago guy would be there.  I forewarned him that this may not go as he's planned, but sometimes these little lessons in life happen and, honestly, need to.  It's part of life in the real world...the world that Zachary needs to live in whether he likes it or not.  These little lessons in life are not always easy, but they happen never-the-less.  REALITY

As expected, Lloyd was not at Party City.  DISAPPOINTMENT

Although Zachary was a little cranked up about Lloyd, he was able to hold it together, and he very appropriately chose another costume a few minutes later....the Gangster with the Tommy Gun and cigar.  As his luck, and mine, would have it, there seems to have been a run on boy Gangsters this year in Western NJ, and they were out of stock!! UGGHH!!  Definitely a little more cranked up this time around, Zachary STILL held it together albeit with a lot more reminders/prompting about appropriate voice volume and tone. (Lots of momentarily closing of the eyes and deep breaths on my end, too!)  FRUSTRATION 

As I hugged Zachary and tried to explain the "solution" to our problem, he started to cry a little since he knew he wasn't going to leave Party City with his costume.  Then he looked down and asked Twinkie, "What are we gonna do?"  He sat on the ground and gave Twinkie a big hug which she happily accepted.  Once I put Twinkie in a "down", Zachary wanted to lay on her for comfort...and did....right in the middle of the floor at Party City.  He was even asking Twinkie to do "over" which is something he likes her to do at home when the going gets rough for him.  SUPPORT

After you've successfully negotiated a seemingly benign event such as buying a Halloween costume with your child who did not yell and cry in a big way because they've just used every bit of self-control, impulse control and everything else you've taught them to do in this situation, you honestly could not care any less what people think of your nine year-old laying on the floor with their service dog for a couple of minutes.  It's what he needed, and it's exactly what Twinkie's roll in Zachary's life is all about.  THANKFUL

After just a couple of minutes of quiet time with Twinkie, Zachary was a-okay and ready to move on!   I was able to order his costume in-store from their on-line kiosk, and we were ready to go the pumpkin patch we've taken the kids to since they were babies!  FAMILY  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We all scream for ICE CREAM!

I scream, you scream!  We
all scream for ice cream!

What better way to celebrate the new school year than with ice cream sundaes and friends??  This goes for the kids AND parents!!  We have a pretty awesome PTO, and they host an ice cream social each September which includes vanilla ice cream and lots of toppings.  It's a great time for the kids to come to school to socialize and even nicer for the parents because it's FREE!  You really can't go wrong with free ice cream, ya know??  

Zachary and Twinkie attended this event tonight at our local elementary school, and both of them did a great job!  Twinkie was service-dog extraordinaire and managed the mayhem beautifully.  She need some minor corrections to heel/sit as we waited in line and to walk correctly in a heel.  Otherwise, she soaked it all in and graciously accepted the happy children and adults patting her all the while telling her how adorable she was.  I am always amazed about how respectful our community has been of Twinkie being a working service-dog and asking if it's okay for them to interact with her.   Kudos!  She eventually fell asleep under the table; it's just another day on the job for her.  :)  

These types of events are usually very overwhelming for Zachary, but he was so willing to get up and go once he confirmed that Twinkie could come with him.  He really is so much more eager to leave the house and go places just knowing Twinkie is there for him.  Although Zachary loves to go out and about, prior to getting Twinkie, he was becoming increasingly resistant to leaving the house and even going places he was familiar with.  In kind, this was becoming increasingly frustrating and concerning to Joe and I.  It's been so refreshing to see Zachary show the desire to go out into the big, bad world even though it's not easy for him.   

Twinkie is definitely a calming force in the storm of anxiety that Zachary struggles with everyday.  Anxiety Disorder is a hidden disability for both children and adults.  In fact, Anxiety Disorder is more pervasive than any other issue that Zachary has to manage....yes, even Autism.  Anxiety fuels it all at the end of the day.  Sure, he's on the Autistic Spectrum and is definitely redefining what exactly that means, but these behaviors and the intensity of them ebb and flow with his ability to manage the level of anxiety in his environment; this is one of the things that makes Zachary so complex.   

Anxiety Disorder so closely mimics ADHD, that in order to be given a clinical diagnosis of ADHD, psychiatric disorders such as Anxiety Disorder need to be ruled out first.  Having said that, approximately 25% of all children with ADHD also have an Anxiety Disorder.  It seems as if Zachary couldn't dodge that bullet either.  And, when you look as "normal" as Zachary does, it's hard for people to really believe that the escape behaviors he may engage in like yelling, abruptly getting up to leave and non-compliance are actually the result of a disability driven by his environment as opposed to him simply misbehaving.   And, for the record, as a very bright, 9 year-old boy, Zachary does his fair share of misbehaving!! :)  Any parent of a child with special needs will tell you they high-five each other whenever they see a typical, age-appropriate behavior no matter how obnoxious it may be.  It's just how we all roll.

Click on this link to read more about ADHD/Anxiety Disorders.  
NYU Child Study Center

We ALWAYS arrive a couple minutes early or exactly on time to events like this because it gives Zach time to slowly acclimate to the rush of sensory stimulation that would naturally occur where there's a lot of happy kids at a big ol' ice cream party.  Zach did need a few reminders to appropriately use acceptable "escape" phrases, and as always, our friends are beyond supportive and accepting.  They get Zachary, are never offended by him and love him for who he is....we will always be thankful for that type of support!  :)  

It was also pretty awesome to see how well received Twinkie was by the building principal and faculty that were there serving ice cream.  We walked in, and no one gave Zachary or Twinkie a second look.  They smiled in a "Twinkie is so cute" kind of way, and that was about it.  There were no questions, no uncomfortable looks or no weird vibes.  It was an ice cream party, Zachary was there, so was his service-dog...let's make a sundae.  

(The added bonus for me is that I was so busy chatting with friends, keeping an eye on the kids and Twinkie that I didn't even eat any ice cream.   When I consider the Weight Watchers train wreck I experienced the past couple of days, I can promise you I won't be withering away!  LOL)

All in all it was a positive, happy experience for everyone involved.  

Ice cream never tasted so good.