Finding our Forever Friend (part one).

It’s been a few days since our epic day trip to London. I have deliberately waited before writing our story as I wanted to make sure the adrenaline had subsided before I put my thoughts down on to paper (or screen). Because that’s what I spent the whole day functioning on. Adrenaline. And here’s why…

Many of you have seen the photo I posted on Instagram of the ridiculous supplies we needed to take with us for a simple trip to the park (albeit in London). That’s where the adrenaline started to kick in. Have I got everything? What have I forgotten? Have I forgotten something which could be used to prevent meltdown? Have I packed something that could cause a meltdown? Any parent of a child with autism will tell you that packing for any trip of any length of time is an unbelievably stressful task. And this was no exception. But we got there. Then this happened.

Hubby came down the stairs looking rather pale. Right there and then I knew, this was trouble. My hubster has been looking forward to this day for weeks. We both have a huge love of dogs and were so excited to see if Nutmeg the dog could bring out some joy in the Kiddo. Maybe even help him to focus! When he came down and muttered the words “I don’t feel too good…” I knew it was game over, and I had a decision to make.

Today was important to us, potentially a life changing step to take. Our only opportunity to meet Autism Life Dogs was London. Being in Devon we needed to either commit to the process of finding Kiddo a forever friend and accept the logistical challenges, or bail. And today I was feeling strong. Today I could take on the world. Why? Because I love my kiddo. And I flippin love dogs. I was taking Kiddo by myself. Game on.

We hopped in the car leaving a very panicked looking husband at the door, for her knew the task I was taking on. But the only way I could do it, was if my London family were all there waiting for me at the other end. Many of you know I’m originally from Watford (North London) so I was fortunate enough to have four able, willing and energetic adults at the other end to meet me. But first off, I had to navigate my way up three motorways with the kiddo.

Now the route wasn’t a problem, I know it like the back of my hand. But when you’re on your own with a severely autistic child prone to meltdown at any moment, you need to have your game face on. Actually, you need to have your game brain on. Because at any moment they could erupt in the back seat. Full on ear piercing screaming meltdown, remaining contained in their seat only by the complex seat belt system that the kiddo has. Otherwise he’s out of there, no understanding of safety whatsoever. We started off well. And then kiddo dropped his kindle.

I held my breath and the screaming began. However, I was prepared! I had a back up within easy and safe reach and handed it to him. Success! He threw it to the floor. Dammit. The screaming resided, for only the kindle on the floor would do. There was nothing for it, we would have to stop. I took a deep breath and pulled into the next services. Kiddo had his kindle. Silence resumed. However, I needed a rest stop. I sat in the car for a moment wondering how to do this. Then realised I just had to. So I lifted the wheelchair from the car boot and off we went into the services. It did not go well.

Services are busy places, especially at 10am on a Saturday. Immediately I felt Kiddo tense up as we walked through the doors. This needs to be flippin quick I thought. I headed for the disabled toilet, radar key at the ready. It was in use. My heart sank. Hand dryers were singing away and very quickly the noise became all too much. Kiddo erupted. I felt like the whole service station stopped immediately in their tracks and stared. I went suddenly hot, and with tears in my eyes, I abandoned my rest stop and ran (literally ran) to the car. I made sure Kiddo was safely strapped in, and then rang my husband and gave him the obligatory torrent of abuse for not being able to come with me, followed by a swift apology, obviously. And on our way we went.

The rest of the journey up was uneventful from the kiddo. We attempted a second stop where the disabled rest room wasn’t in use and eventually, 5 hours later, we made it to my brothers house. But we were late, we were very late. The M25 had not been kind (as usual). For those readers outside of the UK, the M25 is the inner circle from hell when it comes to roads, always determined to swallow you up in a jam and prevent you from reaching your destination when you could most likely spit from your car to where you’d like to go. That afternoon I felt like you do in those dreams where you’re running but getting absolutely no where. But I kept my cool and we carried on.

I rang the lovely lady we were due to meet, panicking we were going to miss our slot. I’ve come this far I thought, I’m not missing out now. Luckily this company understand the chaotic factors that autism often brings with it, being late for most things being one of them. She agreed to wait and once again we set off across London, with my family in tow.

A big shout out to Danni from Autism Life Dogs here, who delayed her birthday plans so she could see us. I’m so flipping grateful, you have no idea.

We arrived. It actually felt quite surreal. We were here and I could see the dog, just waiting for kiddo. We made our hello’s and Danni suggested we let Kiddo out of his chair. I think I had a look of slight terror on my face at this point. “He will just run” I said, but that’s what Danni needed to see. The realities of what we deal with as a family. I’d like to point out here that Danni’s background is autism diagnosis and assessment so she knew what she was looking for. Bam. Kiddo was gone. Across the park like lightening. No focus, no listening, just gone. Eventually I managed to direct him into the vacinity of the dog and Danni asked “how long is his normal focus period?” “Less than a minute” I replied. And she began the assessment like a pro. “Let’s walk Nutmeg Kiddo” she said. And to my absolute amazement, Kiddo stopped running and walked alongside the dog towards some trees. I’m reliably informed that my Dad, who was standing behind us watching, shed a tear at this point, while the other three just looked on in amazement. My voice had been lost through shock I think…

We tried some games and kiddo engaged! For over two minutes he threw a ball and hid a ball. That’s double his normal concentration period, especially in that environment. And then he was done. He was gone. He belonged to his sensory overload. So thankfully my family took the kiddo into the swings for some sensory relief play while Danni and I chatted about expectations of the program and whether or not a dog was the right thing for our family.

Of course in this time there was an ulmighty rain storm in which kiddo refused to wear his coat, I looked worthy as a contestant of a wet t shirt competition and my Dad was soaked to the bone playing puddle jumping in what can only be described as a sea of water that had engulfed the swings area. But anyway. We kept going.

It was fabulous chatting to Danni, learning how the program worked. She got the info she needed and the assessment came to an end. I sighed with relief. I’d done it, it was over. Only it wasn’t, as the realisation that I was still stood in central London hit me. I had to get home.

I’m still not sure how I got home. It’s all a blur. I do know that it was hugely helped by a chicken burger and chips at my brother’s house, two hours of singing nursery rhymes and a service station stop at 9pm when it was so quiet, and the kiddo became interested in the intricate detail of an apple. In a strange way, it was one of the best times I have ever spent with my son.

Having made it home I collapsed into bed, my mind filled with a positivity that we had started our journey to find kiddo’s forever friend. But this move isn’t just for kiddo. It’s for our little family. Having a dog is a huge huge responsibility. It takes time, patience and money. We will be making sacrifices. But do you know what? It will be worth every single penny.

Thanks for reading, next instalment of this journey coming soon….


AS OF SEPTEMBER 2018 I CAN NO LONGER ENDORSE AUTISM LIFE DOGS AS A COMPANY. Please see my blog on “Things To Consider When Buying An Autism Assistance Dog” for help with identifying the right company to work with

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