Susan's Blog

Monday, May 31, 2010

No Means No

There was a boy his name was Nat
He couldn’t make up his mind-oh
Yes, yes, no, no, no
Yes, yes, no, no, no
Yes, yes, no, no, no
He couldn’t make up his mind, oh.
–Nat, 4 years old, song from preschool (sung to the tune of ‘Bingo’)

Yesterday we went to a barbecue with old friends. These are people who always make me laugh and always make amazing food. We were all outside for the most part, sitting in their meadow-like backyard while kids played in the pool. We’d brought Nat and Ben with us, Max having been invited to the first of many graduation parties. These days having the five of us together at one time is really an event, sigh. So much so that I find myself thinking, “Hey! Family of Five!” when it happens. (When Ben was born, I’d made up this song:

Family of Five, Family of Five,
So much trouble just to stay alive
They’re always tired
Please don’t get fired
Family of Five.)

Anyway, our friends have a dog and a cat. Every time they invite us up, I ask what the situation will be with Lindsay, the dog, because Nat is afraid of dogs.  It’s kind of a habit of mine, because the reality is that I don’t want my friends to do anything special with the dog; I want Nat to stop being afraid of her.  It’s just one of those things, one of my goals.  I see no reason for Nat’s fear of this dog.  Lindsay is friendly and not obnoxious in the constant-barking, jumping-up, crotch-sniffing way dogs have.  But Nat just fears all of them.  “NO,” he will say when a dog approaches, and he scrambles behind Ned or me, and almost tries to climb up on us to get away.  He is utterly, irrationally, phobic about dogs and cats.

And yet, there is this element of fascination he has for them. He’s not screaming running away.  He’s not teary, or upset.  It’s just this insistent, “NO, NO,” while looking at the dog.  It is not like real fear.  Yesterday I felt that it was almost like a rote response.  Or a game.

So Ned and I set about getting him over it.  Lindsay hung out at our feet for a long time, while Nat said, “NO,” quietly and continuously, all while staring at the dog in fascination.  We extended the backs of our hands to Lindsay to let her lick and sniff them, to show Nat that was okay, and nice.  Everytime we would say, “Nat, show Lindsay your hand, like this!” Lindsay would extend her head towards Nat, watching him in curiosity.

Little by little, Nat started extending his hand in Lindsay’s direction, never close enough for actual contact, and still saying, “NO.”  Lindsay would try to meet him halfway, but she knew that she should not be too forward with him.  This continued for awhile, with us saying, “Nat, really, she’s just a little friend, she likes you, it’s okay,” and all of that stuff you say about dogs, and with Nat still saying, “NO,” and yet sticking his hand out — but always too far away actually to touch Lindsay.

After awhile Nat started smiling while saying, “NO,” and we all laughed.  He never did touch the dog.  He had made up his mind,oh.


It’s that incremental progress that makes everything worthwhile, even if the end goal isn’t accomplished. Enjoyed this post!

— added by kim mccafferty on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 10:25 am

What is it with kids with autism and dogs? I used to teach a class of autistic teenage boys and of the five of them, three were terrified of dogs, even friendly, laid-back dogs. One of the kids liked dogs (a little too much, if you get my drift) and the fifth kid didn’t seem to notice dogs, or any other animals or people, even.
Is it the barking or the swift unexpected movement? The jumping? I don’t get it but from what I hear dog phobia is common among autistic people, I think that’s a shame because dogs can be such good, accepting companions for kids who don’t have human friends.

— added by Ruth on Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Ruth, I think it’s because dogs are generally large and unpredictable and you cannot always tell if they are friendly or hostile. As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I share a slight fear of dogs because of their unpredictability. People with an ASD often have to be reassured that the situation is alright before they dive into it. With dogs, people have to assume unless the dog physically harms you, the dog is being friendly. Because that is not reassuring enough, people with an ASD are often scared of dogs.

— added by James Trout on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Interestingly, what got my eldest child (neurotypical) over her HUGE fear of dogs (somewhat deserved, given she was attacked unprovoked in our kitchen by a visitor’s dog while my husband and I were in Europe for a wedding, ugh) was GETTING our own dog. Total, complete game changer.

— added by Cathy in CT on Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Interesting. I actually read about a boy with AS who used a service dog for anxiety, and how his parents were having trouble in their pet-free coop building. I didn’t realize fear of dogs was so widespread.

— added by Laura on Friday, June 4, 2010 at 8:40 pm

Hi Susan, I just wanted to say how happy I am to have found your blog. I found it through your most recent book. I should say thank you for writing the book, too. I’m a mother of 4 boys (3 on the spectrum) and your book is the most helpful thing I’ve read in a long time. So, thank you, truly, and I look forward to reading your blog!

— added by annie on Friday, June 11, 2010 at 1:52 am

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