"Look At Me"

"Look At Me"
monotype and screenprint

Friday, January 4, 2013

Autism Devotion: Speaking to Animals

"An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language." ~ Martin Buber
Derek in 2010 at the NE State Fair petting zoo.
This my second piece for the "Autism Devotion" series that my friends and I are involved with.  Yesterday I wrote about Derek's love of music.  Today, I'm writing about animals...
I remember being in the car one day when Derek was two years old.  He was still completely non-verbal at that point.  We drove by some cows and some horses and I pointed them out to Derek.  (I was still desperately trying to get him to interact with me.)  "Look, Derek!  Cows!  Horses!  What do they say?"  Derek acted like he hadn't heard a word I had said.  He just gazed out the window.  I couldn't help but think, "What child doesn't like animals?"  To this day, I have no idea if Derek saw the animals or not.  He was in his own little world.  Tyler, who was four, saved the day by chiming in, "Moooo!  Neigh!"  I smiled back at Tyler, but I had to wipe tears from my eyes.  I LOVED moments like these with Tyler.  I'd loved them since he first started speaking.  One of the best parts about being a parent is when children start recognizing animals and shapes and colors and get excited to see things and share them with you.  I didn't know if Derek would ever be able to do that, and it made me sad.  I wasn't sure if he even knew the difference between a horse and a cow.  All he seemed interested in was wheels and things that spun. 
Over the last few years, things have slowly changed.  Now, Derek LOVES animals.  And for some reason I can't explain, they seem to understand that he is "different."  I catch Derek looking into the eyes of animals, and I swear he is communicating with them--without saying a single word. 

Watching fish at the dentist

When Derek's aunt got a dog, Derek thought it was the best thing ever.  He tried to share his ball with her.  (And this is a child who DOES NOT SHARE!!!!)  He also snuggled with her on the dog bed.  Ginger (the boxer) has always been incredibly patient with Derek and even lets him hug her and pull her tail.  And now that he has finally started talking? Derek calls her "Puppy."  If I ask, "What's a puppy say?"  He replies, "Ooof!"  

Playing with Ginger
It may be 3 years later than I expected, but my son is finally excited to share his discoveries with me.  In the car he says "Cow!  Moo!  Horsie!  Neigh!"  At the dentist, he watches the fish swim in the aquariam and yells "Fish!" at the top of his lungs.  (Think I care if I get strange looks?  NOPE.)  And at preschool when they had a chicken for a while, Derek sat outside the cage and watched it.  Then when he got home he told me "Chicken bock bock!"
Talking to the chicken at preschool
This Christmas was the real surprise.  Derek decided that the dog and cats at grandma's house belonged inside.  Every time they came to the sliding glass door, Derek let them in (even though they are outside animals).  If someone put them back outside, Derek cried...and then let the animals back in when nobody was paying attention.  Derek wanted the "key cat" near him at all times and lavished him with love.  The two were inseparable.  I have never seen Derek act that way about an animal before, and I've never seen an outdoor cat so in love with a little boy. 
If my husband didn't have allergies, guess what I'd be getting my son? 
I think more trips to the zoo are definitely in the future.  
Plotting to take over the world with Grandma's "key cat."
Petting "key cat."


  1. Beautiful. I think you're right. Animals can sense what even we as parents cannot. My dog Mason is 14 years old. From the time my boy was an infant, Mason would simply stand guard near him. In fact, when J is awake, Mason is always nearby. There have been times when J has tripped and fell or - in the heat of a meltdown - pushed or hit Mason, but my little dog doesn't retaliate. He just sits there, looking at my boy, with this look about him that seems to say, "It's okay. I know you don't mean that. I know that you're special and it's my job to watch after you."

    1. That's awesome! I love hearing stories like that. Sometimes I think I'm just imagining things--that my son can't possibly be communicating with animals, but it's REAL. And it's so amazing to witness!