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My son and his best friend Lulu

 

By Mary Rosswurm, executive director Little Star Center

We have always had dogs and have six currently. When our son Brad was born, we had a small terrier mix mutt named Barney. Growing up, Brad was never afraid of the dogs, but not very engaged with them, either.

This changed in 2008, when Lulu, our yorkie poo, figured out how to get up onto Brad’s very high bed by using an ottoman as a step. After this, something clicked and Brad became a full-on dog lover. He and Lulu are inseparable and he often refers to her as his “best friend”. Brad has said that he will be very sad when Lulu “passes” as she is his “beloved doggy friend.” Brad has become much more aware of our dogs and will get them fresh water, which includes ice cubes, refill their food bowl when empty and share his own food with them. We can often hear him talking to Lulu when he is in his bedroom. They have become wonderful friends and I am so happy that he has been able to make that connection with her.

A few years back, Brad asked if we could go see the movie, Marley and Me. In general, he only likes animated movies or live action comedies. I think he thought the movie was going to be more of a comedy because Owen Wilson was starring in it. At the end of the movie, the dog, Marley, grows old and eventually dies. I had that painful lump in my throat and my eyes were burning as I tried to hold back the tears. I could hear others in the theater sniffling and noses being blown. Out of the corner of my eye, I kept looking to see if Brad was having any type of visceral reaction to the movie, to which it seemed he was not. Once the movie was over, I could see that he was not experiencing any of the emotional reactions that I and so many others were experiencing.

As we walked to the car after the movie, I asked him, “Didn’t you think the movie was sad?” He replied, “Yeah.” I asked, “Didn’t it want to make you cry?” He simply said, “No, it’s not my dog.”

As often happens during everyday life with Brad, I am often puzzled and surprised at how he looks at the world differently than most do. Not wrong, just different.

Mary is executive director at Little Star Center. Her son, Brad, has autism. 

My “ah-ha” moment with my son

By Mary Rosswurm

When my son, Brad, was in middle school I would ask him every day who he ate lunch with and every day, it was the same, he had eaten lunch alone. This just broke my heart!

In elementary school, he was unable to tolerate the loud noise and all the activity in the cafeteria, so he would eat in the classroom. The teachers made sure he had one or two typical peers eating with him. It was seen as a privilege to eat with Brad in the classroom. But middle school was different. I would often call the teacher or write her a note and ask if she could arrange for some kids to eat with him, to which she always agreed to try to put something together. While I know he had made progress being able to eat in the cafeteria, it made me so sad to think of him sitting alone each day eating his lunch.

One day, I asked Brad who he had eaten lunch with and, as usual, he said he ate alone. I asked him if it made him sad to eat alone, to which he replied, “No, I like eating alone.” I was shocked. Who likes to eat alone? I know people who would rather eat nothing than go to a restaurant or even a movie by themselves. I just didn’t understand how he could like to eat alone. So, I asked him why. Why did he like to eat alone? Brad simply said that he enjoyed watching the other kids but not having to think about talking while he was eating was better. He had to talk a lot during the day, but at lunch time, he could sit alone and not have to talk.

This was an “ah-ha” moment for me, like a big light bulb went off in my head. Eating with people and talking with others during lunch was MY social need, not his. I realized that while it would feel odd to me to sit alone and eat, it felt perfectly fine for him.

I began to become more aware of my needs and gauge of normalcy compared to his needs and his gauge of normalcy. I realized that eating alone was OK for him and that no matter how hard I tried he was never going to be the social butterfly that I was. And that’s OK. He’s OK.

Mary Rosswurm is the executive director of Little Star Center and serves on the Indiana Commission for Autism. Her son,  Brad, has autism.