A Boy with Autism, His Dog, and the Cincinnati Reds
May 15, 2018
May 15, 2018
Imagine walking out to home plate of a Major League Baseball field before a game, chatting with the coaches, saying hi to the players and receiving official game balls. That is the dream one Hopebridge Mason center family got to live out with the Cincinnati Reds last month. It was pretty magical, but even just a few months ago, the occasion may not have played out so well. Thanks to a special Autism Awareness game, life-changing therapy and a trusty new sidekick, this boy got the experience of a lifetime.
Five-year-old Nolan was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in December 2017. Socializing can be a struggle for him and he has been known to wander. These are challenges he has worked hard to overcome since first attending Hopebridge in February, so attending the Reds came was a huge milestone!
Nolan, his older siblings and parents received this ultimate experience as part of the Reds’ partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Panera Bread’s “Pieces of Hope” cookie campaign. He served as “captain of the game,” walking out the scorecard with the coach and joining the umpire huddle, before sharing in opening ceremonies and appearing on the jumbotron. He was captivated by watching the stadium staff water and prep the field.
Adding to the day’s fun, Hopebridge therapists, Emily Jenda and Paul Fishman, attended the game to support the family. As one of their biggest fans, Nolan spotted them in the crowd while on the field and was thrilled when he saw them, shining ear to ear with the biggest grin.
“We could tell he was having fun and he behaved really well. Nolan is nonverbal and uses a communication device, and the next day he used it to say ‘baseball field’ four times in a row…I’d say he enjoyed it!” said Laura, Nolan’s mother. “It was so cool that our other kids, Tessa and Morgan, got to go too. It’s natural that siblings often feel limited by autism, so I love that they were able to be part of this incredible moment.”
The day didn’t come without potential obstacles, however Nolan and his crew handled it smoothly. They had to wait in line inside the tunnel for 30 minutes, which could have been tricky, but Nolan was able to have his iPad to keep him occupied, which helped. One other key to keeping it all under control? Nolan’s new canine pal, Nerys.
“We stood on the field for opening ceremonies for about 40 minutes, which is a long time for anyone. Nolan is a runner who tends to take off, so we never would have been able to do this three months ago without the dog,” said Laura.
Nerys (yes, named after a Dr. Who character!) is a multi-purpose service dog through 4 Paws for Ability. Getting matched with the dog was a long process for the family, who just brought her into the home in March, but it was all worth it.
Since he sometimes runs off, Nolan wears a belt that allows him to be tethered to Nerys, which came in handy at the baseball game. Should he wander off, the dog is skilled in tracking and can find him by scent. Nerys is also great for behavior disruption through a few different commands. If a child is crying, for instance, she will nuzzle him or her. As a redirect tool, if she is told to “touch,” she will put her paw up on Nolan to distract him. “Over” is another calming command, in which she lays over Nolan to provide deep pressure. She mostly does this at night, which helps him (and his parents!) sleep until up to 6 a.m. – which is a huge deal since he used to wake at 3 a.m. In addition to autism, Nolan has epilepsy, so one of her roles is seizure-alert.
Thanks to Nerys, his team at Hopebridge and his family, of course, Nolan has already come a long way in a few short months, with a lot more progress on its way. He has a newfound love for the trampoline and is engaging with other peers. He is now imitating clapping 100 percent of the time, which was the skill his mother was most excited to see.
“I feel very lucky that he found Hopebridge. He’s a great kiddo who is really excited to learn,” said Emily. “He’s already expanding his reinforcers and requesting to interact with other children, which is pretty neat progress to see. I think this program is a great fit for him, and he’s a great fit for us as well.”
“Despite his challenges, Nolan is a really happy kid! We’ve learned a lot from him and while living with autism is not always easy, it’s overall good for our family,” said Laura. “I’m in education, and I think I’ve become a far better teacher since having him. Our older children have learned to be more accepting and understanding of differences, as well as grew to be more independent.”
Can’t wait to see more photos of Nolan and Nerys? Follow their adventures on the Facebook page hosted by their mom.