Hi, everyone. I got inspired by a post on The Aspergian, and I wanted to write a story for all of you. This story is for every non-autistic parent and loved one of an autistic person. I hope it will help you.
Once upon a time…
Ever since he was a puppy, Fido dreamed of having a litter of his own someday. When he slept at night, he dreamed of the pitter-patter of little paws, the wagging of small tails, and the kisses of soft puppy tongues. At the dog park, he would listen to the stories of proud new parents. “Someday that’ll be me,” he thought.
So when Lady told him that she also wanted puppies, he was too excited to speak. They tried for a litter, and when it didn’t work, they tried again.
Months passed. “It doesn’t have to be four or five puppies,” Fido told himself. “Even two or three puppies would be enough. Heck, even one puppy! One puppy, and then I can be happy.”
And then, one day, their human came home carrying a crate. The crate made little whining sounds. And suddenly, Fido knew his biggest wish had come true. His human had found a puppy that needed a home, and Fido would finally be a father.
Heart soaring, Fido raced to the box as the human set it down. Lady rushed to his side, her wagging tail pounding against his leg. The crate smelled strange. That’s okay; their human could bathe the puppy later.
“Fido, Lady, meet Mittens,” said the human.
The human opened the door, and Fido waited for an eager little puppy to tumble out to meet them.
But instead, the strange-smelling puppy stepped out quietly, eyes wide, too-small nose cautiously pointed down. Mittens turned her head and slowly looked around the room.
Fido ran to the puppy, eager to sniff and lick her, but Mittens ran and hid behind the couch where Fido couldn’t reach.
“It’s okay,” Lady said. “She’s probably just overwhelmed.”
“I’ve never seen a puppy like that,” Fido said quietly.
“She might be a Terrier. They have pointy ears, and they can be moody. She’ll come say hello when she’s ready.”
So Fido lay down near the couch, trying to figure out how he would raise a Terrier puppy. He wagged his tail and tried to look friendly so Mittens would come out.
The next week, Fido ran into his Terrier friend Sparky at the dog park. They walked around the fenced-in area while their humans socialized.
“I could really use your advice about Terrier puppies,” Fido said. “Mittens is acting very strange and I don’t know what to do with her.”
“What’s she doing?” asked Sparky.
“She has all these strange behaviors. She licks herself repetitively and won’t stop lying in the sunlight. She never barks and she has the bizarre habit of knocking things off of tables. She’s so strange, our human won’t even bathe her!”
“And worst of all…” Fido lowered his voice. “She doesn’t love Lady and me.”
Fido shook his head in dismay. “She never wags her tail when she sees us. She just follows us around, staring. And when she does get close, she kneads our fur or makes this weird rumbling sound.”
Sparky blinked. Her tail began to swish. Then she barked with laughter. “Fido! You silly! You didn’t adopt a puppy. You adopted a cat!”
Fido abruptly stopped walking. He’d never met a cat before, but he’d heard plenty at doggy day care. Horrible images flashed through his mind: puppy-sized abominations that tore up houses, scratching animals and humans with giant claws, making hellish yowling sounds through the night.
“That’s impossible,” Fido said. “Mittens is NOT a cat. She is beautiful.”
Sparky turned to look at him. “Fine,” she said. “She’s not a cat. But next time your human takes you to my yard, come inside and meet my roommate.”
Fido sighed. “Fine. I’ll meet your roommate.”
Fido returned home to see Mitten lying in the sun, licking herself repetitively in that strange way of hers.
“Just learn to bark,” he said to himself. “I can prove that she’s not a cat, because she can learn to bark. All she has to do is bark. One bark, and then I can be happy.”
She just needed a role model. Fido would show her how it was done. So he planted his feet firmly on the ground and let out a loud bark.
Mittens jumped up high into the air, fur fluffed up. She made a horrible yowling sound and ran behind the couch.
Fido barked again. He knew she had to join in, just like all dogs do! He barked and barked, waiting for a little voice to join him, but there was only silence behind the couch.
Fido’s human ran into the room and began complaining. Fido closed his mouth and hung his head. It didn’t matter. He could bark all he wanted, but something was horribly wrong with Mittens.
“It’s hopeless,” Fido said to Lady in bed that night. “Mittens isn’t normal at all. I can’t even teach her to bark. How will she ever learn to dig or chase the mail carrier?”
“I don’t know,” Lady said. “Maybe she just needs more time?”
“I haven’t even seen her wag her tail once,” Fido said. “She’s such a sad puppy. If I could just see her wag her tail once, then I could be happy.”
Lady put her head down on the bed and let out a quiet whine. Fido settled down next to her. Neither of them knew what to say.
Three days later, Fido’s human brought him to Sparky’s house while Lady stayed behind with the puppy. Fido and Sparky ran around in the yard while their humans chatted and ate nearby.
Sparky looked Fido up and down. “You can fit in the flap,” she said. “Let’s go meet my roommate.”
Fido sighed. “If you insist.”
They squeezed through the flap and wandered through Sparky’s house. They walked into a room flooded with sunlight. An orange pointy-eared creature lay in the center, striped fur covered in sun.
That was just a coincidence. Everyone liked to lie in the sun sometimes. Even Fido’s human did it sometimes.
“Fido, meet Oscar,” said Sparky.
Oscar looked up and flicked a pointy ear. Suddenly, Fido was struck by Oscar’s resemblance to Mittens. But it was impossible. Mittens was a puppy.
“Hi Fido,” said Oscar. “Heard a lot about you.” He flicked his gaze over to Sparky. “A lot.”
“You’re a cat?” Fido fumbled. “You’re what cats look like? But don’t they… scratch people and yowl all the time?”
Oscar swished his tail and flattened his ears a little. “No. I only do that to rude people.”
Fido tilted his head. “You look so much like Mittens…”
“Fido has a new puppy,” Sparky said. “Mittens enjoys licking herself, lying in the sun, and knocking objects off tables. She never barks, and sometimes she makes rumbling sounds when she’s close to Fido.”
Oscar’s tail and ears perked up. “Oh, she does, does she? Interesting puppy you’ve got…”
“Her behavior makes no sense,” Fido said. “Sparky said I should talk to you.”
“Of course it makes sense,” Oscar says. “Knocking stuff off tables is fun. Lying in the sun is comfortable. She licks herself to stay clean. Barking is loud, and she doesn’t like loudness. The rumbling means she’s happy. And let me guess, she also follows you around without getting too close.”
Fido stared at Oscar. “She does! How does she know that?”
“It’s a thing cats do when we want to spend time with someone but don’t want to get in their way. It means she enjoys your company, genius.”
Fido looked to the side. He looked to the other side. He looked at the ceiling. “Mittens does cat things. I can’t believe it. My puppy does cat things.”
“Because she’s a kitten,” Oscar said. “And if you want to raise her, you have to understand how kittens work.”
“But what about digging, or chasing mail carriers, or going swimming? If she’s a cat, how could she possibly enjoy those things?”
“She’ll enjoy different things, obviously. Digging in the dirt and chasing strangers sounds so pointless.” Oscar examined his clean paws. “Though I’ve heard that, for some reason, a few cats actually enjoy the water. You’ll have to see for yourself whether Mittens likes it.”
“Just because cats are different doesn’t mean they don’t have fun,” Sparky added. “Oscar loves sunlight and knocking over toys and destroying toilet paper. And both of us like to play chase, fetch, and hide and seek. We play together all the time.”
Fido thought about it. They could still chase toys and play hide and seek together, even if Mittens were a cat? Maybe chasing mail carriers wasn’t so essential…
Finally, Fido said “Cats are so different. How do I know if she loves me?”
Sparky wagged her tail. “I’m the expert on cats! Or, at least, as much of an expert as a dog can be. Oscar and I are best friends, and there are many ways he shows he loves me. He purrs when I’m around. He kneads my fur with his paws. He plays with me and he follows me around. Sometimes he sits with his tail touching me.”
Oscar looked at Sparky and blinked slowly.
“And slow blinks!” Sparky said. “That means a cat trusts you.”
Fido thought about it. Had Mittens ever done a slow blink in front of him? He wasn’t sure.
But that didn’t matter right now. He turned to Oscar. “Please, tell me everything about cats.”
After a long conversation with Lady, Fido walked into the family’s living room. Mittens lay in the sun, licking herself. She looked up, saw him, then kept licking.
A puppy might have barked or run over to greet him. But maybe kittens were different. That didn’t mean anything bad.
Trying not to startle her, Fido walked over and lay down next to Mittens in the sun. It did feel nice to feel the sun on his back. Maybe Fido should do this more often.
Mittens stopped licking her paw. She looked at him. Then she began to swing her tail, the tip hitting his tail each time.
Maybe she wasn’t the puppy of his dreams. But kittens could be good too. Fido closed his eyes and let himself be happy.
If you’re a non-autistic parent to an autistic child, it may be a surprise and a scramble when discover that your child isn’t exactly like you expected.
Like a dog raising a kitten, you’re going to be confused sometimes by your child’s body language. Some people may tell you that you need to change them. But just like you can’t turn a kitten into a dog (even with intensive training), your autistic child doesn’t need to become a non-autistic child. They need to be understood and taught to be the best autistic person they can be.
It’s going to look different from what you expected. Your child is going to behave differently, and there may be a few things that they can’t do or don’t enjoy the way you do. They also have unique abilities, and they’ll enjoy things that are new to you.
You have a kitten in a world full of dogs. I can’t teach you one-on-one like Oscar did, but I can give you a place to start.
Work on understanding and helping the child you have. Raising them won’t always be easy, but if a dog can make room in his heart for a kitten, you too can raise your unique child.
If you have any words for parents of newly-diagnosed kids, feel free to share them below.