By Angel Smits
There are times having a child who is “different” can be difficult. The challenges are ever changing and so many times I find myself at a loss. But then there are those moments where I realize I’ve been given a unique blessing.
My daughter, Jennifer has Asperger’s syndrome, one of the disorders on the Autism Spectrum. She’s very high functioning and at first meeting, most people don’t realize she’s any different. But there are times where her logic is so very different from mine. It definitely keeps me on my toes.
Jennifer is quite typical within her Aspergers’s and change is difficult for her. Any kind of change. Routine and pattern are comforting to her, so we work very hard to keep life consistent. When our beagle passed away last year, we took only a few weeks to figure out that we needed another dog in our life. We adopted a puppy--a border collie mix. We named her Maggie and she bonded quickly with Jennifer. It’s almost as if Maggie knew she was meant to be a service dog, and whether we made it official or not, she was here to do her job.
She’s a great dog and lives a pretty danged good life. But a few months ago, we noticed that she was still quite hyper at the end of the day. One of Jennifer’s jobs is to walk the dog. She’s still part puppy, so even though Maggie has a big yard to run around in, getting out for a long walk is good for her—and for Jennifer. We started asking Jennifer if she was taking the dog for walks. Finally, she admitted that she might have missed a few times.
Since the walks are so important for them both, my husband and I knew we had to find a way to make sure Maggie got her walk. We both work all day, and didn't really like the idea of making them go out after dark. We made a new requirement. Jennifer would have to take a picture of Maggie on the walk each day and she had to text it to her father and I.
Now if you’ve ever dealt with someone who has Asperger’s this won’t surprise you. (I don’t know why I still marvel over it.) I now have over 200 pictures of my daughter and various views of the dog. When we started this, we didn’t think about anything except getting the dog her walk.
We did not think this through.
First, I never thought about how difficult it is to take a selfie with a dog. I wasn't really thinking along the lines of a selfie, more just a picture of the dog and the scenery to prove where they went. Jennifer’s gotten quite proficient at it, though. It also never occurred to us that she’d keep doing it. Every day since last July my phone dings and there’s another one. I now have pictures showing me the progression of Maggie and Jennifer’s friendship, as well as the changing of all four seasons.
What was originally born of frustration, has turned into a fun activity for our family. And it’s taught Jennifer a bit about humor, something that Asperger’s makes hard for her. We often comment when things look a bit odd. Like the close up of the dog’s tongue. Or the ones where Jen’s wearing the polar bear hat she got last year.
A couple of times Jennifer has gone to visit family or friends and my husband and I walk the dog. We took pictures of us walking Maggie and sent them to her. (That’s when I learned how hard it is to take a selfie with a dog!)
Goes to show, that sometimes something that comes from darkness can turn into joy. Maggie hasn’t missed a walk since. I think she appreciates it, too!