When I began reviewing books in honor of Autism Awareness Month, I never imagined how much I would grow in my understanding of the complexities of the autism spectrum, and the level of respect I have for those with autism and their families. One of the things I have discovered is that no children are alike and their methods of learning may vary. I found that in this wonderful story A Friend Like Henry, by Nuala Gardner. An international bestseller by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Nuala bravely invites us into her world sharing with great authenticity the pain, agony and despair a family with a severely autistic child copes with daily. A nurse, Nuala recognized very early that her son Dale’s infant behavior didn’t seem right. He was simply “the perfect baby.” He was passive and rarely cried and slept through the night without a peep. Everyone commented how good he was. When she shared her concerns with her physician, she was dismissed. As the months passed Nuala, began to see that Dale was addicted to motion. When he was with other babies, he was unresponsive. He learned to crawl quickly and when he discovered his legs he ran on his tiptoes. One day at a play group, he sat next to a little girl, studied her and then wacked her in the face with a toy. By the time he was two and three, severe tantrums began when something wasn’t on Dale’s terms. And, his sleeping patterns changed — he would only sleep two hours at night. Dale didn’t speak for a long time. Nuala and her husband, Jamie, were exhausted. Finally a friend recognized his behavior and recommended a doctor and he was diagnosed with severe autism.
After years of working with Dale, a small breakthrough occurred. At a family outing, Dale met two dogs and began playing and laughing. The Gardners had never seen their son so happy. They took Dale to visit a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and one dog in particular chose Dale. The bond between Dale and his new puppy, Henry, literally changed his world. Within three weeks of having Henry, teachers were reporting significant changes in Dale. Through his unconditional love, Henry helped unlock Dale’s world and him how to feel, communicate and care for himself. Henry helped Dale navigate in the world.
Although this book was written from his mother’s perspective, we gain some insight into Dale’s life through his recollections at the end. There are a number of videos on the web about Dale and Henry. Just click on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJSu3G0U5SY