Shanna Niehaus, an American mother living in Japan with her family, has a heartwarming story about her son with Autism and his miraculous connection to his new service dog, and it’s tugged many a heartstring in less than a day since it was posted on the Love What Matters Facebook page.
According to Niehaus, her 5-year-old son has struggled with social interactions and making connections with others outside the family his entire life. In the caption of the photo she submitted of herself looking over her son and his new service dog, Tornado, Niehaus writes:
This picture captures the face of a mother who saw her child, who she can’t hug, wash, dress, snuggle and touch freely lay on his new Service dog of his own free will, with a purposeful, unspoken attachment. Now she is sitting behind her son silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.
According to the CDC, one in 68 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a developmental disability that spans all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and occurs over four times more frequently in boys than in girls. Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder may include difficulty with social interactions, avoidance of eye contact, a preference for solitude over group participation, problems with changes in routine, adverse reactions to the way certain things affect the senses, and trouble expressing needs and wants, all characteristics that can make day to day activities and self-care hard.
4 Paws For Ability, the service dog organization that provided Niehaus’s son with Tornado, echoes these symptoms: “The child with Autism does not connect well with his or her environment” because “Autism manifests itself most strikingly as impairments in communication and in the formation of social relationships.” This is why service dogs are so important for children such as Niehaus’s son. They provide children who struggle socially with a companion who helps to calm their anxiety and resulting behavioral differences and provides them with much-needed companionship.
Niehaus’s story has 358 thousand likes, 11 thousand comments, and has been shared 92 thousand times already, demonstrating how much hope her tale reflects and how well it resonates with others. It is a comforting account of just how powerful service animals can be for children and even adults with disabilities.
As a mother of a child with disabilities myself, I can only imagine how overwhelming and life-changing seeing her son’s connection to Tornado must be. And I most definitely can connect to her assessment of all the work that went into bringing Tornado and her son together:
It’s worth every fight for services for my son, every diagnosis, every new provider, every dollar spent, every paper filled out, every school meeting, every shed tear, every step forward, every step back, and every wonder of the unknown future. Somehow because of this – because of Tornado – I know everything will be okay.
Here’s to hoping every parent of a child with disabilities and every child in need gets the help and services they deserve and gets to bask in the joy that Niehaus and her son have so recently experienced.