This article is based on a pilot study of animal-assisted therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders that I carried out in 2003–05.4 The analysis focuses on ways in which children's interactions with dogs, trainers, and family members supports their sociality and participation in everyday activities.
Recruitment was conducted at a local chapter of a parent advocacy organization. I brought a therapy dog to the original presentation to make it more informative for the parents attending the meeting. Five children with autism, four boys and one girl ages 4–14 participated in the study. All the children had a prior diagnosis of autistic disorder from Southern California medical institutions; two of the children were high functioning and three severely affected. To gain variation in children's response and to explore challenges and potentialities of animal-assisted therapy, families with children of different ages were recruited in the study. The study was ethnographically informed and data driven. I aimed to video record and analyze details of child-dog-and another person interaction to investigate the import of canine involvement in children's participation in everyday activities and relationships with other people.
A professional animal trainer experienced in animal-assisted therapy brought one to four therapy dogs to the children's home once a week. The number of visits varied among children, with a maximum number of visits being six. The visits lasted between one and two hours, and included individual work with the focal child, and time with the focal child and the siblings in the end of the session. All the interactions were video recorded and transferred to digital format that afforded repeated access to these data at micro, frame-by-frame level. Relevant segments were chosen for transcription and analysis when a child was engaged in a social behavior that according to the parents was rare or not present before. In-depth interviews were conducted with the parents about their children before the first visit to tailor interactions to the child's abilities and impairments, as well as to parental concerns. Approximately 65 hours of video and audio data were collected for this study.
I discuss two case studies that best illustrate two different modalities of dog participation: as therapy dogs and as service dogs.5 The first case study concerns a nine-year-old girl, Childone, and her interactions with several therapy dogs.6 The second case study involves a 13-year-old boy, Childtwo, and his interactions with his service dog.
Childone and the Australian Shepherds
Childone was nine years old attending 4th grade at the time of the study. I met her, her mother and father at the presentation that I gave at a local chapter of a parent advocacy organization. Childone immediately showed interest in the therapy dog I had with me and the family was the first to participate in the study.
In her family there are a mother and a father, and four-year-old twin sisters. Before the first dog therapy visit, I met with her mother for an interview. I learned that Childone was diagnosed with autism at age four at a large university clinic, and she had been in a special education classroom since first grade. Her Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) stated that she could not stay “on task” for longer than 15 minutes where 45 minutes was the norm for her chronological age. Certain loud noises, especially the sound of the vacuum cleaner, were distressing to her. When she was younger, she loved to line up objects on the floor. When entering the kitchen she walked only on certain parts of tiles of certain colors, and not on others. Childone did not smile and had no facial expression in family pictures.
There was a side to Childone that defied this list of familiar autistic behaviors. She had a special connection with living things of all kinds, insects, birds and mammals, and in that sense she was truly “biophilic” (Wilson 1984). She talked to and patted snails, was not afraid of bees and spiders, and especially loved dogs. She did not do as well with children. She had not made friends at school and did not know the name of the child sitting next to her in class. In her fully included kindergarten, when paired by the teacher with an outgoing and talkative classmate, Childone was overwhelmed and could not tolerate being near him.
Her typically developing younger twin sisters (I call them Twinone and Twintwo) did not know how to respond to Childone's sudden outbursts of anger or her idiosyncratic and unpredictable behaviors. They often cried when she said or did something upsetting. Because they were twins and constantly together, there was little interaction between Childone and the younger siblings. The mother told me about the challenges of raising Childone. When there was a change of any kind in her environment, Childone screamed, could become violent and hit others. Reprimanding her in a loud voice usually made the screaming worse. Childone rewound and watched videos until she remembered them by heart. The mother's biggest concern was that one day Childone would walk out of the front door and get lost, a fear shared by many parents of children with autism.
On our first visit to Childone's family, the animal trainer, Susan Kraft, brought Crystal, the white Australian Shepherd that Childone had met at the parent advocacy meeting during my presentation. I was behind the camera, video recording. I did not know what to expect and as Childone, her sisters, and their mother came out of the house to greet us, it became clear that all three children had to meet the dog. For the first ten minutes, Susan sat with Crystal and the three girls in front of the house, showing Childone how to give Crystal commands. I then asked the mother to let us go into the back yard without the twins, who unhappily obeyed. Childone led us through her house and into the sliding glass door into the back yard. Susan found a shady place under a tree and started to work. Her first intuition was to show Childone the simplest commands that she could give to Crystal, such as “sit,”“down,” and “speak.”“Speak” involved shaking the index finger at the dog, which produces joyful barking. The loud bark initially surprised Childone, and she moved away from the dog for a moment but “speak” became her favorite command.
With the luxury of not knowing what to expect during our first visit, we were with Childone for close to two hours in the back yard, minus ten minutes in front of the house when Childone and the twins were first interacting with Crystal. Throughout the time we were there, Childone's mother was watching behind the glass door in disbelief. Childone had never been so intensely and competently engaged in any activity for this long. When leaving, we said we would be back next week. In the meantime, we left the mother with a video camera and an assignment to record a family dinner.
When we came the following week for the second therapy dog visit, we brought the video tape of the first visit, something that we did each time, with each family. For the second visit Susan brought two dogs, Crystal, who was there at the first visit, and Phantom, another Australian Shepherd. Childone remembered every command that she learned a week before and could immediately give these commands to the new dog. Childone was attentively and competently engaged with the dogs and Susan for over an hour, and so it continued for two more visits. In the end of each visit, there was approximately 15 minutes allocated to Childone and her sisters interacting with the dogs together.
On the fourth visit, Susan brought several dogs to see what Childone would do with unfamiliar animals and whether she remembered all the commands. Childone did. Her mother was by her side, watching her face, her every move, and every word. During that fourth visit, I began to see an emerging difference in social competence when Childone interacted with her sisters and the dogs. An example of this competence is illustrated in the following excerpt. Childone, her sister (Twinone), Susan, and the dogs—Crystal, an Australian Shepherd and Lucky, a Bishon Frise—were sitting in front of the house. Childone's mother and her other sister (Twintwo), were sitting further away by the sidewalk, with another dog, Dodger, a Yorkshire Terrier. Each of the girls were engaged with a dog: Childone with Crystal, Twinone with Lucky, and Twintwo in the background with Dodger. The transcribed interaction is as follows:
|Childone:||((gets up and stands close to the Australian Shepherd, Crystal, looking at her))|
| ||I (just) love Australian Shepherds!|
|Susan:||Yeah? Australian Shepherds, you know what they're bred for?|
|Childone:||((stroking Crystal's back)) What?|
|Susan:||They're bred to mo:ve cattle.|
|Childone:||((goes to where a brush lies on the ground))|
|Susan:||They would nip at their feet? to make them mo:ve!|
|Childone:||(carrying the brush back to Crystal) Yeah!|
|Twinone:||((sitting next to Lucky and stroking his coat))|
|Susan:||[And they would help shepherds (.) move'em from pen to pen (.)|
|or from one field to the other field. [((briefly glances at Twinone, then continues to Childone))|
|Susan:||((to Crystal)) Down ((Crystal does not move))|
|((to Crystal)) Oh you gonna stand for her?|
|((softly to Crystal)) You can stand while she brushes.|
|Childone:||((sits down and begins to brush Crystal's coat))|
|There is a bug on her.|
|((picks up the bug off Crystal's back and looks at it))|
|Susan:||(looks at Crystal's back) There is? That's okay. That's all right.|
|Twinone:||((gets up and walks around Crystal to where Childone is sitting, puts her hand on Childone's hand that is holding the brush, then on her head))|
|How about- Do∷dger wants to be brushed!|
|((she seems to mean Lucky, the dog she was just sitting next to))|
|Childone:||((very softly, looking down)) He is a little dog.|
|Susan:||((misunderstanding)) He is a little bug.|
|Childone:||I meant- I meant- the new dog you have.|
|Twinone:||((takes Childone's hand holding the brush))|
|Susan:||((to Childone)) Do you remember what breed Dodger is?|
|Childone:||What kind of breed?|
|Twinone:||((to Childone)) How about- how about-|
|((takes the brush from Childone's hand and pulls Childone up on her feet and walks her over to Lucky))|
|Susan:||((looking up at Childone, articulating clearly))|
|York- shire te- rrier.|
|Susan:||((looking down at Lucky, the Bichon Frise))|
|He is a terrier!|
|Twinone:||((sits down, still holding Childone by the hand, and starts to brush Lucky))|
|Childone:||((sits down and holds on to Susan's arm))|
|I wonder if he wants to be brushed|
|((touches Lucky's paw)) What's he doing with his claw?|
|Susan:||((looks at Crystal then at Lucky))|
|(0.5 sec pause)|
|He's chewing on it.|
|Childone:||((holding Lucky with both hands around the neck))|
|Here, I am holding while my sister brushes.|
|Susan:||((leans down and holds Lucky by the paw))|
|What do we hold?|
|Childone:||((points to Lucky's head)) Right here.|
|Susan:||Yes, the head. Very good!7|
In this interaction, a sequence of several collaborative actions is carried out by Childone, her sister Twinone, Susan, and the dogs, Crystal, and Lucky. Looking admiringly at Crystal, Childone professed her love for Australian shepherds (“I love Australian Shepherds!”). Until this visit, she had only interacted with Australian Shepherds: Crystal, her first and favorite therapy dog, and Phantom, a younger male. These herding dogs are highly responsive to both vocal and nonvocal cues, and Childone seemed to revel in interacting with them, particularly walking Crystal on a leash and playing frisbee with Phantom. Susan confirms that Childone is correct about Crystal's breed (Yeah, Australian Shepherds) and expands the topic by asking “You know what they are bred for?”). Childone, stroking Crystal's back and apparently not knowing what she is bred for, requests an answer to that question (“What?”). While having a conversation about Australian Shepherds, Susan and Childone are looking at Crystal in a continuous shared joining of attention, and Childone's embodied connection with the dog is evidenced by her stroking Crystal's back. Susan provides the answer (“They're bred to move cattle. They would nip at their feet to make them move!”) and Childone enthusiastically affirms her understanding(“Yeah!”). Childone's intentions to initiate a new activity can be seen from her next move: she picks up the brush that she knows is used for Crystals' coat. Thus, she is initiating a new activity while building on her embodied engagement with Crystal, and the conversation with Susan about Australian Shepherds.
What neither Childone nor Susan are seeing is that Twinone is intently watching them. In fact, it is apparent on the video that Twinone is imitating the way Childone strokes Crystal's back when she pets Lucky, the dog who is sitting next to her. Until Twinone involves herself more centrally in the interaction, Susan and Childone are engaged with each other and Crystal, while Twinone is a peripheral participant. After silently watching Childone brush Crystal, Twinone gets up and walks over to Childone, takes the brush out of her hand and pulls her on her feet saying “How about- Dodger wants to be brushed” (the dog she is referring to is Lucky, the Bichon Frise she has been petting all this time). “How about-” is a practice used in this family to request an action from another member, useful for a four-year-old child's intention to ask her sister for help. Childone gets up on her feet and following her sister's insistent lead walks with her over to Lucky. Getting down on her knees in front of the dog, Childone takes the dog's head between her hands and says, “Here, I am holding while my sister brushes.” In this simple statement lies the enfolding drama of Childone's relationship with her sisters. As Twinone negotiates Childone's help with brushing Lucky, we can see how powerful and transformative the dogs' presence can be for these children's relationship. Here, in this moment of holding the dog so her younger sister can brush him, Childone repositions herself in the web of her family's relationships, enacting being a “big sister” as her mother watches from afar.
It is significant that earlier in the interaction Susan says to the dog, Crystal, “You can stand while she brushes.”“Here, I am holding while my sister brushes,” says Childone. Children with autism are said to be echolaliac, to repeat other's utterances verbatim, but this is not such repetition. Here, Childone's use of language is generative and, to a degree, improvised: she builds on Susan's utterance and reconfigures it to express her own meaning and her own intentions. She also builds on her own embodied experience of brushing Crystal. Childone acts agentively to make the same experience that she herself enjoys possible for her sister. Such seemingly ordinary moments of contingent discourse and embodied reciprocity serve as the loci of affective connections among the children, the trainer, and the dogs. The remarkable ordinariness of these moments is what makes dog's contributions to social interaction so transformative.
Another similarly ordinary but significant event took place during the same visit when Childone, her mother, her sisters, Susan, and the dogs walked to the park across the street. At the park Childone initiated a demonstration for an unfamiliar girl on how to give the dog, Crystal a favorite command, “Speak.”
|Childone:||((to unfamiliar Girl, shakes finger at Crystal))|
|Like this (.) with your finger (.) ((glances at Girl))|
|and say ‘speak’|
|Girl:||((shakes finger at Crystal, yells)) SPEAK! speak!|
|Childone:||((shakes finger at Crystal)) Speak!|
|Susan:||GO:OD, good job ((gives Crystal a treat))|
|Girl:||((shrieks loudly, laughs))|
|Childone:||((pats Crystal on the head)) It's okay, she is okay|
|Girl:||((shakes her finger next to Crystal's nose, yells)) SPEAK !|
|Childone:||((shakes index finger of right hand, then reaches with left hand for Girl's right hand and looks at her))|
|Here, let me help|
|Girl's mother:||((gets up from the bench and approaches the group))|
|Shake your finger she's gonna bite you!|
|Childone:||((holding Girl by the wrist, moves her hand))|
|((looks up at Girl))|
|((leans over toward Crystal, shakes finger))|
|Childone:||((to Girl, holding her hand and moving it in a shaking gesture)) Louder ((continues to move Girl's hand, simultaneously shakes her right index finger in front of Crystal))|
|Girl:||((shrieks and runs away))|
In this interaction the girl was not able to execute the command correctly and Crystal was not responding with an expected bark. Childone then offered, “Here, let me help,” took the girl's hand, shaped it into an extended index finger configuration, and shook the girl's hand in front of Crystal's nose. When even holding the girl's hand and shaking it in front of Crystal did not produce the expected bark, Childone simultaneously shook the girl's hand with her left hand, and shook the index finger of her own right hand in front of the dog. Finally, Crystal “spoke.” Childone's mother later observed that Childone had never initiated interactions with unfamiliar children on the playground or in any setting. Here, Childone confidently demonstrated her favorite “speak” command to a child she had never met, and generously helped this child enact the command by demonstration, and when that did not work, enacted and simulated the command for the child at the same time. In this interaction Childone competently improvised as a peer mentor with an admirable ability to make a dog “speak.”
How can we account for such social competence? How can three sessions totaling four hours of joint actions involved in giving a dog commands, walking a dog on a leash and playing frisbee generate such sophisticated, extended coordination of social action with a sibling and an unfamiliar peer?
Drawing on Bourdieu's notion of practical logic (Bourdieu 1990a, 1990b) and with an eye for the relation between structure and agency in interaction, Ochs and Solomon (2004) examined how children with autism participate in social encounters that require fluid, contingent practical strategies and behavior. We suggested a cline of practical competence where the most accessible social fluency is located primarily in the ability to act relevantly and generatively in response to locally prior and upcoming actions. Linking predications to the propositional content of locally prior and anticipated utterances is more challenging but still quite accessible. The next gradation of difficulty is in linking one's own and others' actions over a more extensive span of social interaction, while the greatest difficulty is presented by coordinating actions and propositions across an extended series of utterances. This deconstruction of structural complexity in interaction accounts for autistic children's increased practical competence in responding to the flow of actions, rather than to the flow of propositions and their greater success in more locally circumscribed, rather than more extended, social practices.
Maynard (2005), a sociologist and father of an adult son with autism, draws on the ethnomethodology of Garfinkel (1967) and the phenomenology and social psychology of Gurwitsch (1964) to argue that social actions possess gestalt properties and that concerted embodied actions have an intrinsic gestalt structure that is collaboratively assembled by coparticipants in interaction. In such an account, social interactions such as showing concern, asking for advice, and testing involve participants' actions that are coconstitutive of the phenomenal object. Those with autism, Maynard writes, have a different kind of orientation to these gestalts that is more locally organized, and their sensibility is infused by this locally driven analysis of social information. This theory may account for Ochs and Solomon's (2004) cline of competence where more elaborated and extended structures of social action and propositions become less and less local and, thus, less and less manageable for children with autism. Interactions with dogs are located in the part of the cline most accessible for those with autism. Social interactions with therapy dogs minimally involve highly local sequences of actions that do not require speech and are usually highly repeatable and practicable.
Charles Goodwin (in press) in his analysis of his dog's social behavior, lists the actions that the dog carries out to get her master (Goodwin) to put food into her bowl: (1) the dog draws attention to something specific, (2) the dog uses the body to manipulate objects, (3) the dog makes objects visible, and (4) the dog carries out actions at the service of building a desired next action. The dog also exhibits joint attention: she moves her gaze from the object of relevance to her master's face after noisily moving the object (her empty bowl) with her paw across the floor, a canine equivalent of protoimperative pointing. The dog is attending to two different material objects: her bowl and her master's body. The dog organizes her actions and her bodily orientation to make something happen next, and this something is a locally relevant next action: her master putting some kibble into the bowl. Goodwin's (in press) analysis of human—dog interactions contributes to understanding of recipiency from the addressee's perspective and the role of gaze and joint attention as action in social interaction (see also Goodwin 2003, 2005; Goodwin et al. 2002; Kidwell 1997, 2005; Kidwell and Zimmerman 2006, 2007).
The contribution of dogs to social interaction involving children with autism is in providing the children the opportunity to practice nonlinguistic but highly social actions and to coordinate these actions with others, human and canine. Here is where Stephen Levinson's (2006) metaphor of a human “interaction engine” may be productively extended from humans-only interaction to the interaction of humans diagnosed with autism and specially trained dogs. For example, the first four core properties of the human “interaction engine” (Levinson 2006:44–50) can be identified in the interactions of Childone and the dogs: (1) responses to actions or intentions, not behaviors, that require theory of mind, for example, “I wonder if he wants to be brushed” says Childone of a dog about to be brushed by her sister; (2) the simulations of the other's simulation of one's self, recipient design, mutual salience, for example, “I meant-I meant- the new dog you have” corrects Childone when Susan misunderstands her utterance “he is a little dog” to be “he is a little bug”; (3) a signaling system independent of language, for example, hand obedience commands, walking the dog on a leash and directing the dog's movement, nonvocally indicating readiness to throw a frisbee; (4) cooperative interaction where minds are able to simulate other minds simulating your own, for example, in the interaction with a peer at the park, teaching the “speak” command Childone simulates the girl's shaking of the finger, first by shaking the girl's finger, then in a double simulation, she shakes the girl's and her own finger at the same time, to get the dog to bark.
Horowitz and Bekoff's (2007) analysis of dyadic play between humans and dogs, echo Levinson's account of an “interaction engine.” Their four features of social interaction among human and canine communicative partners are identified as: (1) directed responses by one player to the other, (2) indications of intent, (3) mutual behaviors, and (4) contingent activity. The properties of canine social behavior identified by Goodwin (in press) and Horowitz and Bekoff (2007) are the precise characteristics of therapy dogs' behavior when interacting with children with autism that overlap with humans-only sociality described by Levinson. For example, a dog will bring a frisbee and place it at the child's feet, and then sit facing the child and looking from the frisbee to the child's face and back. If no next action is forthcoming from the child, the dog will react to the relevant absence of action. The dog will move the frisbee closer to the child by picking it up with the mouth and flipping it, making it both relevant again and more visually salient, as if jump-starting the relevance of the child's projected next action of throwing the frisbee (see also Horowitz 2002 and Smuts and Bauer 2007 on intersubjectivity and canine play).
Dogs' highly anticipatory, unhurried, structurally simple and easy to interpret social actions may be generating a locally organized interactional ground against which the next move is easily projected and realized by children with autism. The dogs reside not only in “here and now” but also in a “here and now” that happens over and over, allowing the children to practice being intentional, intersubjective agents.
Usually children with autism joyfully engage in such interactions, and dogs do not have to work too hard to get the children engaged in play with them. The trainer elaborates and builds on the local coordination of action (see Ochs and Solomon this issue), showing children new commands, asking them to carry out a sequence of different local actions, commenting on their success and directing them in their interaction with the dogs.
In these interactions, possibly for the first time, the child with autism interacts with a communicative partner whose social dispositions match his or her own. One does not have to be affected by autism, however, to enjoy the freedom from linguistic activity. The allure of pet animals, and dogs especially, is that they are able to interact with humans in an entirely embodied way, without any need for spoken language, and dog training requires of the handler to be highly skilled in such interaction (see Hearne 1994). Interactions between a child with autism and a therapy dog generate a social universe, a habitus (Bourdieu 1990a, 1990b), where speech is not a prerequisite. But the child and the dog are not alone. The therapist or the dog trainer is speaking to the child and the dog, and, thus, there is an ebb and pull between the embodied nonlingusitic habitus where children with autism and dogs can freely engage with one another, and the human-only habitus (Bourdieu 1990a, 1990b) where language is part of the interaction.
Spoken language is used but the trainer's oblique bodily orientation, relatively muted praise, and sparse talk make these interactions qualitatively different from most “no therapy dog” social situations. This restructuring and reconfiguration of the parameters of social interaction afford the child with autism an experience of social competence and the confidence to venture more fully into an improvised, fluid social engagement with other people.
Childtwo and the Black and White Dog
Childtwo was 13 years old when he and his family participated in the study. In an interview his mother told me that they were not worried that anything was wrong until Childtwo was 18 months old. This was when she first noticed Childtwo staring, as if hypnotized, at the patterns of light moving on the carpet, and she could not get his attention back no matter what she did. “This is when I shed my first tears,” she told me. At three years old, Childtwo was still not speaking, and his mother described him being “out of control.” She took him to several doctors who told her that he would outgrow it. When he was a week away from his fourth birthday, an interdisciplinary team at a major university hospital gave Childtwo a diagnosis of autism.
This case study illustrates the transformation in the family narrative brought about by the presence of a service dog. Similarly to Jay Koppelman's story of rescuing a dog from Iraq, this story of a dog coming into this child's life reorganized the family narrative and repositions the child with autism as a powerful protagonist who is able to will his desire into reality.
This story has been assembled from e-mail correspondence and interviews with Childtwo's mother following the introduction of a service dog:
In the winter of 2006, when Childtwo was 13, his mother sent out an unusual e-mail message to friends and family:
If any of you have contemplated or know of any recommendation for an autism service dog, I would appreciate any leads. Thanks.
The e-mail was a response to an unusual situation. Childtwo had been asked at school by his teacher if he had a dog, and he said “yes,” and that his dog was “black and white.” When the teacher asked his mother about the dog, she did not know what to think: not only they did not have a black and white dog, or any dog for that matter, but also she had no intentions of getting one, given the kind of life they had taking care of Childtwo and his two younger typically developing sisters. Childtwo, however, persisted that he had a black and white dog, to his mother's dismay. Finally, in a moment of weakness, she sent out the fateful e-mail.
At about this time, Susan Kraft, the animal trainer who was involved in this study, had an unexpected addition to her animal family: a six-month-old black and white Springer Spaniel named Simon whose elderly master had just lost his wife and decided that he could not keep the puppy. When I forwarded the e-mail message requesting information about an autism service dog to Susan, she immediately thought of training Simon as a service dog for Childtwo. When Childtwo's mother called Susan on the phone, her first question was “What color is the dog?”“Black and white,” Susan said. There was a silence on the other end of the line, and then the mother said “When can we come?”
After the first visit of Childtwo and his family to meet Simon, I received an e-mail message from Childtwo's mother that included this:
To my surprise, Childtwo has asked about “Simon dog” or “Dog Simon,” as he has been referring to him, and of course I am anxious to see him again too.
Simon went home with Childtwo to be his autism service dog in late September 2006. Limitations of space do not allow me to describe in greater details the training that Childtwo, Simon, and the family received so Simon could become Childtwo's service dog. When it did happen, the lives of every member of the family had been changed. After the first month, Childtwo's mother wrote me an e-mail about their life with the dog:
I'm so sorry for the long delay in updating you on Childtwo and Simon. I can now report on their first month together … where to begin! The pictures attached are from the first day of school. Childtwo objected at first that Simon wasn't coming to school (and Simon consistently tried to board the bus), but now he accepts that Simon stays home. So here's a typical day for the two boys: Childtwo wakes up, showers and dresses, then gets Simon out of the crate at 6:30am. Childtwo gets Simon fresh water, takes him to the trees, and runs him around the cul-de-sac 3 times, some point at which Simon will poop and Childtwo will show Dad where to pick up. Childtwo gets Simon breakfast, and then they eat together. Childtwo walks Simon out to the bus, where he hands Daddy the leash. When Childtwo gets home, he comes straight in and checks on Simon. Simon is always on his pillow in the kitchen, and he always barks “hello.” Every afternoon, they head off on a 2.5 mile walk to Juice Zone (one of his afternoon therapists takes them—they understand the rules for curbs and also how to behave in the Juice store). When they get back Simon pillows next to Childtwo in the play room, and Childtwo does homework. Then at dinner time, Childtwo brings Simon down and gives him dinner, and he eats in the kitchen while we're eating then pillows down. After dinner, Childtwo, Dad, and sometimes the girls go with Simon outside and do retrieving. Then Childtwo takes Simon with him to the computer, then to his room to watch TV. At 9:30pm, about half the time Childtwo will bring Simon out of his room and indicate it's time for “Simon sleepy time”—which means Childtwo is falling asleep, and he knows the routine is Simon in the crate. The other half the time, they both fall asleep. On the weekend, Simon goes everywhere with Childtwo, including church, breakfast after church, Home Depot, Costco, girls' soccer games, dinner out on Saturday, wherever we go—Childtwo insists on it, no exceptions.8
Childtwo's perspective on his life with Simon can be glimpsed from a story that he wrote at school. The prompt for the story was “I like to. …” It is reproduced here exactly as Childtwo typed it.
I like to named Simon. I like to play with Simon. I like to feed with Simon. I like to Simon sleep in her kennel. I like to Simon a boy. I like to Simon play with ball. I like to Simon swimming pool. I like to eat Simon food. I like to walk Simon. I like to black and white dog. I like to puppy. He has a tail, ears, nose, mouth, ears and paws. I like to sleep in bed with Simon. I like to play with the catch the ball with Simon. I like to living a house. I like to Simon with bath outside. I like to go outside. I like to go in the car with Simon. Mom go in the car. I like to sister play with Simon. I like to eat dog food. I like to dog drink water. Mom buy with dog food. I like to dog food in your kitchen. Mom feed Simon. I like to Simon big. I like to brown eyes. I like to black nose.
The richness of Childtwo's life with a service dog, and the multiple activities that he is purposefully and competently engaged in with Simon and with his family, can be glimpsed from his mother's and his stories. The story of “black and white dog,” however, also has a metaphysical quality. Childtwo's stubborn willing the black and white dog into reality transformed what his family members believed about his limitations. Moreover, the story of a black and white dog quickly spread across the parent advocacy community as further evidence that children with autism have extraordinary abilities.
The changes in this child's and this family's life, and their family narrative have been dramatic. In the 2007 school year Childtwo's mother secured the school's permission for Simon to accompany him in the classroom. From then on, when Childtwo went to school, Simon went with him.
Childtwo's mother reported that they went out more often as a family—for dinner, to visit friends, to movies—much more often than “before Simon,” and they never left Childtwo home anymore.
For Christmas 2007, I received a postcard with a family picture:
Wishing you a White (and Black) Christmas,
the Lastname Family
The picture portrayed five smiling people, two adults and three children, all wearing black and white clothes sitting on the steps of their house. A black and white Springer Spaniel was intently looking at the camera. Childtwo's hand rested on Simon's back. Not only their Christmas had undergone a transformation and became “White (and Black),” like Childtwo's dog, but also they themselves also changed: Childtwo was no longer standing out in the family. Having the dog in the family restructured this child's interactional ecology in a way that enables Childtwo's communication and participation in his family's life much more fully than before.
Haraway writes: “We are, constituively, companion species. We make each other up, in flesh. Significantly other to each other, in specific difference, we signify in the flesh a nasty developmental infection called love” (2003:2–3). Once again, love, the emotional connection with a dog, takes us elsewhere, and we can glimpse from Childtwo's own story his understanding of how his life has changed. Childtwo's story has a new temporal horizon: “I like to Simon big,” he writes. The dog had brought a possibility of not only a shared present but also of a shared future.