Seeing dogs and kids together is always a lovely sight. Shanna Niehaus, mother of 5-year-old Kai, shared this photo on the Love What Matters Facebook page. The post has since gone viral—it now has over 846,000 reactions, and has been shared over 303,000 times.
In the photo, Kai is pictured totally relaxed, lying back on his service dog Tornado as his mother looks on, overcome with emotion.
Photo: Love What Matters/Facebook
Why was Shanna’s reaction so strong? Kai has autism, and this was the first time she had ever seen his son make a connection with so easily.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about autism,” Niehaus told Inside Edition. “Many kids on the spectrum don’t have many friends and it’s believed that these kids can’t have that connection, but that’s not the case. Kai has been searching for a really long time for that connection but he has a hard time sustaining that with people… He’s always shown better communication with dogs and any parent draws on a child’s strength.”
The Niehaus family live in Japan, and flew in to Ohio just so they could pick up Kai’s service dog. And seeing Kai like this was worth all the effort. When Kai first saw Tornado, he couldn’t contain his excitement, and ran to throw his arms around him. 4 Paws for Ability, the organization that trained Tornado, shared a video of their first meeting on their Facebook page.
After the overwhelming first meeting, Kai and his two siblings went for a break, then returned hours later. Kai then went to his dog’s side and lay back on his dog’s belly as he played on his iPad.
“That was a moment I would really cherish,” she said. “All this effort and hard work from so many people… This really was a truly significant moment in my family’s life and in my son’s life.”
Read the whole story in Shanna’s own words on the next page.
Shanna explains the whole story in her caption:
“See this moment? I’ve never experienced a moment like this. Yesterday was the first day my 5 year old Autistic son met his new Autism Service Dog, Tornado. We are Americans that live overseas in Japan and have prepared for nearly two years to meet Tornado.
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. This is the face of a mom who has seen her son experience countless failed social interactions on the playground in an attempt to have a friend. Any friend. Any kind of connection. She has sat with her son while he has cried at night for months because he has no consistent connections outside of the family no matter how hard he tries and no matter what he works hard on in his Autism therapies. It doesn’t transfer to the natural occurring world for him. And now she is sitting behind her son silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.
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. As a mother, I have seen countless challenging and painful moments my son has encountered and cried countless more. Yesterday however, I cried for a different reason. It is a feeling that is indescribable.”
How service dogs help with autism
Service dogs receive special training to assist those who need them. They can sense an impending panic attack, and can also calm down people who are having them. Children with autism often find it easier to relate to dogs because they’re different from people, Bright Side reports.
In the comments, other people shared stories of how dogs have helped their children cope with their issues:
Tornado has learned how to help look for Kai in case he wanders away from home, and also learned how to calm Kai down in case he has an episode. “Children with autism can be prone to meltdowns if there’s a change in the environment around them,” Niehaus explained to Inside Edition. “Tornado can de-escalate that.”
After years of looking for a connection, Kai has finally made a friend.
“He really wanted to fill that void for a long time and Tornado walked right into that void,” she said. “Kai’s heart is so full. Having this connection is really, truly life changing.”
READ: Dad creates an app to help his daughter with nonverbal autism communicate
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