All his life, 5-year-old Kai has had trouble connecting with people. When he met his service dog Tornado, that all changed.
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.
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.