• Understanding Autism from the Inside

    “Academics came easily to me. The rest of life—not so much.”

Our First Trip to the Mall with Rocky (Our Autism Service Dog)

20150219_095948This is very likely on of the many upcoming “Rocky Chronicles” posts.

Since moving to the North Country we have not ventured to the mall,  one of the families favorite things to do—theirs, not mine.  Aspie Teen is missing his bookstore excursion very much, and we still have not located a bookstore for him to visit.

The Tot also loved going to Barnes and Noble to play with the Thomas the train set, which is not an available option here either so its been a hard adjustment in many aspects.  I worry quiet a bit about the Teen since he really is not getting out of the house and showing no signs of wanting to leave the house either—but that is a subject for another post.

Yesterday, after checking the weather and making sure certain the forecast did not call for snow, I decided to brave the trip out to the mall in Plattsburgh (an hour drive from our house through the mountains).  For those of you who do not already know we moved to the Adirondacks, which breathtakingly beautiful, filled with mountains, forests, and lakes; however, one of my biggest fears is driving mountain roads (or rather falling off mountain roads), and falling into water while in the car—talking about having to face your fears!

So the weather was clear—no snow in the forecast. Hubby and I readied that boys, “dressed” Rocky in his service vest and we left for our adventures.  The Tot announced that he wanted milk (we were out, and it was on the list to buy) but I told him that since we are going to McDonalds we’ll get him some milk there, but when we drove from the drive through window without going INSIDE of McDonalds all hell broke loose!  Apparently, he wanted to go inside to drink his milk.  He wasn’t even hungry, just wanted milk—no way were we stopping, going back to McDonalds to walk inside and drink milk, was not happening.  Well the Tot became completely fixated on going inside McDonalds and literally screamed (I have video) all the way there—a solid 1 hour and 10 minutes non-stop, without taking a breath, or changing his tune.  He wanted to “go back, and go into McDonalds!”

We tried to redirect and have him pet Rocky to calm him but he was already too far into his meltdown.  Only thing to do was let it play out; I truly didn’t think it would take as long as it did.  He didn’t stop screaming until we were unloading the van outside the mall. He refused to pet Rocky all the way there, and Little Man (10) who had the pleasure of sitting in the back of the van with Rocky between them, was becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the screaming and began petting Rocky himself to try to calm down.  I thought it was great until the Tot tried to attack him because he did want his brother touching his dog! 20150218_202317

*sigh It’s never friggin easy!

Thankfully, the Tot happily grabbed for Rocky’s handle and although, he was still crying and lost all words (preservating with many goo-goo’s and ga-ga’s), he quickly calmed down as we made our way through the mall to GameStop—a promised stop for our oldest two, who haven’t had their GameStop fix since we left South Carolina. I am happy to report that all the staff at the mall were fantastic with the Tot and Rocky. I hear many horror stories of people ignorant of ADA rights and accessibility of our service dogs giving families a hard time—fortunately we haven’t encounter any of this—yet.

The Tot became fixed upon getting an inappropriate game, but we were able to redirect him to another store while holding onto Rocky—a small miracle in and of itself.  The entire trip to the mall the Tot didn’t let go of Rocky’s leash without first asking if he could.  The few times he went to walk away without me, all I had to do is say, “Hey, you’re forgetting Rocky,” which was met with an about face, and grabbing for the Rock’s handle!

Rocky sat patiently while the Tot and Chunky (17 months) went on some quarter rides (am I showing my age calling them quarter rides—they have not cost a quarter for years and years).

The two older boys were still quite overwhelmed from the screaming ride so it was time we took them to the Fun Zone ( a small, loud, and crowded arcade near the food court).  Now these are the places that overwhelm ME, but they were in need of some release and video games are their thing.

20150221_151834Rocky was a bit hesitate to enter that arcade with all the noise and flashing lights.  The look the dog gave me surely said, “Mom, are you kidding me? You want to go in there???” However after the moment’s hesitation, he happily followed the Tot inside. Rocky sat next to the Tot, or lay on the ground next to the game he was playing the entire time there—and even sat inside the pirate game booth with us while the boys played.

Back to those transitions I discussed previously—the Tot doesn’t not take them well, and surely does not want to leave an arcade.  With a promise to go back to get him “small hot dogs” from the pretzel shop he once again happily grabbed onto Rocky’s leash and left the arcade.  No kicking, screaming, flailing—nothing!  Whose child is this and what have they done with the Tot???

Auntie Pretzels, GameStop, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Target, and back into the van—no problems!  

20150221_151229Rocky doesn’t seem to want to be with Tommy much in the house, something I am little disappointed about, but working on; however, while out in public that dog kept his eye on his kid.  Anytime Tommy walked even slightly away from game to game, Rocky watch and followed. We’ve been practicing “find Tommy” so that Rocky can assist in locating the Tot when he runs off. So anytime Tommy was out of sight, usually in another aisle with his Dad, we practiced finding Tommy. 

Tot got a little excited with this game, and darted out of Dick’s Sporting Goods and back into the mall giggling.   I told Rocky to find Tommy, and the only time Rocky pulled me halfway across the floor was when he saw Tommy take off, and he took off running after him. When we caught up, Rocky sat right down in front of him!  Good Boy Rocky!  I almost went splat, the Teen had to grab Rock and run with him, but he FOUND TOMMY! 

Now as luck would have it, when we walked out of the mall, guess what we saw??  SNOW!

I thought the roads would be horrible, and I held a death grip on the passenger door handle the whole way (my hand, arms, and shoulder are still aching today) but we made it back fine, and with no screaming—yay!

Jeannie Davide-Rivera

Jeannie is an award-winning author, the Answers.com Autism Category Expert , contributes to Autism Parenting Magazine, and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. She lives in New York with her husband and four sons, three of which are on the autism spectrum.
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