Thank You to my Son’s Best Friend

I would like to recognize my son’s aide and our respite care provider, Hunter.

Hunter is a college student who we first hired in the summer of 2017 to spend time with my son, Nathaniel, and give him some variety to his day.  My son Nathaniel is 9 years old with moderate Autism.

He is very smart, but struggles with social communication, following directions, and getting along with others.

I was having trouble finding summer activities that Nathaniel could do independently. It is difficult to take Nathaniel to unfamiliar places.

He reacts to auditory and visual stimulation and could refuse to stay in a room if he finds it too loud.  He also needs to be with people he is familiar with. He may not be willing to follow the directions of adults he does not know.

Over the summer, he had some therapy scheduled and he can watch TV and play on his tablet, but he benefits from being engaged in activities, and one on one was the most comfortable for him.

At church, I found that Nathaniel liked being with teenagers and young adults.  He enjoyed their company, and seemed more willing to cooperate with them than he typically is with adults.

Hunter had come into Sunday School in the past, and I was particularly impressed by Hunter’s non-judgmental attitude, his confidence and his patience.

Hunter was looking for a summer job and I asked if he would be interested in spending some time with Nathaniel.

Once he started, I was surprised to see how quickly he dove into Nathaniel’s world. Nathaniel brings his current interests into every aspect of his life.

So, he will become a train, a car, an animal, etc., depending on what his interests are at the time. Hunter caught on to this very quickly, and demonstrated a great balance of keeping Nathaniel engaged in activities, but also joining him in his imaginary world.

Hunter was willing to play the roles that Nathaniel assigned to him, which kept Nathaniel interested and engaged in working with Hunter.

Once Nathaniel was comfortable with Hunter, I had him take Nathaniel to some summer camps.  This way, Nathaniel could get out and do activities, with the comfort of being with a familiar person.  Hunter was able to navigate keeping Nathaniel in a good place, and handling any issues with the summer camp providers.

I remember one time I dropped him off with Hunter, Nathaniel was a bit anxious.  Hunter spoke with him gently and asked him if he was feeling a little nervous. Nathaniel said he was, and Hunter said, “You know I’m going to be with you the whole time right?  So, there’s nothing to worry about.”

This seemed to soothe Nathaniel, and definitely calmed me.

I experienced the relief of leaving Nathaniel with someone who would care for him and keep him engaged and communicating.  The relief associated with this has allowed me the time and mental energy to focus on other aspects of my life.

I realized I had dedicated so much of myself to Nathaniel, that I was missing balance in my life.

I spent most of my energy either trying to get Nathaniel to work on social interaction skills, or strategizing new therapy interventions. While I cherish my time with Nathaniel, focusing on all of the aspects of his care and trying to continue to push him to develop his skills at all times is incredibly draining.

Being able to leave Nathaniel with Hunter, and knowing that Hunter will keep him engaged, has given me the ability to focus on other things, as well as improve my overall mental health and my relationships with others.

As for Nathaniel, he refers to Hunter as his best friend.

They are often mistaken for brothers when they are seen around town.

Nathaniel’s self-esteem and general level of happiness have improved and he looks forward to doing activities with Hunter.  Hunter has been able to get him to do things like shop for a shirt and tie, play in a piano recital, and go to the theater.

Overall, I have learned the importance of letting others into our life, and giving up some control of Nathaniel and his activities.

Written by, Ellen Free

My name is Ellen Free and I have a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter.  My son was diagnosed with moderate autism in 2012.

(Editor’s Note: This article was provided by Ellen Free and is part of Cooper’s, ‘I’m Thankful For You’ Campaign.)

You can still nominate the doctors, therapists, teachers, friends and family that make a difference in your special needs world. Click HERE to learn how!

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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