In celebration of Mother’s Day, I am honoured to share a guest post written by my friend, fellow teacher, and rad mother, Andrea Haefele. For the past two years Andrea has shared her personal story about her family’s mission to bring visibility to children and families living with disabilities in support of her daughter Bella who has severe Autism Spectrum Disorder. Read Andrea’s previous posts here. I was personally inspired again by Andrea (if you know this power house momma, you’ll know this happens regularly) when a couple of months ago she shared with me her family’s latest excitement, their newest family member Kadence. Kadence is an Autism Assistance Dog Guide for Andrea’s daughter Bella. Kadence has become the 5th member of the Haefele household, giving Bella support, independence, and joy. Andrea and her family will be participating in the Purina Walk for Dog Guides on May 25th along the Harbourfront here in Toronto. Please read Andrea’s letter to Kadence below. In the past you have been beyond generous sharing Andrea’s story and raising funds, so I will ask you again to read, share, and please if you can donate. Dear Kadence,
We’ve waited almost three years for you to come into our lives. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am that you are finally a member of our family. I know that you’ve already been through a lot and have worked very hard to get to where you are today. From birth, you were exposed to different noises and obstacles to help encourage confidence and curiosity. You were then raised by a foster family who gave you basic training and socialized you to as many sights, sounds and smells to prepare you for your future career. When you were only one-year-old, you left your foster family to endure many assessments, and you were carefully selected to become an Autism Assistance Dog Guide. Since February, you were matched with our daughter Bella and have officially joined our family.
Our household is now filled with high-pitched screams of excitement every morning when Bella sees you. You’ve brought such a sense of joy and hope into our lives. Since becoming a mother, I’ve carried a lot of weight on my shoulders. I wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying. When Bella was a baby, I would worry about why she wasn’t hitting her milestones like the other babies. I worried that she would never be able to walk. I worried that the doctors would never be able to provide us with a diagnosis that would explain why she was different. Now that Bella is 6 and in kindergarten, I worry if she has friends to play with at recess. I worry about her hurting herself because she does not walk steadily. I worry about her wandering away and getting lost because she has no sense of personal safety. I worry about her getting sick and enduring another seizure. I worry that I’m not doing enough to help her reach her potential. Most of all, I worry about her future.
One of the hardest challenges that I have faced as a parent to a child with special needs is having to rely on others to help my child because I can’t. Although as a teacher I help students on a daily basis to reach their goals and soar beyond their potential, there’s only so much that I can do for my little girl. I’ve had to learn to trust doctors, specialists, therapists, educational assistants, and her teachers to provide the tools that I don’t have to help Bella. Over the past years, granting these experts our trust has paid off because their training has helped Bella to learn how to walk and communicate with us with the help of visual aids and picture cards. We’ve worked very hard to get Bella to where she is today. However, I never expected to, one day, welcome the expertise of a four-legged furry creature who wags her bum, drools and passes gas unapologetically.
We are now on the journey of, not only embracing you as part of our lives, but entrusting you with our happy little girl. The trainers have told us that it may take up to a year until you meaningfully bond with Bella. Because she is non-verbal, I know it is challenging for you to read her and understand her needs. However, in just the few months that you have been with us, you have already learned Bella’s pace as she tiptoes while she plays, and stomps while she walks. You quietly lie beside Bella when she is in her IBI, speech and language, and physiotherapy sessions and provide her with the self- assurance and confidence that she needs. You tolerate her pulling and whacking on your tail because you see that it makes her giggle. You lick her hand because you know she likes the feeling of your teeth and your tongue. When Bella wakes up crying in the middle of the night, you’re beginning to check on her and turn Bella’s terrified cries into reassured smiles.
Kadence, I admire your work ethic, patience, and manners. As I load the kids into the car, you sit by my side until you are given the command to jump in. You always wait patiently for your food as Bella is learning how to place it into your bowl, and refuse your dog treats before we give you the command to go ahead. When other dogs bark at you for your attention, or when a squirrel runs across the road, you continue walking straight ahead because you know you have a job to do. I wonder if you’ll ever truly grasp the importance of your role, not only for Bella, but for all of us. We will never be able to provide Bella with the companionship and emotional support that you can. Nothing makes Bella’s smile larger than seeing you.
I look forward to witnessing your growing bond and seeing Bella thrive with you by her side. Now that Bella is getting older and taller, she is beginning to stand out when we’re out in public. I can see it in people’s eyes. They stare and wonder why she wants to lick everything, why she makes funny noises, why she spins around and around, and why she still wears a bib.
Before you came into our lives, Kadence, I would sometimes feel self-conscious and carry an arsenal of tools to calm Bella down and to help her cope. We sometimes have to put her in a wheelchair for family outings to keep her safe. Now, with you walking by our side, I feel a sense of pride and comfort. The red harness that you wear is a poster creating awareness for autism and advocating for Bella.
People are now more open to approaching us with questions. Meaningful questions such as: How does Kadence help her? What do you need Kadence for? What kind of training did she have to go through? Does your daughter enjoy Kadence? I love how people have the courage to ask. We are working towards having Kadence go to school with Bella in September so that Bella can continue growing, learning and moving forward as you provide her with confidence, competence, and independence. Thank you, Kadence, for providing my daughter with laughter, companionship, strength, and courage. But most of all, thank you for being a friend to our Bella.
Although a dog guide is valued at $25,000, they are provided free of charge to families who apply for a dog guide (whether it be for the vision and hearing impaired, seizure response, autism assistance, diabetic alert, and other service dogs). The Lions Foundation of Canada is the founder and primary funder of Dog Guides Canada. Lions clubs across Canada contribute 25% of the revenue for the organization, so they depend highly on donations, sponsorship, and fundraisers. Every year our family has done an annual run to raise awareness for people and families who live with special needs. With the addition of Kadence into our family this year, we decided to do the Purina Walk for Dog Guides on May 24th at the Harbourfront in Toronto, Ontario. Please consider making a donation to help provide dog guides to other families. Donate here. For more information on Autism Assistance Dog Guides, please visit: http://www.dogguides.com/autism.html