A diagnosis of autism changes everything. It tests faith, marriages, finances, relationships, friendships, and inner strength. One of the more challenging aspects is that it is an invisible disability, often accompanied by poorly understood physical symptoms of illness. The invisibility of the challenges often brings judgment on the part of strangers. It is not uncommon for a parent to feel that they cannot go out of their home without someone staring, or worse yet, making comments that hurt. The children may not be able to respond verbally, but they certainly feel the disdain.
My son's autism was the regressive kind. He had beautiful eye contact and words and lost them all in less than a month, just before his first birthday. He was hyper and sensory-seeking, so sitting anywhere was impossible. In playgroups and music groups, he was the only one to run circles outside of the circle of children playing appropriately. Friendships dissolved quickly when differences between him and their children were painfully clear. We were shunned in churches, glared at by those who judged us to be poor parents. When brought to a playground, the other families would leave. I began driving around to look for empty playgrounds before taking him out of the car.
Driving by, I saw TRAK ranch at their old location on Craycroft and River, and was magnetically drawn into their driveway to inquire whether my son could take riding lessons. Although he loved horses, he had a bad experience with therapeutic riding in New York State and was afraid to get on again. His sensory sensitivities made it a challenge to tolerate jeans, socks, boots, and he was terrorized by the crow of a rooster. It was only by the sheer hope and faith of a mother in miracles that we signed up for our first lesson, with now Executive Director, Scott Tilley.
Scott demonstrated so much patience with my son. The rooster crowed and, indeed, my son did freak out the first few times. As you can see in the photo above, he refused to wear jeans and boots, but Scott would quietly remind him, "Cowboys always wear jeans." Eventually, he shed his sweatpants for jeans and his shoes for boots and even grew to love the rooster, Dude. He not only overcame his fear but began to ride and ride well. Each lesson, Scott would add one thing, and before I knew it, that child was able to catch and halter his horse on his own. It would have been so tempting to do it for him, but Scott knew that one day he would. And he did. The photo below shows him loving Norman, who he learned to halter on his own after much effort and persistence. Having a teacher and mentor who believes in him...who sees ability, not disability, makes all the difference.
Our experience at TRAK began connecting with the animals, but the real reward has been connecting with its very special staff and volunteers. The judgment we experienced from those in stores, playgroups and churches has never happened at TRAK. In fact, when I do overhear TRAK people talking about my son, it is always positive. "He is so cute! He is so polite! He makes my day!" Not only has TRAK been a place where my son can thrive, but the ranch has something to offer the entire family, so we have a place to belong together.
Love, not judgment, is always the answer to reach those that society has deemed to be unreachable.
Love is what we have found at TRAK.