The dog is driving me nuts. Not the good kind of nuts like macadamias which bring to mind a sandy shore and Mai Tai’s. Nuts as in crazy and a vacation from the dog is what I would like. With this admission I know some are shocked. A year ago it was nothing but puppy love at our house because Buddy (aka B2) was very cute and cuddly. Back then he floated like a butterfly so now how could he possibly sting like a bee?

The simplest way to describe it is that as he’s matured B2 has developed some quirks. Some of his idiosyncrasies are cute. For example, he’s crazy about socks. When I fold the laundry he’s desperate to get every pair and undo them. He doesn’t chew on them he just likes to separate them. Towels have a similar appeal. Any towel within reach is as tempting as a bone.

B2’s less than charming behavior involves barking at anything he considers a threat – which is everything. I can understand a bigger dog intimidating him but barking when a leaf falls from a tree is a problem. If anyone B2 doesn’t know comes to the house all hell breaks loose as if a whole tree has blown over. It’s a cyclone of barking.

The good news is that he hasn’t bit anyone but getting him in his crate to protect our frightened guests is no easy job. He’s faster than a cat high on catnip. To make matters worse, he flat-out refuses to wear a leash. Unless he’s muzzled you can’t get one on him. When you do, he then won’t move or be moved. It’s maddening. A hyper-vigilant, barking, inflexible Schnauzer is what I’ve got. As much as I love the little guy cute only takes you so far in a relationship!

Looking for advice I went to see the breeder we got Buddy from and this is when I heard the most absurd thing ever. I told her what was going on and she told me that B2’s mother had another puppy like him. After doing some research she’s concluded that both dogs are autistic. Not dogs for autistics, as in therapy dogs, but dogs that are autistic. What? Are you kidding me? I almost barked at her.

Quickly I knew this conversation wasn’t going anywhere so I cut it short. Driving home I thought I’ve got to Google this. Sure enough, I found several references on the Internet where folks claim to have an autistic dog. One person even cited research using monkeys and rats with autistic traits to study the brains’ mirror neurons as the basis for her argument that a dog could be autistic.

Now I’m furious. To compare troublesome animal behavior with a child’s is grossly insensitive. There’s no question that human behaviors and animal behaviors have similarities but when we start categorizing dog’s like we do humans I have to draw the line. If a child is hyper-vigilant and unravels when a leaf falls or someone comes to the house we actually have a problem. When a dog does, it’s an irritation. Not a pleasant one but it can be more easily dealt with.

Think about what it might be like for the parents of an autistic child if they couldn’t ever have any one visit their home. What if the wind rustling through the trees created so much sensory overload for their little one they frequently had to stay indoors? This might sound like an exaggeration but talk to some families and you’d learn it’s not unheard of.

The heartbreaking scenarios parents of autistics deal with are exactly why I have a complaint. Too many things in the world are pathologized by people unqualified to render an opinion. When the world we want strays from our idealized notion of what it should be, we feel compelled to come up with an explanation. As a result people that are a bit different are too quickly characterized as medically or psychologically abnormal. Armchair experts diagnose the most prevalent label at hand which today happens to be autism spectrum disorders. Years ago it was ADHD.

This is also why I don’t like National Autism Awareness Month which happens to be going on right now. I know my attitude frustrates some people. I appreciate that autism advocates want to raise awareness and even money for research and doing both has many benefits. However, the flipside of these media campaigns is that publishing article after article with lists of signs and symptoms puts a lot of children under a microscope that don’t need to be.

While there are several conditions like autism, there are other conditions, such as having a very high IQ, that often include characteristics on autism checklists. Mass public information campaigns that sensationalize the warning signs to grab every reader’s attention can thus be a huge disservice. Read one poorly written article and before you know it there’s a label for every child from the gifted and talented to the slightly behind. All developmental delays are not a problem and every gift is not a curse.

With so many loose definitions for autism floating around the consequences of over diagnosing are potentially catastrophic. Every medicine, treatment, and therapy has side effects – some benign and others lethal. They can move a child forward as much as they can set them back and distort their development. Outside of the medical establishment some of the treatments for autistic children could actually be considered abusive.

The media doesn’t care about this consideration. They care about what grabs readers/viewers. The quality of journalism as it relates to autism is sadly lacking even after 17 years of promoting awareness. For every ten stories I get sent to me only one might be well researched. That, however, doesn’t stop this information from circulating all over the world fueling the fire. Case in point, dog problems have now been elevated to the status of a complex neurological disorder. This is de-humanizing and trivializes the struggles truly autistic children face.

This is why during April I’m tuning out all the stories barking at me. I’m not watching the news, reading the paper, or buying any magazines. I refuse to reward irresponsible journalists for their poorly done work and I won’t listen to expert opinions that are anything but. I sincerely appreciate what child advocates are trying to accomplish and I value their heart for kids. I don’t, however, trust what happens with even credible information that is circulated. If this earns me the label cynic so be it. I’d prefer to be called discerning but maybe that’s my lack of self-awareness.

In the meantime, while I’m ignoring the autism buzz I’m going to see if somehow we can turn down the volume on Buddy without crushing his spirit. I don’t want to change or label him. I just want to find a way for all the unique personalities in the house, including mine, to co-exist peacefully. That’s my strategy for surviving April with a smile on my face.

3 Comments
  1. What you’re saying about dogs is so true. We love them. They’re like part of the family. But, THEY ARE DOGS! It drove Allison nuts that childless (we assumed) people in our parish posed with their dogs for the pictures in our church directory! The part of your essay about B2 was funny and the rest left me feeling some of your frustration. With Love, Jan

  2. Great writing! I’m leaving tonight to play tug with B2.
    Love,
    Dad

  3. If you find a way that all can peacefully coexist please bottle it and call me! We are in the middle of listing our house and need a dose of ” peacefully coexisting” 🙂

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