Sister on the Edge of Autism

A sibling's-eye view of autism in life, family, and culture.

A boy and his dog: "Cowboy and Wills"

A sweet story about autism, a boy and one special dog.

Here's a funny, wonderful book from Monica Holloway, author of "Driving with Dead People."

When her three-year-old son Wills is diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Holloway struggles to help him adjust.

She copes with guilt and worry with impulse buys at the pet store. Soon the house fills up with a rabbit named Ruby, Richard the turtle, lots of tropical fish and several hamsters.

Then came Cowboy. Just when Wills enters mainstream kindergarten, overwhelmed with daily obstacles of public restrooms, interaction with his peers, and the soon-to-be-dreaded annual sing-a-long, the promise of a puppy seems to help.

Cowboy comes at Christmas - a fat, happy energetic Golden Retriever - and changes everything. In effect, she's like an accidental service animal, and slowly draws him into the world. At school she gives him something to talk about. After school, she's the center of Wills' first play dates. She's the reason Wills finally goes Trick-or-Treating as he resigns himself to the fact that she wants to go. Through therapy, testing and doctors' appointments, Wills has Cowboy, his "sister," to lean on.

It's a sweet and inspiring story, the way this family copes with autism with the help of this dog. But get out your hanky. (You knew this was coming, right? It's a dog story, after all, and they all end the same way.) Cowboy develops canine lupus before her third birthday. Just as she has eased Wills into the regular rhythms of school life, she makes her grand exit.

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Any dog lover will recognize in Holloway's story the terrible grief of losing the family dog. Those with autism in the family will understand the depth of connection that is often possible between our loved ones - canine and human.

 

 

Eileen Garvin is the author of How to be a Sister: A Love Story with a Twist of Autism.

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