Thursday 7 July 2016

Our five year old autistic son was the first to mourn our dog passing

Autistic boy mourns dog

It's nearly two months to the day since our beautiful Beagle, Smithy, passed away.

He was past ten years old and had been having tummy problems for a few years.  He was on a special diet but was still sick every now and again. We think he may have eaten something when he was out as he suddenly got very sick and collapsed on the stairs.  We took him to the vets.  Little did I know that it would be the last time anyone in the family saw him.

After three days, an operation and more antibiotics then I've heard off, his heart gave in and he died. My husband and I went to see his body and said goodbye.  The strength and understanding of our eldest son, who has autism was amazing and I'll talk about how proud I am of him another day.

Today however, I'm reminded how our middle child, David, who like 25% of individuals with autism is still pretty non-verbal, was actually the first to mourn Smithy.

Earlier today, Anthony and my other half left to go camping for the weekend. They have been planning it for a while.  Anthony and his Dad camped in the garden for his birthday just over a month ago and last weekend, the whole family camped out in the garden. David was waking from an afternoon nap as the boys were leaving and although he said goodbye, I'm not sure he really understood what was happening. About five minutes after the boys had left in the car, David climbed into the seat of his buggy and gestured towards the door, a little panicked.  I asked him if he wanted and signed in Makaton the words 'Daddy' and 'Anthony'.

"David, what do you want?"

"Da, An" he said while signing Daddy and Anthony back.

He wanted to follow them in the buggy.

I pulled out my phone and facetimed the intrepid explorers and after a short while of 'bye bye' at the screen, David was ok again.

But, it reminded me of the day Smithy died at the vets. 

Smithy had been at the vets for three days. Since he'd gone into the vets I had spent the days wondering around like an anxious Zombie. I was very worried, not really able to sleep and phoning the vets at the allotted every 4-6 hours to check on his progress / prognosis.  Mostly the kids were carrying on as normal.  We'd explained to Anthony (8) and Jane (3) that Smithy was at the animal doctors and they were trying to help him get better. Despite David having been the only one of our children who has actually had an operation in a hospital we didn't think he would understand what we happening.

Of course, we were wrong.

Infact, David knew what we didn't.  After school on the second day, David began to hang around the back of the house near the patio doors. He was looking out of the window but didn't seem to be engaging with anything and was holding onto and playing with his iPads.  He did the same thing the next day and after a while he got a bit upset and then started to cry uncontrollably for a little while.   He did this fews times, not wanting to be consoled and then eventually the tears stopped, just a few left clinging half way down his cheeks, as if they'd been frozen in time.

At the time I wondered and now looking back I'm certain.  He'd noticed Smithy wasn't there and this was his mourning.

We'd never been at home for that long without the dog. My husband and I rescued Smithy from The Beagle Welfare Scheme.  Smithy was about 18 months old when he joined our family and 7 months later we had our first son.  Smithy had welcomed every edition to our family, David and Jane a few years later, with a welcoming giant all consuming sniff. David had never known our home without Smithy.

And on that day, David had gone all over the house, probably looking for Smithy.  He'd probably seen the concern we had for Smithy before he went to the vets. David had waited by the back door and looked out, but Smithy wasn't there and didn't come in.  David knew Smithy had gone and thought he wasn't coming back.  And I really knew this today when I saw how David reacted to his dad and brother having left.  Just a few hours later on that third day, nearly two months ago, after David and the rest of the kids had gone to bed, the vet called with the sad news.

The family was devastated.  It took Jane at least a few days if not a week or so to understand that Smithy wasn't coming back.  Looking back, David was pretty huggy at the time, but I think he was simply offering hugs in a 'this is what to do when people cry' type of way.  Some say autistic people don't empathise, and some say they don't have real feelings of loss.  I may not always be sure of what David is thinking but I'm always sure he will continue to amaze me. All I knew then was he gave us hugs. And he'd already cried. Now I'm sure of even more.

Other posts links
Autism and the misunderstandings of empathy
Why all forms of communication are awesome
The best 'view' in the world - first words of affections from nearly non-verbal child


  1. Oh I am so sorry to hear that your beloved pet has died. We too have a beagle and she is such a massive part of our family so I know how devastated you must feel. I totally agree that autistic children do show empathy! My big lad has a very strong bond with our dog and when she cut her paw he was absolutely devastated! Thank you for linking up to #ablogginggoodtime 🎉

  2. I am so sorry about your dog! It was clearly a big thing for your little boy. #KCACOLS

  3. I am so sorry that you lost your dog at such a young age. I know from having a son who is on the autistic spectrum, just how observant they can be, so I have no doubt that David was one step ahead of the rest of the family. As for autistic people not showing empathy? Maybe some don't, but I know my son does, maybe not like other people would, but I've seen it it.


  4. Sorry for the loss of your lovely dog and how upset your sweet little boy is. Everyone deals with it differently don't they and it can really affect little ones x #kcacols

  5. I said I would cry - and I did! Dogs become such parts of the family, in so many little ways you don't even realise until they're gone. It's as though right from the start your little boy knew there was a big change coming. x

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday!

  6. It is so hard to lose a pet. I've lost a cat but not a dog yet. So hard on everyone. thank you for sharing this story. #KCACOLS

  7. I'm so sorry for the loss of your little furry buddy. I can only imagine how hard it must be. I also have a 15 year old staff, who at present is quite poorly, so I know the inevitable will happen one day. Makes me tearful just thinking about it.
    And I hope your little one is coming to terms with losing Benj too. Sending hugs x #PoCoLo

  8. It is so hard to lose a pet, they really are part of the family. I think too that everyone feels their loss and they just may show it in different ways. Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo X

  9. I'm sorry you lost a beloved pet, it must've been very hard. xx
    Thanks for linking to #PoCoLo - sorry it took me so long to get to commenting. x

  10. My comment and your reply on Instagram have lead me here.And this is the first time I've read any of your blog. I find your message very moving and truly sorry to hear about your pet. It is a very interesting message to read, because I often take for granted too, what my son comprehends and understands, it is difficult with so little outlet of emotion and often incomprehensible communication. I love your blog and am going to read more now! x Eloise


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