Given Cody’s tactile nature, he has a strong inclination to touch and feel any plant, tree or animal if we don’t specifically explain the dangers or consequences that could be involved. But it isn’t enough to say to Cody, “Don’t touch that, it’s dangerous.”
I’m a huge wildlife enthusiast and I want to pass that on to my son. I want to share my appreciation and respect for all living things—and in some cases, healthy fear. But it is imperative that I do so in a way that he understands without question. For Cody that means going that extra step and appealing to his highly sensitive sensory network.
Snakes are very prevalent in our area. And although Missouri is home to only three species of venomous snakes, we see our share of those. Since May of this year we have had at least 10 different encounters with snakes on our 18 acres. Among them have been black snakes, garter snakes, a blue racer and a rat snake—none of which I have any issues with when they cross my path. But four out of those 10 snakes were copperheads and they are venomous.
When Cody sees a snake he’s fascinated with the color patterns and how shiny it’s skin is and how smooth it must feel, and the lure of it all outweighs the risk of a bite in his mind.
So I asked Cody to think back to when he was four years old and had to go to the hospital s due to a serious flu virus. Suddenly I had his undivided attention.
I reminded him of how the nurses put the IV needle in his tiny hand and how much it hurt back then. “Now imagine if you had to have two needles at the same time!”
I asked him if he remembered how the high fever made his body ache all over and how he shivered from the chills. “Oh yes!” he said, his eyes locked on mine.
“And do you remember when you broke your foot how it got all swollen?” I asked knowing Cody’s memory is nearly unfailing. “Yes!” he said in a whisper. “Now imagine if all those things happened to you all at once! That’s what a snake bite is like,” I said to him in conclusion. That hit home with him.
There is also a large population of coyotes in our area. One took up with a couple of stray dogs and terrorized the neighborhood for a while. One night there was a terrible ruckus on our front deck. The coyote had chased our cat up on our deck, even though our porch light was on. The cat escaped to the roof, but that’s how bold coyotes can be on occasion.
While that incident didn’t faze Cody, he was deterred from the desire to interact with coyotes on a personal level when I took him out on the deck one night and let him listen to their yips and howls in the distance. He was very put off by that sound. He said they sounded like a chihuahua that belonged to my cousin. Cody was not at all fond of her bark.
Skunks were easy. Our dog got too curious once and was sprayed. And like most of us Cody didn’t like the aroma.
Telling Cody that poison ivy will give you a rash and make you itchy wouldn’t suffice. I had to remind him of how he felt when he was 7 years old and had chicken pox. He got the picture then and now avoids all plants with three leaves.
That kind of association is what it takes to make Cody understand certain things are to be enjoyed from a safe distance. Other individuals that I know with ASD are the same way. And while there are those in society who may be led to believe that people on the spectrum don’t have the ability to learn about such things, that’s a long way from the truth. Sometimes we need to learn to teach them in different ways.