Misha is a happy and loving 15-year-old boy with autism. Since early childhood, he’s felt the need to shy away from dogs.
“He developed irrational fears, not uncommon with children with autism,” Angela Brandt, Misha’s mom and vice president of the Ontario Autism Coalition, told The Dodo. “Most of my son’s irrational fears subsided over time, but his fear of dogs grew to a phobia.”
However, that’s begun to change.
Despite being fearful of dogs, Misha doesn’t dislike them — in fact, his feelings are quite the opposite.
“He loves watching dogs play!” Brandt said. “He’s still scared when dogs approach and get too close, but now he approaches all dogs and asks their names.”
One thing Misha wouldn’t do is engage with dogs. That is, until recently.
The other day, Misha and his mom spent a fun day at the beach. Joining them was a friend and fellow autism advocate, and her retired service dog, Basil.
Misha had met Basil before, timidly, but on this day there was a breakthrough. For the very first time in his life, Misha felt comfortable enough to pet a pup.
Here’s that moment on video:
“That was a huge step for him,” Brandt said. “When I saw Misha enjoying himself, it made my heart happy.”
At the beach, Misha did something else he’d never done before. Rather than watch from afar as Basil played, they created the fun together.
And as the fog of fear began to dissipate, Misha could see the dog for who he really is — a friend.
#TodayInABA my son with #autism played with a dog! May not seem like much, but he has a phobia of dogs. We’re still working on it but #ABA gave him the tools to overcome fear and anxiety as well as many other skills! pic.twitter.com/XXuQG8kxIV
— Angela B (@AutismMomMisha) August 3, 2020
Misha’s time with Basil that day has been transformative. The joy of interacting with a dog, a feeling once seemingly out of reach, is now something he wants to experience more of.
“Misha has already asked to play again with Basil!” Brandt said.
And recently, they did.
On this most recent playdate, Misha experienced another big first.
“Misha held his leash!” Brandt said. “It was the first time Misha held a dog’s leash.”
With any luck, this is just the beginning of a new chapter for Misha.
Having a service dog can be life-changing for people with autism, but Misha’s phobia had meant that, for him, it wouldn’t be a good option. Now that he’s growing more comfortable, the love and comfort of a furry friend at home could soon become a reality.
“I hope that Basil will help Misha develop a bond with a dog of his own one day,” Brandt said. “I would love for him to have a companion that loves him unconditionally. I am much more optimistic than just a few months ago. It’s a feeling of contentment knowing he will know the love an animal can provide.”