As an infant, Kadin did all the things that melt a mother's heart. By the time he reached a year and a half, however, he was disconnecting from everyone -- even his mom. He would scream a lot, wouldn't sleep and he struggled to communicate.
"A lot of his behaviors come from him not being able to get out what he needs to, when he needs to get it out," said his mother, Marjorie Okerstrom.
Kadin is Okerstrom's second child diagnosed with the developmental disorder called autism. Her son, Tanner, has had great success in therapy -- enough to be mainstreamed in school. Kadin's case is more severe.
"His improvement is smaller than baby steps," said Okerstrom. "It is just tiny, tiny."
One day, when he was about 3, the door to Kadin's closed world opened just a crack. Nicole Linstrom, Kadin's occupational therapist, wondered if a dog might help him pay more attention during therapy. So, she introduced him to Sasha, a therapy dog.
It was magic. Somehow, a ritual of lying on the dog with his bare tummy and feeling that soft fur next to his own skin brought the boy out of his shell.
He'd sit still long enough to pay attention to Nicole and learn. But Sasha was only with Kadin at therapy and would not be a permanent fix for the boy.
In the last several years, Okerstrom has tried just about everything to help Kadin break the chains of autism -- including special therapies, special diets, even oxygen treatments in a hyperbolic chamber.
Then after waiting for 3 years, the Okerstroms got Truman this summer from Twin Cities-based Can Do Canines. He is a specially trained dog for children with autism.
There were no guarantees the relationship between Kadin and Truman would work. The moment of truth came 20 minutes after the new team met. Kadin laid his bare chest on the top of Truman's back and he had another magical moment.
"I got so excited when he laid on him like he used to do with Sasha because that was a big test," said Kadin's mother.
The dog comes to Kadin to help the boy calm down in stressful situations, to distract him from his own emotions. Kadin is now able to take walks with his mom as long as Truman is by his side. Before the dog entered the picture, Kadin would never walk around the block without bolting or putting up a fuss.
Since getting the dog, Kadin's therapist has also noticed big changes in the boy.
"The most profound thing I've seen is how calm he is. He's looking at people, he's interacting," said Nicole Linstrom. "It's like, the most proud moment I've had as an occupational therapist ever. This is the biggest accomplishment I've ever done in 12 years."
Can Do Canines does not charge families for their trained dogs. The organization relies strictly on public donations for its funding.
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