An in-depth report on a powerful example of healing provides hope for parents of autistic children, and offers a reminder of the unlimited potential of canine therapy.
By the time he was a year and a half old, it was clear that Kadin Okerstrom was not a typical child. Disconnected and frustrated, the young boy would scream frequently, didn’t sleep well and struggled with communication.
“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.
Okerstrom’s first son, Tanner, was also diagnosed with autism, but a milder form that with moderate therapy, allowed for him to be mainstreamed in school. Kadin’s severe case required an entirely different approach and nearly unlimited patience. “His improvement is smaller than baby steps,” said Okerstrom.
Then when Kadin turned 3, the door to his quiet, closed world was opened by a compassionate caretaker. That’s when his occupational therapist, Nicole Linstrom, wondered if a dog might help him to open up and make connections with others. After introducing him to a therapy dog named Sasha, magic happened: Kadin finally took a leap forward, coming out of his shell and surprising those who knew him best, including Linstrom, who could not be more pleased by the outcome.
“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.”