Just like any other mom, Shanna Niehaus wants her son, Kai, to be happy. She wants her child to have friends. But making connections is something that’s a bit of a challenge for the child. Kai was just four years old when he was diagnosed with autism. Because of autism, the little boy found it hard to establish permanent friendships. He struggled with physical contact as well as communication.
Shanna said in the story she sent to Love What Matters the heartbreaking truth the she sat with Kai as he cried for months because he doesn’t have friends outside the family despite his efforts to try. And what Kai has tried so hard to look for in humans – he found in a service dog.
Tornado is a Golden Labrador who was trained to be a service dog for Kai by 4 Paws for Abilities organization in Ohio.
Since Shanna and Kai lived in Japan, getting Tornado for Kai wasn’t easy and wasn’t cheap. Shanna had to raise funds for Tornado to be properly trained and be ready for Kai. She worked hard and did everything she could to accomplish all requirements and get Tornado home with them in Japan.
The entire family flew to Ohio to meet Tornado for the first time. Shanna had a good feeling about it, but she did not expect the connection to be instantaneous!
Kai and Tornado hit it off so quickly that Shanna couldn’t believe her eyes. The post of the mom holding back tears as she watched her child finally getting the connection he has yearned for so long went viral:
“See this moment? I’ve never experienced a moment like this. Yesterday was the first day my 5 year old Autistic son met his new Autism Service Dog, Tornado. We are Americans that live overseas in Japan and have prepared for nearly two years to meet Tornado.
This picture captures the face of a mother who saw her child, who she can’t hug, wash, dress, snuggle and touch freely lay on his new Service dog of his own free will, with a purposeful, unspoken attachment. This is the face of a mom who has seen her son experience countless failed social interactions on the playground in an attempt to have a friend. Any friend.
Any kind of connection. She has sat with her son while he has cried at night for months because he has no consistent connections outside of the family no matter how hard he tries and no matter what he works hard on in his Autism therapies. It doesn’t transfer to the natural occurring world for him. And now she is sitting behind her son silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.
It’s worth every fight for services for my son, every diagnosis, every new provider, every dollar spent, every paper filled out, every school meeting, every shed tear, every step forward, every step back, and every wonder of the unknown future. Somehow because of this – because of Tornado – I know everything will be okay. As a mother, I have seen countless challenging and painful moments my son has encountered and cried countless more. Yesterday however, I cried for a different reason. It is a feeling that is indescribable.” — Shanna Niehaus,
“I was so taken aback and I was so flooded, how real and how raw and the significance of this really overwhelmed me.” Shanna started to sob but covered her mouth so she didn’t make a sound distract Kai.“ I couldn’t believe what I had hoped would happen was actually happening.”
Service dogs are specifically trained from an early age to help people with autism, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, and war veterans who lost limbs or suffered hearing impairment. Tornado was trained to be a companion for Kai. He was trained to distract Kai from any form of anxiety. Since Kai and Tornado met, they’ve become best friends. The story went viral two years ago, but up to now, the two are incredibly close:
Shanna has shown the world that a mother would go at great lengths to do anything for her child. She didn’t mind the difficulty of getting Tornado for Kai, she didn’t mind if it meant even with the slightest possibility that this could be the answer to her child’s prayers. And her efforts paid off.
Sometimes, love comes in unexpected places, and in unexpected forms. Yes, Kai used to cry at nights because he had no friends, but he has received something even better, even greater – he received Tornado, and dogs are, indeed, the only creatures who would love you more than they love themselves.