An autistic boy who couldn't bear to be touched or hugged by anyone formed an instant connection with his new service dog, and his mother's response has captured hearts around the world.
Five-year-old Kainoa Niehaus travelled all the way from Japan to meet Tornado, a specially trained Golden Retriever, at the 4 Paws For Ability centre in Ohio. Kainoa's mother, Shanna, shared a photograph of her reaction online, and it quickly went viral.
She posted with the photograph, "I'm not sure why, but people still ask us why we place service dogs with children sometimes. Let me help you understand, from a momma who knows first hand: See this moment?
"I've never experienced a moment like this. I thought about not sharing it for embarrassment of my ugly cry face, but I decided it's too important not to share.
"This picture was taken near the end of the day after my autistic five year old was finally able to sit down with his new service dog Tornado. He flew across the entire ocean, stopped in multiple states, and uprooted his entire routine to travel the globe for this. He was so overwhelmed through the day that he had to leave to take a break for a couple hours before he could come back. This boy is the strongest child I have ever met; he has faced countless rude and ignorant adults and children who do not understand him, who have hurt him, and who have not valued him because he is different.
"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.
"Holding her mouth and silently crying because she doesn't want to distract him from the moment and break him away from a pure, honest, and truly fulfilling moment for her son-of his own free will. This is truly magic. Words cannot explain it. I have cried so many times for this boy, but this is the very first time I have cried for a reason like this."
She continued, "It's new, it's painful, it's wonderful, and it's grateful. I will always stand behind this boy (probably still crying) but I am grateful that he will have Tornado to stand beside him. The 4 Paws magic is real. The wait is long, but this moment right here makes it worth every moment of waiting. 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. Some how because of this - because of Tornado - I know everything will be okay."
Featured image via Facebook/4 Paws for Ability