A Friend Like Henry — Austism Awareness Month

When I began reviewing books in honor of Autism Awareness Month, I never imagined how much I would grow in my understanding of the complexities of the autism spectrum, and the level of respect I have for those with autism and their families.   One of the things I have discovered is that no children are alike and their methods of learning may vary.  I found that in this wonderful story A Friend Like Henry, by Nuala Gardner.   An international bestseller by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Nuala  bravely invites us into her world sharing with great authenticity the pain, agony and despair  a  family with a severely autistic child copes with daily.   A nurse, Nuala recognized very early that her son Dale’s infant behavior didn’t seem right.  He was simply “the perfect baby.”    He was passive and rarely cried and slept through the night without a peep.  Everyone commented how good he was.  When she shared her concerns with her physician, she was dismissed.   As the months passed Nuala, began to see that Dale was addicted to motion.  When he was with other babies, he was unresponsive.  He learned to crawl quickly and when he discovered his legs he ran on his tiptoes.   One day at a play group, he sat next to a little girl, studied her and then wacked her in the face with a toy.   By the time he was two and three, severe tantrums began when something wasn’t on Dale’s terms.   And, his sleeping patterns changed — he would only sleep two hours at night.  Dale didn’t speak for a long time.  Nuala and her husband, Jamie, were exhausted.   Finally a friend recognized his behavior and recommended a doctor and he was diagnosed with severe autism.

After years of working with Dale, a small breakthrough occurred.   At a family outing, Dale met two dogs and began playing and laughing.   The Gardners had never seen their son so happy.  They took Dale to visit a litter of Golden Retriever puppies, and one dog in particular chose Dale.   The bond between Dale and his new puppy, Henry, literally changed his world.   Within three weeks of having Henry, teachers were reporting significant changes in Dale.   Through his unconditional love, Henry helped unlock Dale’s world and him how to feel, communicate and care for himself.   Henry helped Dale navigate in the world.

Although this book was written from his mother’s perspective, we gain some insight into Dale’s life through his recollections at the end.   There are a number of videos on the web about Dale and Henry.  Just click on:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJSu3G0U5SY

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “A Friend Like Henry — Austism Awareness Month

  1. Another excellent review. How difficult it must be for all concerned before first a diagnosis is made, and then before some sort of breakthrough. How wonderful that a dog could get through to Dale.

    The mention of him being “so good” when an infant reminded me so much of the book “Karen” by Marie Killilea. Karen grew up with cerebral palsy in the 1940s and 50s. When she was a baby, people commented on how “well-behaved” she was — her mother, Marie, says in her book “a child that age does not ‘behave’, it just ‘is’.”

    I am learning a great deal through your posts. Thank you!


    • Oh, I definitely want to read the book you mentioned about “Karen.” Sounds interesting, but the times were different. Thank you for your lovely comments. It was so hard not to go into any detail about the relationship between the boy and the dog. It was an amazing story that makes all kinds of sense. I have written another post for this week about a girl and what caused her transformation. Have tried to focus on something different with each blog. I have learned so much!


  2. Pat, I watched the video clip after reading your post, and was so moved. I too am learning so much from your posts. Actually it is one of the things I am loving about blogging: all the research is just fascinating. I read some of the comments after the video and someone mentioned that Dale had a younger sister, who is also autistic. So it can be genetic? This post offers hope that there are animals and other experiences/things out there that can start to unlock the locked worlds of some autistic children.

    I have to say that Henry makes me want to do a few posts on some of the special ways animals help us.


    • Joanna,
      The cause is still unknown, but Autism Speaks and other associations have said there can be a genetic link. This book was so raw and honest, and there were things that I left out. That story was about how Henry unlocked Dale’s world. By, the time Dale was 10 years old and more grounded, his parents started IVF and other procedures to have another child, all ending in miscarriages. She conceived twins twice. Amy had a twin, that was lost very early in the pregnancy. Amy seemed to be normal, but at 7 days she stopped breathing while she was feeding. They discovered Amy had gastric reflux, and milk was going into her lungs. So, for several years, they dealt with alarms going off. They also were concerned about giving Amy, childhood vaccinations. Amy appeared normal, happy and engaged. At age two, Nuala was just watching her beautiful little girl, and saw her in a trance watching a mobile. Amy’s autism wasn’t as severe, but she needed special developmental therapy. I found it very moving that Dale with great compassion said, “Mom, you’ll help Amy, just like you helped me.” Amy was obsessed with horses. Dale attended high school and college, and developed friendships.


  3. Wow! Patricia this was an amazing post, I watched the video clip and like Joanna read the reviews after it. Some parts of the clip seemed familiar to me and I have a feeling this has been shown on tv in a current affairs type programme, which we often have about specific subjects when certain months deal in awareness programmes such as “Blind Appeal”, “Autism month”, and others such as “Stroke Week” and “Heart Week” etc. I am always astounded how animals no matter whether cat, dog, fish…. whatever can actually help heal humans. There are such people and organisations like “Maureen Fredrickson, MSW &
    Molly DePrekel, MA, LP
    Minnesota Linking Youth, Nature and Critters, Inc. (MN LYNC), St. Paul, MN” and “Ms. Tamara H. Ward
    Youth Diagnostic and Development Center, Albuquerque, NM ” and many others who are doing some good research into this. A lovely post as always and very informative, like the others I am learning so much. Thankyou Patricia.


    • Thank you so much for sharing the information on organizations that train service dogs and make other animals available in a healing manner. I have seen the story of a cat that lives in a nursing home and travels daily to visit patients. Animals love unconditionally and are soothing. At the end of the book Dale says that having to be responsible for Henry, taught him how to understand Henry’s feelings and respond to his needs. Eventually he transferred this understanding to himself and others. Am glad you watched the video — it was Irish, so you may have seen it on TV. I am happy you enjoyed the post. I loved the book, even though the family faced so much adversity. It just speaks to the power of the human spirit!


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