Author: Nuala Gardner
APA Style Citation
Gardner, N. (2008). A Friend Like Henry. London: Hodder Paperbacks.
Blog Contributor: Jessica Flitter
West Bend East High School
Author Nuala Gardner states, “If I had to say just one thing about autism as a disability, it is this: we must never underestimate how hard a person affected has to work every day, all day, to live by our society’s rules and to fit in.” She goes on to share her personal struggle with her son’s diagnosis with “classic” autism. Her story is special, but yet typical of what families associated with autism live with on a regular basis. Dale, her son, struggled with a triad of impairments: the ability to communicate, difficulty with imaginative play, and challenges in the socialization with others. The reader is provided with a multitude of examples as Nuala Gardner describes the emotional struggles of her son’s diagnosis and her attempts to find the necessary educational opportunities to support his specific needs.
Through Nuala’s persistent hard work and creative approaches to education, she was able to pull Dale out of his isolative world of autism. She used his obsessions of Mikey Mouse and Thomas the Train to teach him basic social rules. But the most significant therapeutic tool she used was Henry the dog, who would become Dale’s companion and teacher. Nuala’s story highlights the significant preparation necessary for Dale to accept Henry. Dale was involved in the whole process of preparing to own a dog, such as using a countdown calendar, purchasing supplies and using miniature models to show Henry routines. Through modeling with Henry, Nuala was able to teach her son how to take care of himself. Dale would take a bath, receive a haircut, brush his teeth, wear new shoes, and even become toilet-trained at the age of six. Henry also provided Dale with confidence and self-esteem. It was a perfect match!
Henry was quickly allowed into the “world of Dale” to offer support. Dale struggled with routine and took everything literally due to his autism. He would often have outbursts and struggled to communicate. One day, as Dale had a particularly exhausting outburst, Dale's father, tried speaking to him as if he were Henry. Dale reacted well and from then on would do almost anything his dog “asked” him to do. This method provided a breakthrough in Dale’s treatment. Soon he would answer questions, of course, asked by Henry, and he would talk about his day with his parents. His imagination also started to progress, and he would draw pictures of his dog Dale and went through training on providing eye contact. Next, Henry helped Dale to develop his emotional responses in a positive way. After Dale had lashed out at his dog, his mother spoke as Henry and shared the dog’s fear and sadness during the experience. Faced with the potential of losing his dog, Dale expressed empathy and voiced his love for Henry. This was a stepping stone for his ability to express his love for his family. Soon another major concern surfaced; Dale had no friends. Henry offered an opportunity for social contact, but Dale’s parents introduced him to the world of video games that helped him better socialize and fit in with his peers. Thanks to Henry’s ability to provide unconditional love, model appropriate behavior, and “talk” to Dale in a non-anxiety arousing situation, Dale flourished.
Dale progressed significantly; he developed a sense of independence, bonded with others, and took full responsibility for all aspects of Henry’s care. The goal was for Dale to be able to take care of himself one day. In addition, he had a strong motivation to learn and fit in with his peers. He wanted to finish his homework no matter what and worked very hard at school. Dale really enjoyed topics that addressed social values. However, his learning would be hindered when he struggled with a word that threw him off from understanding the entire statement. One day he asked his mother why he was different and what his problems were called. Nuala chose to explain his autism in a way he could understand. Because he was aware of some of his struggles, she helped guide him through the social and academic hurdles of school. He experienced the life changes of moving, bullying, friendships, and academic challenges. Dale understood he would have to work harder to prove himself than someone without autism, but he kept an optimistic outlook and was motivated to fit in with others at school.
Woven into Dale’s story, there were a number of family issues that offered opportunities for growth. A death in the family allowed for Dale to relate to others. A grandparent’s aging offered multiple lessons for the entire family. Nuala also became consumed with having another child. Finally, there was the issue of an aging Henry, who was 11 years old and physically deteriorating.
The book takes the reader through the emotional ups and downs of a family living with a family member with autism. The specific examples focusing on psychology and autism are plentiful and as a reader, one becomes embedded in the family’s story. There is a unique section of the book at the end, titled In His Own Words, which is Dale’s explanation of various examples throughout the book. He can clarify his thinking during the moment to help others understand the signs and symptoms of autism a little more. As Nuala so eloquently pointed out, society’s rules and the desire to fit in provide a constant struggle for those living with autism. She hopes through this book to increase awareness and a better understanding of autism.
Recommendation: Do not look at the pictures in the middle of the hard copy book until the end because they provide a spoiler.
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Fine Motor Control
Imaginative and Symbolic Play
Piaget’s Preoperational Cognitive Stage
Vygotsky’s Cognitive Development Theory
Other Related Resources
All Because of Henry
Author: Nuala Gardner
Sequel to A Friend Like Henry
Gardner, N. (2013). All because of Henry. Edinburgh: Black & White Publishing.
Author Nuala Gardner
- Author Website: http://nualagardnerautism.com/
- Autism Light: http://autism-light.blogspot.com/2011/10/jim-and-nuala-gardner.html
Video Clips (The teacher should preview all video clips)
- Dale’s Family YouTube Video (5 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJSu3G0U5SY
- Service Dog in Classroom (3 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx-OnBHXKiU
- How Dogs Read Body Language and Case Study of Max (4 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7lAN1zno0w
- After Thomas Movie Review: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0825222/
- After Thomas YouTube video (1:33 minutes): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0NdsvK8iB4
- After Thomas Article http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/discoverpsychiatry/mindsonfilmblog/afterthomas.aspx
Dogs and School
The article discusses the current trend for schools to deny service dogs. The author provides possible arguments for why schools ignore the law. She also lists what she feels are valid concerns that would need to be addressed before a service dog can attend school.
In 2011, a judge in Florida ruled that an autistic boy in kindergarten would not be allowed to bring his service dog, named Pepsi, to school.
Service Dogs for Children with Autism