A Pit Bull Terrier Named Gracie Dances With My Son on the Autism Spectrum

One year ago almost to the day was

when I first saw the six month old pit bull terrier that we would adopt and rename Gracie.

She was in a down with her big, blocky head cradled between her two front paws, as far back as she could get from the front of the kennel run. It was noisy. Most animal shelters are. Everything that I knew about her came from listening to my son.

He’d noticed her when she first appeared at the shelter in January. Now, almost three months later, at my son’s invitation, I stood in a corridor, on the other side of a glass wall separating a suite of kennels from one of the busier hallways in the shelter, looking at her.

Not much expression registered on her face. Her half-shut eyes suggested she might be cat-napping but, as I would find out later, she was aware of everything around her even when she looked like she was sleeping, like Suzy, the German Shepherd Norweign Elkhound cross breed dog we’d had years ago.

Working breeds always seem to have that astute, internal radar that filters everything going on all around them. Where Suzy was quicker to exercise her ninja powers (she could make another dog freeze in its tracks with her fierce eye), this dog is more laid back, content to register what she sees and smells; taking a calm, accurate inventory.

Perhaps her undoing, from an adopting family’s perception, are her cropped ears. That and the stereotypical reputation that pit bull terriers have acquired.

“People see her ears and think she’s mean,” my son confided to me.

Everything about Gracie totally contradicts the grossly unfair assumptions that people make about pit bulls.

She was an owner surrender to an animal shelter when she was five months old, spending 30 days there before being transferred to the shelter where my son worked. Described by shelter employees as painfully shy left it up to potential adopters to figure out if that meant not socialized and/or abused.

Riding in a car?

Gracie had to be lifted up from the pavement into the passenger seat of my son’s car when we brought her home from that second shelter. She curled into herself, all four legs pressed tightly into her core; eyes closed, she had no interest in checking out where she was or where she was going.

A year later, she’s a happy pit bull terrier

"pit bull terrier laying in grass" She likes car rides, long walks, other dogs, tearing around the back yard, marrow bones; the heat vent in the kitchen when she’s come back from a walk on a winter’s day. She chortles, she snorts.

When we took her to dog obedience classes, we discovered that she responds to tone of voice more than to dog treats. The happy voice of someone she knows puts a spring in her step, makes her smile.

The thing about Gracie is that she’s patient. She’ll wait for you to figure things out. Which is good because talking to her in that happy voice became something my son had to learn.

Voice inflections don’t come easy for him because he’s on the autism spectrum. I know he felt awkward the first time he tried out his happy voice because I could hear him fumble for that higher register. Gracie never let on that he was anything other than perfect.

It did take practice and total privacy.

And, he figured it out.

Life on the Autism Spectrum Changes

Just like he’s figured out a few other things over the course of one year. He might not (yet) be able to tell you to back off if he feels like he’s being verbally attacked but he can confide those feelings to someone he trusts so that he can deal with it.

He’s learned how to talk about how having Asperger’s Syndrome affects his learning style and how it influences his work habits.  He’s learned how thinking outside the box creates solutions and how important it is to build his own tribe.

So many small changes this year that all add up to incredible shifts in behavior!

What can you do next if you like this post?

The decision to start writing about my son has been a long time coming. The challenge, of course, is to preserve his privacy while offering content that will help other parents whose children have transitioned into the adult world. (Or are about too.)  I’ll be guest blogging about this journey, what I like to call “Dancing on the Edge of Autism” in addition to blogging about it here. (Sometimes.)

If you’d like to be notified about those guest blog posts, you can join my newsletter and stay tuned for up-dates. If you know of someone who might like to read this post, please don’t hesitate to share it using whatever Social Media platform works for you.





  1. says

    Pitbulls definitely get stereotyped. The only one I’ve ever known was a sweetheart. I’m glad you’ll be writing about autism. I know it must be tough, but there is such a need out there for information and sharing.
    Barbara recently posted…A Lenten RamblingMy Profile

    • Kathy says

      Yes, they do get stereotyped – and Gracie’s such a great ambassador for pit bulls. Writing about autism is a mixed-bag for me: that diagnosis (Asperger’s Syndrome Disorder) didn’t happen until my son was in his early 20′s after a long history of developmental delays that we knew as ADHD with a few other sensory delays tossed in. He falls into the 1 out of 4 children born in the late 1980′s/early 1990′s transitioning into adulthood NOT eligible for services as adults. He’s been out in the “real world” since he graduated from high school in 2005 – that’s been the learning curve and that’s where I believe I can give back to parents who have similar life journeys.

  2. says

    HI, Kathy. What a wonderful blog entry! I’m wondering if it might be possible to include it in the upcoming book “All About the Dog I Rescued.” It is possible to review content that has been submitted so far and write/edit/and publish your own content and add pictures on this “working draft” site. It does require registration (spammer are industrious). I hope you’ll consider participating. The goal is to create a compendium that describes the diverse personal experiences of why people rescue dogs, what the dogs mean to the people who do so, and how both the dog’s and the person’s lives are changed. The final product will be available as a Kindle ebook at a very low price point. This isn’t a business model but an attempt to create content through “crowd-sourcing” with content by real-world people versus so-called experts. Thank you very much.

    • Kathy says

      Wow. I’m almost speechless, Cathy. You’ve definitely caught my attention. I’m sure I’ll have some questions as I think about your offer. What needs to happen next?

  3. says

    Hi, Kathy! I realize I am late in reading this, but I only now just stumbled across your blog, and I’m sure glad I did! I have worked in animal rescue for over a year, and I also work as a paraprofessional with kids who have special needs (everything from behavioral issues to ADHD to autism). I am always fascinated by stories in which my two passions are combined, and this blog post was no exception. I hope you will post more about your son (while still respecting his privacy, of course) and how working in a shelter and owning a dog has changed him. This post brought a few tears to my eye – pretty great writing!

    Thanks for sharing this post with us; I will be reading more!

    Chelsea Price recently posted…Tuesday’s Tails: Roxie and SashaMy Profile

    • Kathy says

      It’s never too late to comment on ANY blog post. I’m glad this one struck a chord with you. I wasn’t sure when I tweaked the focus of my blog onto some of the challenges my son has because he’s on the autism spectrum – what’s been gratifying for me is that he’s “looked over my shoulder” as I’ve written the posts that combine his love for Gracie with this part of of life and, he’s liked what I’ve written. Better yet, these posts have started conversations that we continue off this blog, which I love. Stay tuned for a few more and thank you for taking the time to reply – your reaction makes my heart sing. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge