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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Miss Prickles

Tom is a natural with animals. His special interests within the animal kingdom are sea creatures; reptiles; and a few selected individual species (penguins, hedgehogs, pigeons, skunks...). I've often imagined that he could grow into a job involving work with animals - anything from zoo keeper to animal researcher to naturalist.

Having worked in the museum world for so many years, and seen so many young kids thrive in that rather unusual environment, I've hoped that Tom could find a volunteer opportunity in such a setting. Of course, he's only 11 - so I hadn't pushed much so far. Besides, in Philadelphia most of the opportunities are at larger institutions which can have their pick of volunteers - and a preteen with autism isn't most people's idea of the ideal volunteer.

Here on Cape Cod, though, there are fewer kids - and quite a few scientific and naturalist organizations that run year round. I'd heard good things about a local nature center in Sandwich - and a few weeks ago, when I had a lot of deadlines to hit, I asked Peter to take Tom over to Sandwich to a little live animal show. Tom was the oldest homeschooler there (most were 3-7 years old), which made it perfect for him.

The naturalist introduced the group to Miss Prickles, a real hedgehog - and Tom immediately connected with her. He also met a few other small mammals, all of which he told me about eagerly when he got home.
Of course, Tom has had many, many opportunities to meet and greet live animals. We have two cats, of whom he is extremely fond (and the affection is returned!). He's petted an anaconda, held a Madagascar hissing cockroad, chatted with a macaw... but this was the first time that the staff member actually mentioned that they would be open to young volunteers turning up on a regular basis to help feed and exercise the critters.
This may be a very real opportunity for us: the first time that Tommy has been asked to take responsiblity for a living thing outside himself. And the first time that he'll be made responsible for something outside of his own daily activities.
Fingers crossed that we can work it out - hopefully starting next January.

1 comment:

Canvas Grey said...

What an exciting opportunity for him!!!! My son is also an animal lover. Deb