Tuesday, April 8, 2014

When Fraser met Billy: The rescue cat that transformed a little boy's life by Louise Booth

Fraser is like a lot of other children facing the challenges associated with autism, but he also has hypotonia - which reduces his mobility.  Like many parents who have a child on the autism spectrum Louise Booth faces challenges on a daily basis with communication, sensory input, and unexpected rage that builds up to epic meltdowns over seemingly trivial things.  Reading about those early years with Fraser stirs echoes of my own nephew and the struggles he had with communication and connecting with other people - there are also strong echoes of the story of Nuala Gardner and her son Dale from A friend like Henry.  Almost overnight there is a remarkable changes in Fraser when he meets a rescue cat named Billy.

Billy seems on the surface to be your average cat, but right from the first introduction he appears to have an unusual relationship with Fraser.  Most cats would run screaming from a child having a meltdown, but Billy seems instead to be drawn towards Fraser.  There are times when Louise is at the end of her tether trying to do something for Fraser or with Fraser, and the appearance of Billy makes things run more smoothly.  She soon gets used to the quiet doubts of her husband Chris when she talks about all the things Billy does, but soon it becomes clear that Billy is a miracle worker who will see the family through some truly difficult times.

I have read a few stories now about the benefits of dogs working with children with autism, and I have recently read about a cat who helped a boy with selective mutism, but this is the first story I have come across where the four legged therapist is a cat.  I have no doubt that there are other stories out there about our less well known feline therapists for children with autism, but this is the first story I have come across that echoes the story of Dale Gardner and his dog Henry.  Anyone who has worked or lived with a child with autism spectrum disorder will know that all your hopes and dreams for a "normal" child goes out the window, and that at times the day-to-day drain of raising such a child can be very draining.  Dogs often help to ease the stress and conflicts between children with autism and their families, but according to Billy a cat can fill the space just as well!

Reading books like When Fraser met Billy stirs up a lot of memories for me because I have had a lot to do with my nephew with autism and I can clearly remember similar situations.  Raising a child with autism can be extremely isolating because you don't want to take the risk of setting off a meltdown, and because the child is usually very "normal" looking people assume that you are a bad caregiver who can't control the child - they have no understanding of what the child is facing, and by extension what the family is facing.  Louise doesn't pull punches in the description of her home life with Fraser, and the near miraculous changes that Billy makes.  The description of Billy is just enchanting and endearing, a biography of a man in a fur coat, and any animal lover would love the description's of the various antics he gets up to.

There are few books that allow you a glimpse into the world of a child with autism, and it is very easy to think that what you are going through only you are going through.  If you are interested in autism spectrum disorder and how it can affect an entire family (remembering that each child presents with a unique version of the disorder) then this may very well be the perfect book for you to read.  This is an emotional read and at times is quite harrowing - it is physically exhausting reading juts hoe far Frasers autism pushed Louise and her husband.  Interestingly, there is an absence of the colour photographs that normally fill the centre of a book like this, and while there is no explanation of why I would guess it is either because they live on the Queen's Balmoral Estate, or because overall Louise is open yet private about her family.  A touching, heart-warming read.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

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