The sanctuary is home to variety of animals. All the animals are healthy, well cared for and are so very gentle. It addition to the porcupine, we met horses, pigs, coatimundis, a lemur, a kinkajou, a fox, a chinchilla, a hedgehog, a guinea pig, the biggest rabbit I have ever seen and a small python that seemed quite happy to wrap himself around Cole. Nicole introduced each animal to my son, providing a few simple facts about the animal, and then…the magic happened. It’s challenging for my son to interact with new people, and at times, to sustain a conversation, let alone initiate one. He was immediately at ease with Nicole, which I suspect has to do with her own magic, but the real magic happened with the animals. My son led the conversations with each animal. He was chatting so much and having a real conservation with a rabbit. Well, the chatting hasn’t stopped. I have noticed a recent language explosion. He his finally using words and phrases appropriately and consistently that we’ve been working on for a few months. His sentences are longer and more complex and his speech seems clearer.
A friend led us to Happy Tales Animal Sanctuary and its founder Nicole Chillemi. Cole, my 5-year-old son, was born with cerebral palsy and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder. Combine those disorders with a bit of sensory related issues and you get neurological disorders that affect how his muscles and limbs move and work, how he hears, processes and develops language, and how new experiences and sensations affect him. Despite this, Cole is a happy, healthy, energetic five-year old and a huge animal lover.
For five years, Cole’s care and treatments were solely based on traditional medicine and therapies. We recently tried a couple of alternative therapies and noticed vast improvement, so when I heard about Nicole and her work with special needs children, I was interested. When scheduling our appointment, Nicole spoke about the uniqueness of each session. She explained that she is the facilitator between the animal and the child and then, after that, the magic happens. Yup, she said magic. She explained about the healing nature of animals and that we would have a private session with the animals. To be honest, I wasn’t so sure about the magic part, but I figured a beautiful summer day out of the city with my favorite animal lover sounded good. So off we went on our two-hour drive from NYC to Pine Bush, NY to see some animals and perhaps see a bit of magic.
What I find to be really interesting is how expressive he has been with his emotions. The week immediately following our visit his emotions were very extreme. He was so excited because he loved pizza or so angry because I turned off the TV. It was even a challenge to physically contain him. That quickly passed and then he started to articulate his emotions rather than act them out. Before, Cole could only say that he was either happy or sad. Now he can express that he is feeling excited, afraid, “so sad”, angry or “sicky” and why he feels that way. Before it was like going through 20 questions to know what was going on with him. I always knew he had a lot to say but he didn’t exactly know how to express it. I am so grateful to Nicole for helping Cole express to everyone how remarkable he is. We are looking forward to more visits to see the animals, our new friend Nicole and experience lots more magic!