November 28, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Sharon Bergman knew there was something different about her child even before daughter Alair was born.
Sharon's pregnancy consisted of nine months of bedrest and in Alair's infancy, she was unable to settle, would cry herself blue in the car, vomited frequently and couldn't sleep without being held. Sharon carried her daughter unceasingly in her first year.
Alair was extremely hyper as a young child, overwhelmed easily, difficult to calm.
"We could go on and on about how awful I was as a child," says Alair, who was eventually diagnosed with learning disabilities and multiple disorders, including autism. "Yes. Awful."
But on a recent afternoon, Alair, now 17, sits calmly with her mother and a quiet chicken. Alair has made it through a turbulent childhood with these two by her side. She shares her story with the help of her mother in her book, "My Best Friend Goldie." The book's cover description reads, "How one girl found success with Asperger's & Autism, and other disabilities through a miraculous friendship in a barnyard."
Alair began dictating the book to her mother as a 4-H project when she was 12-years-old and received a 4-H trophy for the book in 2009. Now three years later, the duo has self-published the book and will sign copies during an event planned for 6-8 p.m., Dec. 4, at the library, 304 South St.
"The book is about me and my success with autism and how my chickens helped me with that," said Alair. "It's pretty much my life story. I used to be a very hyper kid, and most chickens get spooked if you are hyper. They taught me to be quiet and calm around them and they gave me a very loyal friendship and they're very understanding. And it gave me skills to develop real friendships with real people. Other people like chickens, I like chickens, and I was able to socialize with people with that same interest. For a long time other people had interests and I didn't have an interest. It gave me something to share— common ground."
Although Sharon was doing early interventions with her high needs child, Alair's diagnosis as being on the autism spectrum came relatively late. According to autismspeaks.org, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
In the last several years, the incidence of autism has increased to where it is now diagnosed in about 1 in every 88 American children, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
When Alair was 9-years-old, she found a new way to break through the autism barrier that frequently frustrated her. She began raising chickens and learned she had talent as a "chicken whisperer."
Sharon notes that many autistic children find an animal "connection." For Alair's younger brother Robbie, also on the autism spectrum, it was goats. She said for Temple Grandin, the autistic doctor, author, and professor on whom an HBO documentary was made, it was cows.
Grandin has endorsed Alair's book, "My Best Friend Goldie," saying, "I really like the positive story and I think it is just wonderful how helpful chickens were in Alair's life."
After Alair won overall county champion in poultry, she and her mother thought sharing the story of her success with autism would be a "good thing."
They decided to pursue self-publishing earlier this year when they learned they would need to move from their rental farm here in the township. The news was another blow to the family. Sharon Bergman started cancer treatment in late 2010.
"Daily contact with the animals is Alair and Robbie's therapy," said Sharon. "We are hoping to relocate to a farm with proceeds from the book."
The book can be purchased for $14.95 at www.createspace.com/3970357 or for $15 at the library book-signing Dec. 4.
While the book will help the family personally, they also hope it will help other families focus on the strengths of autistic children, rather than the deficits.
"Find success in every day and find something that you really like to do and go for it," said Alair. "Just keep going. Even the most imperfect people can find success in things they can do. Focus on the good things and be grateful for that. This is a book for everybody, for anyone who needs inspiration."
For more information, visit www.mybestfriendgoldie.com.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville