Welcome...

My name is Sharon and I am a Christian pastor. I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. I grew up in a small farming community on the outskirts of Slippery Rock. Over the past 35 years I’ve taken care and loved a variety of animals. I am a licensed CPT thru the PA Dept. of Agriculture. I am currently working on my masters degree in Biblical Studies & Theology. I am also taking an online Web Developement Masterclass. I am co-owner, with my husband Scott, of our beautiful farm which is located in Lackawannock Twp. Mercer, PA. On our farm I raise & train guinea fowl, quail and alpacas. I also dabble in vermiculture which is composting with worms. Sandshaven has a farm shoppe with a studio in the back for photography. I sell numerous unique items in my shoppe, as well as, offer therapeutic adult programs. I also provide rentals on wooded crackling firepit sites. I am a mother of 2 children. My daughter, Amaris, is a registered nurse, RN. And my son Brighton is in middle school. Brighton is autistic and is primarily non-verbal. His autism has changed our lives and the way we view the world around us. It has also guided us in the direction of Guinea Fowl. Strange... I know.. but true. And I am here today to share our story.

But first we should look at Autism.. What is Autism? Autism is a neurobiological disorder. It is part of a group of disorders know as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 1 in 68 children are on the autism spectrum. ( 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls ) By comparison, this is more children than are affected by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or down syndrome combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic and social groups. Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. Some Signs of Autism... Lack of or delay in spoken language. Repetitive use of language and / or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects). Little or no eye contact. Lack of interest in peer relationships. Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play. Persistent fixation on parts of objects. Now this is just an overview of autism. For a deeper look into this disorder... Please check out Autism Speaks or the National Autism Association.

Brighton didn’t show any signs at first. He was a happy, interactive, playing, attentive, babbling boy. We never noticed anything till after his baby shots on August 31, 2004. It was like someone shut off his lights. He stopped responding to us. Stopped talking.. Stopped looking at us.. He just stopped.. It was horrible. We started to think maybe he had hearing problems. That maybe he was deaf. We scheduled him a hearing test on Sept 19, 2004. The tests came back that his hearing was fine. And we went home with no answers. Over the next few months we tried everything to figure out what was wrong with our baby. After many visits to many different doctors he was diagnosed with Autism on Dec. 22, 2004 at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

How Autism Affects Our Son

Social Challenges:

Autism affects people in many different ways.. Our son has social challenges, communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors and associated medical conditions. Wow!!! That sounds like a lot.. And it is a lot.. Brighton has a hard time adjusting to his surroundings. Things that we don’t notice will bother him in devastating ways. Typically children are social by nature. They gaze at faces, turn toward voices, look when they are called... Brighton would stare past you like you weren’t even there.. Like you were a chair or some other inanimate object. He has difficulty engaging in the give-and-take of everyday human interactions. Brighton has difficulty playing social games, he doesn’t imitate other kids and he prefers to play alone. Brighton does not respond to displays of anger or affection in typical ways. He has difficulty interpreting what others are thinking and feeling. Or the ability to interpret gestures and facial expressions, the social world is very bewildering to him. Brighton also has difficulties regulating emotions. Which makes him seem ’immature’ with behavior such as crying or having outbursts in inappropriate situations. It leads to disruptive and aggressive behavior. The tendency to ’lose control or melt down’ is worse in unfamiliar, overwhelming or frustrating situations.

Communication Difficulties

Brighton is non-verbal.. But is capable of making chirps, grunts, screams and squeals at will and yes, very loudly. Brighton is extremely smart so imagine the frustration of his early years when he was unable to communicate. It led to aggression... Pinching, hitting, biting, pulling hair, screaming and crying for hours on end. It was awful not understanding what he needed or wanted.. Running around frantic trying to fix one issue after another. And failing more times than not.

Repetitive Behaviors

Brighton does have a few repetitive behaviors.. When he gets over stimulated he does hand-flap a bit. He loves to twirl objects. And is fascinated by things that flutter or spray and trickle down. He likes to rearrange things and place in certain orders. All those behaviors... that doesn’t sound so bad.. Right? Right... But life is never that easy when it comes to ASD. Brighton’s repetitive behavior brought on spitting.. Not for any kind of disgusting reason other than the love of watching the spray.. He would spit for hours on end... Up in the air towards lights and windows. Not understanding or even caring about the possible consequences.. The spread of germs did not matter. The clean up did not matter. He was compulsive.. He enjoyed it. It was the people around him that did not. We tried everything to get him to stop. Nothing seemed to help...

Associated Medical Conditions

Brighton has unusual responses to sensory input. He has difficulty processing sensory information, or stimuli, such as sights, sounds, smells, & tastes. Brighton is hypersensitive to sounds and noises. He is unable to wear certain textures in clothing. Ordinary stimuli can be painful, unpleasant or even confusing. As a result of Brighton’s sensory processing he has eating issues. Not being able to tolerate the sight, let alone, the taste or     feel of creamy, or squishy foods. Which limits his diet greatly. Brighton has a lot of issues to deal with...         And it is not easy.

We started Early Intervention, as soon as possible, after his diagnosis. We had a speech teacher, an occupational therapist and a special education teacher visit our house 3 times a week. They were wonderful and helped us (the family) deal greatly with Brighton’s condition but we saw little improvement in Brighton. When he turned 3 years old their services ended.. He was considered too old for in home services. So he started school at McGill in an IU4 Autistic Support Group. He had a TSS now and a BSC. He was still having speech and OT But he didn’t adjust well... Quickly his behavior increased and his health decreased. He stopped eating and he lost weight fast. It didn’t take long and he looked like he was on deaths door. It was the scariest time in our families life... You can’t make a person eat... I was on the phone with children’s hospital scheduling a feeding tube when he popped a froot loop in his mouth. Since that day he has only ate crunchy things but at least he eats. We started going for treatment at the Feeding Institute.. I have to admit... I learned a lot.. But it didn’t seem to help Brighton much. We followed the IU4 to Pulaski. We were still not seeing much progress but still lots of aggression. We still had a team of a TSS, BSC, Speech and OT in addition to the IU4 teacher and aides. We went crazy searching for anything or anyway to help Brighton cope... To help us cope.

* TSS - Therapeutic Staff Support

* BSC - Bachelor in science

* OT - Occupational Therapist

We found an article on how flocks of birds were helping people with autism. We started to consider the idea.. Would birds help Brighton? He loved animals. But would it really work.. We decided to try it. It couldn’t hurt... And we were off in search of the perfect flock.

One day, guineas caught our eye... We researched them for months. During that time we were lucky enough to find the Guinea Fowl International Association. We joined and started asking every question under the sun on the forum.. I needed all the help I could find since I had never raised guineas before. And messing up was not an option. A lot of people on the forum were very helpful answering even the silliest questions. They even pointed me in the direction of our first therapy flock.

We bought a small flock from a local farm and we ordered a few online. We had our flock but now what to do with these chirping little babies that huddled in the corner whenever anyone was near.. They all seemed so fearful.. So I started to sit.. I sat for hours on end, day after day in front of the cage. I researched autism, did bills, talked on the phone, watched TV, chatted on the guinea fowl forum... And of course I watched Brighton watching us. He was drawn to them.. He couldn’t ignore them. As the days went on the keets got used to us. They didn’t seem to mind us being near and started to eat small treats from our hands.

When Brighton was home he liked to watch the birds... He would stand and gaze at them while the keets ran around playing in a wild frenzy. Chasing each other and chirping sweetly... Brighton would be mesmerized.. They seemed calming to him. There was no doubt they had his attention.

But I wanted his attention too... I started working even more with the birds. Feeding them in order.. Calling them with bells. Getting them to jump up on me when asked. They were a crazy class... But I truly liked them.. And I loved how much Brighton enjoyed them. They bridged the gap between reality and his closed world.

He liked calling the birds with bells and chasing them back into their cage... He would repeat it over and over.. While Echo tried to keep them herded on the towel. It really was hilarious to watch.. lol

As the guineas grew.. They got louder and more rambunctious. They also got tamer and more willing to play. We got to the point where they took turns for treats. And we noticed Brighton’s attention span was expanding. Before the guineas he couldn’t sit still.. Not even for a minute.. Now he was able to sit and watch the turn taking guinea. Eventually even staying till the end of the training session for his special treat.

We worked and played as a family with our flock.. Even the puppies joined in.

Everything turned into a guinea game..

The guineas were part of our family or maybe we were part of the flock. Brighton loved to imitate them. He was able to make the different sounds and calls remarkably well. He didn’t mind the noise they made. Maybe it just grew on him as the keets grew? As time went on his fear of crowds seemed to pass... When Brighton was in public and he would start to melt-down. We would say.. They’re just a bunch of guineas.. Just stay in our flock. Which he seemed to understand and accept.

The guineas have been wonderful for Brighton.

We use their eggs, feathers, feed, grit, and seed for numerous games and sensory needs.

Some of the games we play...

Eggs

Hunting game - Counting Games - Bigger / Smaller

Feathers

We use their feathers for crafts.

Counting - Matching - Identify the Colors

* Can also be played with the actual guineas. *

Feed, Grit, & Seed

Sensory input - Turn taking - Bigger / Smaller

Since we got our therapy flock.. We have noticed... Increased attention span, more communication and social interactions. Better self regulating and seldom aggressive behaviors. Brighton has made amazing progress. Yes, We still have our team of professionals.. Our TSS, BSC, Speech, OT, Teachers and Aides. And we appreciate all their knowledge, input and feedback. And thank them greatly.. We are proud of our team!!! But not as proud as we are of Brighton.

Autism is usually a life-long condition. But there is no doubt..

Therapy CAN reduce the symptoms of autism.

And our kind of therapy is FUN!

Because of the success with my unconventional therapy flock of guineas. I added, in 2013, another therapy worthy critter to our farm.. A beautiful small herd of alpacas. Granted, I had to buy 3 to get 1 therapy alpaca but Autumn is sweet as can be and she would love to meet you.

I am excited to announce the new additions to the therapy crew.. An adorable flock of Coturnix Quail. Training has begun... and we have very high hopes for the future.

I hope you enjoyed our journey... at least so far.. Thank you for reading.

Updated 03/17/17



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