Fair   62.0F  |  Forecast »

Chickens and Autism: How 'Goldie' Helps a Michigan Teen

With the help of a feathered friend, Alair Bergman of Ortonville, Mich. has overcome autism symptoms, written a book and plans for a bright future

(page 1 of 3)

Alair Bergman's best friend is calm, patient and an excellent listener. Her pal doesn't judge and is there whenever needed.

But there's one catch: Alair's confidant is a chicken.

Since 2006, Goldie, along with dozens of other chickens, roosters and a few ducks, have helped the 17-year-old cope with autism. Alair was born with multiple challenges and learning disabilities, also including obsessive compulsive disorder, sensory integration dysfunction and auditory processing disorder.

"Some people would just verbally tell me to calm down, and they don't show me any way how," says Alair, who lives in Ortonville. "It's like telling somebody to build a rocket, but no blueprint or hands-on help."

Connection with chickens

But a miracle happened in Alair's life when she found an unusual talent in working with birds. A trip to Greenfield Village as a child helped open the window to the power of animals. She took to them – especially the chickens, and they to her. It was a revelation.

"When she was outside and with animals, she was calmer," says Alair's mom, Sharon. "We now had something to focus on. She had periods of time she was happy. And when she got into those periods where it was dark or hard, reacting to everything in the world and having tantrums and meltdowns, she could go and sit with Goldie. She would immediately calm down."

In 2006, Alair purchased a 5-month-old Goldie for $8. The name came easy, she says, due to the hen's golden feathers with white and black spots. The pattern is called a millefleur, which means "a thousand flowers." Goldie's breed is a Belgian Bearded d'Uccle.

The two were inseparable. They talked and talked. They watched TV together, Goldie sitting on Alair's shoulders. They played in the yard. The hen became a true best friend.

For Alair, poultry has a variety of benefits. The birds are smaller and more controllable than other livestock, she says. And they're hypoallergenic (she's allergic to anything with fur). By nature, chickens are skittish. This aspect actually helps her.

"You have to have a calm attitude," she says. "I was always a very hyper and loud little kid. Chickens taught me to be more quiet and calm around them, so they wouldn't be so skittish."

Meeting Temple Grandin

Goldie's influence prompted Alair to put her experiences with autism on paper. At the age of 12, with mom's help, she penned her first book, titled, My Best Friend Goldie. The book wasn't officially released until last year and came about with support from a famous autism advocate.

In 2010, mom and daughter met Dr. Temple Grandin at Metro Parent's Living With Autism Workshop. Grandin, a prominent author and speaker on autism, didn't talk until she was 3 1/2, communicating her frustration instead by screaming, peeping and humming. In 1950, Grandin was diagnosed with autism – and her parents were told she should be institutionalized.

Old to new | New to old
Mar 28, 2013 11:35 am
 Posted by  Molly MacDonald

Sharon Bergman is a HERO Mom. She has continually advocated for her children, while undergoing her own physical health issues. I applaud Sharon and Alair and trust that our community will be inspired by their journey so, that they will be able to continue to educate and give.

Jul 30, 2013 05:34 pm
 Posted by  Sallyintucson

I'm not in the least bit surprised that animals of any kind can and do calm (people who are) autistic. People with this disorder have senses that are on major overdrive - that's why they don't handle crowds, TVs and other things very well. Turn off the electrical what nots and put them with an animal and you'll see a big change. I've seen this time and time again. Why people find it so "amazing" is beyond me.

Add your comment:
Advertisement

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Back-to-School Lunch Notes Craft Project

Back-to-School Lunch Notes Craft Project

Add an extra dash of love to your child's midday meal away from home with a customized little letter, complete with a top-class loose-leaf paper spin.

CannaMoms Fight to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Kids

CannaMoms Fight to Legalize Medical Marijuana for Kids

Three moms of severely sick children want to change Florida law to treat their kids with cannabis. Opponents worry about lack of research and possible dangers.

Tips and Advice for Buying Glasses Online for Kids

Tips and Advice for Buying Glasses Online for Kids

Ever considered purchasing eyeglasses on the Internet for your child? A local optometrist offers insight into the process – and what to be cautious of.

Fruit Kiddy Cocktail Recipes from The Bird and The Bread

Fruit Kiddy Cocktail Recipes from The Bird and The Bread

Want to add a layer of fancy, not to mention healthy, to your kids' next snack or after-dinner dessert? Try these three recipes from the Birmingham restaurant.

Dick & Jane Baking Company Offers Smart After-School Snacks

Dick & Jane Baking Company Offers Smart After-School Snacks

A mom and dad team from Troy, Michigan teamed up to create wholesome, delicious cookies that teach kids state capitals, language, presidents and more.

Craft Roundup: Fabric Based Projects for Back-to-School Fun

Craft Roundup: Fabric Based Projects for Back-to-School Fun

Make some locker pencil cup holders, a seat belt cover, V-neck sweater vest and drawstring sleeping bag case to get kids excited about September.

Tips for Easing the New School Jitters

Tips for Easing the New School Jitters

Is your child attending a new school this year? Follow these five tips for making the transition easier.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement