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
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"It's all about you, the bird, how you're both connected and how well you can work together," Alair says.
In addition to animals, neurofeedback helps. The process uses a computer interface to detect brain activity. It teaches the brain to change itself and helps improve alertness, attention, emotional regulation, behavior, cognitive function and mental flexibility. Sharon, a neurofeedback therapist with a background in psychology, runs the program from her laptop.
"During my early ears in 4-H, neurofeedback got me through a lot of troubles," Alair says. "At the end of a very stressful day, it would calm me down, so I could sleep and process well the next day."
In neurofeedback, electrodes are attached to the skull and pick up electrical brain waves. The data is then sent to a computer and gives audio and visual feedback when a person emits positive or negative brain waves. The goal is to encourage positive brain function.
For example, one visualization is a lava lamp (her favorite). The more positive Alair's brain waves become, the higher the lava lamp bubbles rise. "Pachelbel's Canon in D" also plays. Alair jokes that she enjoys forcing herself into different emotions to see how it affects the brain scan.
It makes perfect sense for the girl who now loves to participate in drama and acting.
"I like being somebody you're not, getting up on stage, having fun and acting out different parts," she says. "I love the costumes. I love making the costumes, sewing and crafting." One costume she designed and made was a blue fox, with a perfectly detailed head and paws. Alair also paints and draws – she sketched all the book's artwork.
Looking to the future
In the near future, Alair wants to get a job so she can earn money and purchase her own things. She's thinking about being a sandwich maker at Jimmy John's. One day, she wants to have her own farm. She's "not one for cramped city corners," and loves the space, the outdoors and, of course, her birds.
But poultry farming will remain a hobby, the family says, because breeding the chickens to sell as pets won't bring in much cash. The only way money could be made is if the birds were sold for eggs or meat. And that's not going to happen. Not to her friends.
Besides, Alair has other talents to explore.
Last September, she picked up the violin for the first time. Another milestone. For most of her life, she couldn't tolerate audio, music or high-pitched noises. On a recent day in March, with a rooster named Jacob clucking in the background of their living room, she played a few pieces of music. It's just one of her many gifts, now able to shine through the healing of her autism.
"She has a lot of talents," Sharon says. "One of the things we've thought of that might be a career direction is being a professional storyteller. It blends all the drama, the costuming, the animals and everything. She can spin a really good story."
Throughout it all, Alair continues to grow.
"She said to me about a year ago, 'Mom, I don't want my best friend to be a chicken anymore,' which is great," her mother says. "And I let her know that best friends don't go away. Goldie can still be your best friend, but she has kids that are her best friends now."