Overcast   32.0F  |  Forecast »
Edit Module

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:
Edit Module
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Hanukkah Crafts for Kids: Holiday Picture Frame

Hanukkah Crafts for Kids: Holiday Picture Frame

If you're celebrating the holiday and looking for quick and easy crafts for kids, this fun and affordable little keepsake is a great way to display family memories.

Dad Gets Unexpected Reaction to Terrible Christmas Gifts

Dad Gets Unexpected Reaction to Terrible Christmas Gifts

British dad pranks his kids with bad Christmas presents, but didn't get the reaction he was expecting – and it's pretty sweet.

Simple Holiday Family Crafts to Make with On-Hand Material

Simple Holiday Family Crafts to Make with On-Hand Material

Does your family have paper cups, Legos, plastic spoons or toilet-paper rolls lying around? Transform them into angels, snowmen and even a chimney for Santa!

Bath Time Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

Bath Time Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

What's the best way to bathe your child? How can you keep them safe in the tub? A pediatric doctor at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit has tips.

Snowman Dessert Recipes: Tasty and Cute Ideas

Snowman Dessert Recipes: Tasty and Cute Ideas

Who doesn't love Frosty the Snowman? Kids will enjoy making – and eating! – some of these adorable and delicious snowman recipes.

Holiday Stamping Favorite Supplies from Stampin' Up

Holiday Stamping Favorite Supplies from Stampin' Up

Crafty company Stampin' Up offers a variety of fun stampers, punches and paper that transform into cool gift tags, cards and other fun DIY projects.

British Mom Sells Breast Milk to Pay for Christmas Gifts

British Mom Sells Breast Milk to Pay for Christmas Gifts

A mom of four from Manchester, England gets $20 for a bottle of her breast milk, which she sells online, reportedly to buy her kids presents for the holidays.

Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement