Here, Summer, 11, tells the story in her own words.
H￼ugging my mate Poley, I gently stroked her soft black and white feathers.‘Do you like that?’ I cooed at my chicken.
I was given Poley as a gift back in August 2016. Partially blind, she needed extra care. Following me around the house, she’d even be waiting for me at the door when I arrived home from school.My autism means I find it difficult to fit into social situations and I found the classroom especially hard. But Poley fixed my broken heart. I had my own best friend who was never mean or judged me. My mum, Cynthia, 43, saw how this one chook had transformed me, so we got 15 more!
Every day, I would rush home from school to hang out with my feathery friends.I realised chickens were similar to humans in the way they interacted. I picked up from the chickens’ body language if they didn’t want a hug or were scared. The chooks even had their own pecking order – just like in the playground!
Spending time with them made me happy, I felt loved and wanted. And if I had a bad day at school, I’d talk to the chickens and feel better. ‘This is how I want everyone to feel!’ I gushed to Mum. ‘Why don’t we introduce them to the community?’ she suggested. ‘Then everyone can enjoy time with our birds.’ I was ecstatic. Everyone deserves some chook-love. Starting a Facebook page called Chickens To Love, we spread the word. Through local clubs, I introduced the chooks to other people with autism. Seeing the smiles on their faces was wonderful.
My brothers Finley, 12, and Oliver, eight, also have autism, so I got them involved. Oliver started growing the barley sprouts the chooks eat and he’s even written a how-to guidebook for others wanting to try. Finley breeds meal worms the birds love to nibble on. Then, in January 2017, we had some exciting news. Mum had approached a community organisation and they offered to run my chicken program in their centre. In just 48 hours they built a coop so people could bond with my brood of autism therapy chickens.
Local breeder Bianca supplied more chickens for me to train at home. We’d hatched the perfect plan! When people meet the chicks, I demonstrate the best way to hold them and tell them the birds’ names. But I wanted to reach even more people, like the elderly who can’t come to us. So, we decided to raise funds to buy a caravan. Months of promotions and donations paid off, and at the beginning of this year, we were able to buy our own mobile chicken van. We hope to be on the road soon. I’ve also been plucky enough to win a Young Citizen award for my efforts. I’ve realised my autism isn’t a disability but a super-power. Mine just happens to be chicken whispering!
To donate, go to Summer's fundraising page on GoFundMe.
Read more in this week's issue of that's life!