Photo by Sydney Cromwell.
Baylor and Ruby
Katy Grimm holds her son Baylor and his puppy Ruby in the yard of their Hoover home. Baylor is autistic, and Ruby will be trained to keep him from wandering.
Four-year-old Baylor Grimm is not able to say most words, but he knows the word “Ruby.” It’s the name of the golden retriever puppy that’s almost always by his side.
Baylor is autistic and almost completely nonverbal. His parents, Ben and Katy, said he’s always on the move both inside and outside of their Hoover home.
“He began to wander, I mean pretty much as soon as he began to crawl. His goal has always been to get as far away from people as he can,” Katy Grimm said. “He’ll wander our house sort of like a caged animal, ready to get out.”
Though he was officially diagnosed in 2014, Baylor’s parents knew he was likely to have autism since he was about a year old.
“He just never began talking, was always in his own world,” his mother said.
Several years of speech therapy have given Baylor a limited vocabulary, but he still can’t understand verbal instructions. He’s also in therapy for fine motor skills and goes to a special education preschool class at Trace Crossings Elementary.
Raising a nonverbal child has changed the way the Grimm family operates. Baylor communicates love by touching someone’s head or rubbing his face against theirs, and Katy said her six-year-old daughter Margaret is thrilled that Baylor has recently begun touching her head. When he began stealing toys from his younger brother Elliott, his parents weren’t upset — they were happy to see him recognizing his brother’s presence.
“Some sibling rivalry is starting to peek out. That’s nice for us,” Katy laughed.
Katy said that parenting can be challenging, as trips to the grocery store require both parents and a loud noise might upset Baylor. This summer, he spent three months extremely anxious, for no reason that his parents could find. Much of the time, though, Baylor is a happy, laughing four-year-old.
“It’s a privilege to be able to parent him. He has allowed us to see the world through his innocence. He lives in a world that is just happy and just fun,” Katy said. “He doesn’t have to see the ugly, he doesn’t have to see the stares that he gets when we go out.”
Ben and Katy agreed that they wouldn’t want to change their son.
“It’s taught us tolerance, it’s taught us acceptance and what true unconditional love is,” Katy said.
However, the thought of their son wandering off and being unable to talk to or understand strangers terrifies Ben and Katy as Baylor grows older. He has a bracelet explaining his diagnosis and his parents’ phone numbers, but Katy said he requires a constant eye or else he will slip away. They realized that a bracelet wouldn’t be enough.
That’s where Ruby comes in. The puppy is still teething now, but she’s got a big job ahead of her. In January, Ruby begins a yearlong training program to become Baylor’s service animal, to stay with him at all times and gently herd him back to safety when he starts to wander.
“Having a little friend that can be with him all the time is just going to be a huge relief,” Katy said. “You just really have to meet him for two minutes to see his need for her.”
The Grimms are working with a dog trainer in Hueytown. They had originally been discouraged by the cost of training service animals, but they realized that Ruby doesn’t need to perform high-level tasks like sensing seizures or guiding a blind person. She just needs to stay close to Baylor and keep him out of dangerous situations.
The training costs around $6,000, which is more than the family can afford. However, they started a GoFundMe page and family and community members chipped in. In seven days, they had raised $4,600.
Ruby’s training starts this month, but Katy said she seemed to know her job from the beginning. Since they brought the puppy home, Ruby has loved to be right next to Baylor and tug at his jeans when they play. And the affection is mutual. Katy said Baylor shows no interest in the family’s other dog, but he always wants to hold and play with Ruby.
“From day one he has been all about Ruby,” Katy said.
Once the training is complete, the Grimms hope that Ruby can go with Baylor everywhere and be a watchful eye. This will be especially important as he enters kindergarten at Shades Mountain Elementary.
The Grimms will apply to have an aide specifically for Baylor, as his wandering will be too much for one teacher in a classroom to handle. However, they don’t know yet if that request will be granted.
“Those teachers, they already have so many students to look out for. It takes one teacher only to look after Baylor,” Katy said.
Ben and Katy also hope it will ease one of the constant worries that come with a child with autism.
“I didn’t realize how much it bothered me until he had the bracelet and I felt 100 pounds lighter. So I can only imagine the peace of mind that this is going to serve,” Katy said.