Robert Pawley has learned a lot about pigs this year.
Since his two pigs, Ham and Blueberry, arrived in May, he’s learned how to feed them, wash them and train them to walk using a show brush or show stick.
“I learned that pigs are pretty smart,” he said.
This is the first year Robert, 8 is showing animals at the Hartford Fair and he’s been working hard to get ready.
He and his mother, Ashley Pawley, visit his grandparents’ farm in Johnstown several times a week so he can take care of the pigs and practice.
“We are excited for him,” she said. “We just want him to try it, to learn and to experience a different atmosphere.”
Ever since Robert and his sister were little, Ashley has always encouraged them to try new things.
It’s especially important for Robert, who is on the autism spectrum.
Their family was living in Tennessee when Ashley started noticing her son was different.
He was extremely intelligent — demonstrating incredible computer skills at age 2 — but he struggled socially and was often rigid and anxious.
Ashley moved her children to Licking County and Robert was formally diagnosed with autism at age 5. They began receiving support from the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities and Service Coordinator Laura Middleton has helped the family through the IEP process and brainstorming solutions to help Robert, such as weighted blankets and headphones.
Now going into fourth grade at Carson Elementary this fall, Robert is playing Mound City baseball and is a new member of the Dusty Riders 4-H Club.
When it came time to choose an animal project, Ashley wanted something that would push Robert out of his comfort zone and make him more comfortable getting dirty.
“He needed to learn how to get dirty, and pigs were dirty,” she said. “We want him to understand it’s ok to get dirty.”
Robert loves watching “How It’s Made” and animal videos, so Ashley found some instructional videos about caring for pigs. Once he got information that fit his learning style, everything clicked.
Ashley said she’s enjoyed watching Robert getting more comfortable around Ham and Blueberry and is thankful for the opportunity to have her family participate in 4-H.
She said she would encourage other LCBDD families to get involved and try different projects.
“A lot of kids think they can’t do 4-H because they live in town, but they can do chickens or rabbits,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to let them try new things.