My 6-year-old cousin-in-law just got approved for an autism assistance service dog. This is bloody great news for the family, as they've spent the better part of the last two years trying to secure a structured, safe, enriching environment for him.
When Perth didn't work out, he and his mum moved to the US. That went well for a while, but Ned needed more family around him, so they moved back here to give it another go.
Earlier this year, he got accepted into a special education school with a program specifically for auti kids. He got a proper assessment and access to teachers who understand his needs. He and his mum live with his auntie now, and they tell us all the time about how much he's changed since starting school.
In fact, he enjoys school so much that some weekends, he grabs his school bag and gets ready to go. He's performed in a class play. He's made friends. He's doing more 'normal kid' stuff now, and seems to be blossoming as a result. Slowly, but still blossoming.
One of his assessors suggested he does know what's going on, but being non-verbal, can't express himself well enough to have a proper communication exchange. In contrast, his family is super-verbal, so it must be frustrating for him. Sometimes it's hard enough getting a message across when you can speak, which is why I prefer to email people instead of meeting face to face. Can you imagine how much worse it would be if you were never taught constructive ways to deal with that frustration?
I learned the other day that Ned self-harms. :( Fortunately, he's been doing it less since being given ways to interact with other people.
All this makes the assistance dog thing seem promising. With a trained companion pup helping him manage his moods and behaviours, and generally being a friend who doesn't need words, we think Ned has a great chance of living a normal life.
Autism assistance dogs are provided by Smart Pups, who raise and train a Labrador or Golden Retriever pup over the course of 18 months. At the end of it, they send the dog to its charge and settle them into their new life. As much as I love animals, I'll be the first to admit I wouldn't have the patience for that sort of thing. They sound like a pack of heroes over there.
We're now raising the $20,000 needed to cover the pup's purchase, food, vet bills and training. However long it takes, we'll get there. We've set up a website, in case anyone's interested in supporting the cause.
A couple years ago, I read an article about an auti man who spent his childhood uncommunicative. Finally, in his 20s, he somehow got hold of an iPad, and had a typed conversation with his mother. He knew words. His brain just couldn't link the parts that would let him speak them.
One day, I'd like to have a conversation with cousin Ned. :)