"Well the time has come family, friends, and all that have always supported our journey on the Autism spectrum:) We have been talking about the process of applying for an Autism Assistance Dog for the past 8 months and we are incredibly stoked to announce that Good Dog has approved us to receive a dog as well as graciously invited us to be a part of their small but powerful family. Good Dog is a tax exempt non-profit dedicated to providing more love and acceptance in lives of children with autism, their families and the larger community through autism service dog companionship. Please check out their website further -- truly an amazing organization! gooddogautismcompanions.org
A lot of people ask me what would a service dog do for August? I think for some it's hard to imagine because we have all heard the words "Autism or Autistic" but to actually understand the meaning I think you have to be a part of the world of Autism -- live it, breathe it, see it, be it, and most importantly embrace it. We are almost 3 months into this 2 year journey so I have a LOT to learn, but I would like to share with all of you some of the ways having a service dog would benefit August's life and our life as a family.
Well first and foremost, if you’re an animal person, having a pet always enriches your life. Unconditional love, companionship, playing, and learning experiences together are feelings and memories that can never be replaced:) But on the more serious side of our needs, sleep is a little bit of a tense subject in our house at the moment:( I will start off by explaining that August is what they describe as a sensory seeker. So while many people believe that autistic people do not want to be touched by other others -- August wants to be touched or stimulated by a person most of the time, including while sleeping. His need for touch was very obvious to me with in the first month of being born, needing to not only hold my finger to sleep but keeping a tight grip until he fell into a deep enough sleep to be unconscious of his need. Not only was this routine required for him to fall asleep, but he would wake and need my hand 5 to 10 times a night to stay asleep. As a new mother taking in advice from all directions, I thought "This is crazy! I can't let this 'bad habit' form so early, I am never going to get any sleep." So I tried letting him work through it on his own and soon came the night terrors. 30-45 minutes of complete insanity. There was nothing I could do to get him to stop screaming. I didn't understand what was happening because he looked awake -- but I could tell he wasn't. We would turn all the lights on -- the TV -- try and take his clothes off to stimulate his body to just wake up. Nothing worked, so out of sheer exhaustion and heart break I just went back to letting him hold my finger to sleep. We now know that sleep is a problem for most on the spectrum. The way our child psychologist explained it is people on the spectrum have faster sleep cycles than typical people. So when you and I kind of wake up or roll over at the end of our sleep cycle we just go back to sleep. When August is at the end of a sleep cycle he is out of his body and mind -- I don't how else to explain it. Being that he is sensory driven, he literally needs touch, a squeeze - rub arm or back - hold hand and he will go right back to sleep. If someone is not there to give him that input, he will night terror, and that still can happen 5 to 10 times a night and last 30 to 45 min and then still have to fall back asleep. So at this point his father and I take turns sleeping with him because ..... Well.... We have no other choice, and we all NEED and DESERVE sleep to function and be happy and healthy. Now here's the awesome part!!!! Our dog will be trained to sleep with August and stay in bed with him all night and be taught to recognize his behavior/need and give him the physical touch he needs to remain asleep. I have no words to adequately express how much this will help my family as a whole.
My hopes are that our dog will eventually go to school with August:) Even though he is extremely social and performs well academically, school is unfortunately one of our very hard mountains to climb:( He does very well in the classroom that he is in now -- but there are only 8 students and it's only 3 hours a day. We all know, as he gets older, classrooms only get bigger and time commitments grow longer. Unfortunately those are the factors that trigger his behaviors the most :( A densely packed classroom combined with several transitions and expectations in a school day seriously over stimulates him. Our dog will be trained to recognize those over stimulating moments when he is receiving to much information and try and calm and refocus his attention on the dog. He or she will also be helpful to have a constant comfort and help process what over stimulates him so he can one day get to the point where he can control his behaviors more effectively and realize he may not prefer the situation that he's in, but will be able to endure undesired atmospheres for longer periods of time in a more appropriate manner.
Our dog will also help with August's social skills by wearing patches on his service dog vest saying things like 'Ask what my name is' or 'Ask to pet me' helping with initiating conversation with people outside of his comfort zone. Alongside improving social skills -- August having a pet will hopefully help create selflessness or in other words help better develop empathy. Lack of empathy -- ability to understand and share the feelings of another -- is common for people on the autism spectrum.
August also struggles with awareness of his environment I guess is the best way to put it. He is a bit of a wanderer. Social and environmental awareness is something most of us are born with but is sometimes hard for people on the spectrum. So staying next to me while walking down the street is difficult with August, or going to the grocery store and expecting him to stay close to me while shopping is impossible. He literally runs right into people. Vehicle awareness has been a challenge for us as well -- which is SUPER SCARY. Our dog will be trained to walk a specific way to keep August in front of me and walking in the direction we need to go in and most importantly safe:)
To all of you that choose to invest in my son’s happiness and future I thank you from the very bottom of my heart. The path my life has taken was a very unexpected one, but I wouldn't change it for anything. Not only did August make me a mother, but he made me a softer -- more compassionate and understanding human being. I am forever grateful for my son and will continue to do and provide anything to make his life the best I possibly can.