Meet Our New Good Dog! Family! The Benitos

The Drake Center is proud to be partnering with Good Dog! Autism Companions to help a local San Diego family, The Benitos, raise funds for their daughter, Jana aka Peanut, to receive a service dog!

Good Dog! Autism Companions is a local non-profit dedicated to training personalized service dogs for children with autism and their families. The Drake Center has worked alongside Good Dog! for the past 7 years and we are thrilled to help another local family in their goal to obtain a service dog for their daughter.

To make an online donation to Peanut's campaign, you can donate here.

Jana, lovingly nicknamed “Peanut” by her family, has overcome many challenges in her young life. Peanut was diagnosed with Down syndrome and Autism before the age of 3. Peanut’s mother, Jennifer, details their journey so far:

“Jana came into our lives when she was just one month old.  At birth, her parents signed over all rights to her. We can only assume it was due to her Down syndrome diagnosis.  When we agreed to bring her into our home, we were fully aware of her disability, however, we never imagined the joy she would bring to our lives.  As soon as we met her we were in love. She weighed just under 6 pounds and instantly her name, Peanut, stuck! We educated ourselves on Down syndrome and connected with fellow families right away.  We knew this was going to be a long road, but we also knew she was worth it!

As Peanut grew, we started noticing that she was not meeting her milestones on time, even compared to her peers with Down syndrome.  We knew there was something else going on. Around the time she turned sixteen months old, she regressed in her speech. She went from being able to sign and speak up to 20 words to being completely non-verbal.  Peanut became overwhelmed very easily in loud groups, around new people, and in new environments. These meltdowns became something we dealt with almost on a daily basis. She started sorting her toys and clothing and become stuck in a trance-like state sometimes for hours at a time.  We couldn't reach her or help her engage with those around her. We knew we had to figure something out. Autism was constantly on the back of our minds, however, local therapist and doctors didn't seem concerned and told us it was a typical regression.

Luckily, we were in the process of changing to a new pediatrician who specializes in developmental disabilities and on the very first visit he expressed his concerns regarding her regression and he referred us to a research program with UCSD.  This program was working on finding new techniques to diagnose Autism at a younger age. As well as carefully diagnosing those with multiple disabilities. Finally, it looked like we were going to be able to help our little Peanut. I remember going into our first appointment.  We were excited to finally get some answers and possibly the help Peanut would need to succeed. However, we were not prepared for the heartbreak we experienced when we officially had clarification that yes, Peanut also had Autism.

Children having both Down syndrome and Autism is still somewhat new in the medical field.  It is very difficult to diagnose since there is often a lot of overlap. There is very little research on this dual diagnosis and therefore, many specialists are not able to make a clear diagnosis.    

Peanut has worked so hard throughout her short life to reach the smallest of goals.  From sitting, to crawling, to finally walking right before her 3rd birthday, she has had to fight constantly to do things that come naturally to typical children.  We knew that with her having both Down syndrome and Autism, her fight was going to be even tougher.

Peanut is now 3 1/2 years old.  She is energetic, determined and very strong-willed.  As she has gotten older we've been able to see the dominance that Autism plays in her life.  She is still fully non-verbal, she has constant meltdowns and struggles to overcome her stims daily.  We have learned so much from her in such a short time. But we know that our job is to help her in all ways possible. That's where her service dog comes in!

Peanut's overall quality of life will be improved by welcoming a service dog into our family.  We hope that this dog will help her overcome her stims, calm her when she feels overwhelmed in her environment, and even help her sleep better.  But most of all, we hope that this dog will help her create an emotional bond and have a best friend.”

To help raise funds for Peanut’s companion pup, The Drake Center is currently selling various products such as hats, beanies, and hoodies. If you would like to purchase any of these items, please stop by The Drake Center during normal business hours. You can also make an online donation here.

Please join us in our journey of helping Peanut receive her service dog!

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