Noah is nine now. Age three was when his anxiety manifested. With the encouragement of a teacher in his preschool who had a much greater understanding of what was happening than we did, our son started therapy. First play therapy, then occupational, then music and cognitive behavioral therapy. Also speech therapy to help with word choices and more occupational to deal with continued physical needs, and life skills counseling. Noah still uses a combination of these.
Six years, two more children and multiple diagnoses including Autism Spectrum Disorder later, we have discovered what works and what doesn't when it comes to good mental health in our home. For example, I need to do regular weight bearing exercise, go to therapy at least once every two weeks and write through my feelings. Noah needs to swim, keep up with his cello lessons, have an in-school action plan and attend his own therapy (sometimes bringing in his siblings) at least twice a month.
But it's not enough. Noah is a child. He has a diagnosed emotional delay. This means he and his three-year-old sister process the world with similar understanding and patience or lack thereof. Except Noah is nine years old, four foot nine, and unusually strong. You might see where I'm going with this. When a three-year-old starts kicking and screaming because the world is just too much, you pick her up and hold her or move her to a safe space. Not so for my oversized, muscular, pre-pubescent, highly anxious kiddo. He's big and strong enough now that I can't move him when he's struggling most. I can't hug him or hold him or reassure him in the ways parents should, let him know this isn't his fault, he is safe, it will be okay. And then there is the world looking at him with certain expectations for his abilities and behaviors.
Noah hasn't mastered emotional recomposure while overstimulated even though he looks old enough to control himself. This is not a reason for him to be punished. He needs help. He needs this animal companion, this doggy best friend, because he needs to know it's not his fault he was born this way. Noah needs to know that the unfortunate people who approach us in public when he's struggling the most--the people that say he is "bad" and should be ashamed of himself--are the people who should be ashamed. They don't know the whole story. Noah needs support in being the best he can because he is already toying with self-harm.
I truly believe Noah can learn to fully self-regulate. He has come very far in the last two years despite multiple negative reactions to medications. He fights his anxiety every day. But he needs help getting there.
We know dogs work for him. Noah's therapist has three dogs he interacts with for every session. He has also worked with animals at our local Humane Society chapter. This means a service animal can be that support, because trained animals can recognize high anxiety, panic attacks, ease flashbacks, sound alerts, track runners and herd to safety. One skill we would like to train in our animal is a lap command so the dog (which will be medium or standard sized) will sit on Noah's lap when he is entering an agitated state for a literal grounding effect ("deep pressure"). Another ease will be taking the dog into the school to help our guy self-soothe and re-enter the classroom after needing to leave.
I want to take a moment to talk about his school. It is amazing. The staff there have created a safe environment for an easily overstimulated child. This is no small task. Ask me and I will tell you they are a team of heroes; the most compassionate, driven group who genuinely care for every child's well-being. Still, our guy struggles. The classroom is noisy or quiet, there is too much motion or one small motion, there is a new smell or an old one . . . what will trigger Noah's anxiety is up for grabs. His school does the best they can, but he's not the only child there. And he needs to be in his classes because he's brilliant and he does love learning and he's missing it with regularity. Last year Noah could barely handle Math and he's never had much success during large group projects. He also couldn't do recess because it was too stressful. Noah couldn't go outside and play with his friends and just be a kid.
It has taken us years and considerable research to fully commit to this path. We have allergies, but we have found a dog breed (the Australian Labradoodle) that even our worst allergy sufferer is comfortable with. To ensure the animal who will eventually become the sixth member of our family is compatible, we've found a breeder that loves their animals immensely, follows up for life, breeds from service animals and works closely with a trainer who has 20 years experience training service and therapy dogs. The next puppy litters are due at the beginning and middle of October, and we are on the list to receive one! (Note: We wanted to rescue, but due to personality, allergy and training needs, that was not the best option for both animal and family.)
We have repeatedly tried saving for a service animal. Our insurance will not help us. Our income level prevents us from receiving scholarships or charitable aid. This is ironic because we are about $10 short every month to meet our minimum needs (we also have significant food allergies), and we currently have approximately $10,000 outstanding in medical debt on credit cards and with physicians who do not take (legal or harassing) action when we chip away by paying $25/bill/month. It's like the hits just keep on coming, because every time we set an earmark and save that amount, a vehicle breaks or something floods and mold grows or someone in our family has a serious medical need to meet that wipes out what we've saved. Still, we are hopeful.
After trying everything else, we decided we are just going to reach out to the world even though asking for help is hard. A full service animal will cost us $18,500. We have been told (by the trainer who you can read more about in updates) that only a full service dog can meet Noah's needs. The dog itself will cost $3,500 depending on coloring and whether it is assessed as therapy or service. We have already managed the $500 deposit. Right now, we are asking for help with the initial price of the animal and beginning training. That means $10,000 by mid-October. We will need to raise the remaining $7,500 to be paid at completion of the dog's training, which we estimate will be around April-June. If by some miracle we raise beyond that point, we will first cover associated costs with our therapy companion and then turn to paying down the debt we have amassed while meeting our child's non-negotiable needs. We are trying to get this animal as soon as possible. Because we need this. We need help in our home every day, and our home and hearts are ready to accept and love a new family member.
If you want to head up a fundraiser, send a donation through PayPal or mail (GoFundMe and WePay take total 7.9%), put together a fundraiser where you are, or otherwise connect, you can reach me through this campaign or at shawna (dot) [email redacted] (dot) com. This is also the email address associated with my PayPal account. If you are friends and family, you can use that setting to make your donation with no fees involved.
We thank you for your help.
UPDATE: Our projected costs have gone down dramatically thanks to a new trainer! Squee!
*edited to more specifically/accurately reflect our needs and goals