Ford Lechtenberg is a survivor, and every day of his life is a success story. Ford, and his twin brother Finnigan, were born premature at just 24 weeks old, with Ford weighing just 1 lb 10 oz. The doctors did not expect them to survive the birth, let alone the months spent in the NICU.
So, when they did survive, the first years of their life were spent wondering what their levels of development would be. Ford was eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Level 1 Social Communication, and Level 2 Behavioral Supports), Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and Anxiety. He also has limited peripheral vision due to retinopathy of prematurity.
Ford turned 13 years old this September, and throughout his life he has been beating the odds, and surpassing expectations. Ford loves to fish with his Papa, enjoys anything history or science related, and enjoys gardening. He was especially proud of his tomatoes this year, even though he doesn't like to eat them himself... And he goes through life with a great sense of optimism. For instance, he likes to tell his brothers that it's okay that he's legally blind, even though he'll never be able to drive, he'll always get someone to drive him places like a chauffer! Although there are some things Ford will not be able to do, his parents have never let his diagnoses limit him in life.
Despite his (usually) positive attitude, Ford's life is not without daily struggles. For example, Ford has a difficult time with transitions, has sensory issues, walks slowly and unsteadily, has frequent anxiety and outbursts, struggles with communication and social skills, and has difficulty with sleep regulation, often times waking several times throughout the night. He has been moved around to various schools because of his anger outbursts, and is currently based out of a behavioral classroom. He attends traditional classes with a para as he can tolerate it, and because of his reduced peripheral vision, he learns via audio.
The unique aspect of a service dog as part of Ford's therapy, is that it can address ALL of these daily struggles, and more. Ford is an incredibly kind and thoughtful young boy, who desperately wants to make friends and connect with others. Ford's doctor recommended that a service dog will help to manage anxiety associated with his ASD, as well as mood swings associated with bipolar disorder. The service dog will be trained to sense when Ford is becoming agitated, and know to apply pressure to Ford's body. This will provide the sensory stimulation that Ford needs, and help him to de-escalate, allowing him to remain in social settings for longer periods of time, such as the classroom. His dog will also be dual-trained to assist Ford with his vision impairment, and he will have an increased sense of stability walking with his dog at his side. Another advantage will be regulation of Ford's sleep cycle. Compression and comfort throughout the night will help Ford to stay asleep for longer periods of time. Finally, the dog will provide a companion for Ford, allowing him to feel love and responsibility for another being.
As Ford's mother, Rachel, put it "Friendships often lead to an independence that a parent cannot provide." When she asked Ford how a service dog would help him, he talked about his desire to grow stronger physically, help to steady his walking, and be able to control his emotions. Ford has strong emotions, and when he has an anger outburst he is frequently embarrassed and apologetic afterward. He understands that he does not "fit in" with his peers, and does not get invited to do the same things that they do. Learning emotional regularity will be the strongest benefit a service dog can provide, and will allow Ford to grow socially.
Ford's parents, Grant and Rachel, have been considering a service dog for quite some time, but wanted to make sure that it was at the right time for Ford. After speaking with his Doctor and school psychologist, it was decided that the transition into high school would be the best time to introduce a service dog to the family. It will help him during the transition, and help him to feel more comfortable at a larger institution.
Ford was introduced to multiple dogs when this process began, but the smile on his face when he met Simba says it all...
Please, help us to bring Simba home!
If you are unable to donate, we ask that you please still share this story with others. We greatly appreciate, and thank you, for any support that you can offer!
For clarity, my name is Brittany Mailand, and I am Ford's cousin. I have been very involved in his life, and have seen first hand the daily challenges that he faces. Our family is so excited for Ford to have this opportunity, as we strongly believe it will have a tremendous positive impact on his future.
Thank you for your support!
- Louise Pennewell
- Steve Lacey
- Karen (Willhite) Stahlhut
- Gail Roland
- Ellen Shobe