Caleb is 5 years old, and he has nonverbal autism and epilepsy. But there is so much more to who Caleb is than his diagnosis. We have called him our Sunshine Boy since he was little because he has always brought so much joy to our family by his zest for life and his infectious smile.
When he was about 8 months old, we noticed something didn't seem quite right with Caleb's development. He couldn't bear weight on his legs when we tried to stand him up, and he held his hands in a peculiar way. We took him to many specialists including neurology, physical therapists, speech therapists, genetic specialists, and we couldn't find out the reason for Caleb's developmental delays. We finally pursued testing for autism at the Marucs Autism Center in Atlanta, and at 23 months, Caleb was diagnosed with moderate-severe autism. We continued to get him the therapies that had already been helping him, and we have added more therapies since then as well as a full time special needs preschool where Caleb receives specialized help and therapies. Caleb goes to school from 8-2 every day, and then begins 4 hours of Speech, ABA, and Occupational Therapy after school every day as well as on the weekends. He was most recently diagnosed with epilepsy when we noticed he was having absence seizures.
We have seen amazing progress with him, but we are constantly looking for the next piece of the puzzle that will help him. We have heard many stories of kids with autism who have benefited from having a service animal. Because Caleb is nonverbal, he cannot answer us when we call him (yet! We believe that one day he will be verbal). He loves to play outside, and even though our backyard is fenced, we have the concern that he could escape. If he escaped (as he has done in the past at another person's home), he cannot tell anyone where he should be or who he is. We keep him with us at all times when we are out in public, but if he were to wander, he also wouldn't be able to tell anyone he needed help. A service dog would be able to be tethered to Caleb for safety reasons.
Caleb has many sensory issues with his autism, and a service dog would be able to apply deep pressure by laying on him when Caleb has sensory needs. A service dog would also provide companionship to Caleb in a way that we can't provide to him. We have a good friend who has a therapy dog, and when she has come to visit, Caleb has become more verbal when the dog is around sayingand signing "Dog, dog". We believe that a service dog is the next step in helping Caleb connect with the world around him as well as us connecting with Caleb's world. We are planning on Caleb's service dog being a Labradoodle or Goldendoodle that will be hypoallergenic but also big enough to be able to provide the support that Caleb needs.
We have so many friends and family members who love Caleb, but don't always know how to help. The purchase and training of a service dog is a large expense, and contributing to this would be a huge blessing and a tangible way to help us best help Caleb.
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- The Levstek Family
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