Sofia's Soul Companion/Service dog

Sofia is my world. As many parents feel the same with their children, there is a moment when you can't breathe when you get the news that your child is not typical like other children. Sofia was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum at 19 months old with speech delay. Right away we jumped at everything available OT, PT, Speech, ABA and special education. We were even able to enroll Sofia into early head start in an attempt to help with social & emotional development, which is huge for Sofia. We were not seeing progress after a few months, and I actually felt like things were getting worse. We found out that Sofia was being physically abused by the lead teacher and it was all documented on camera. My heart shattered for her. She could not tell me about her pain because she didn't have the words; she showed me with behaviors. As my child shut down to the world, she at least had one companion since birth, Peyton, her beloved dog.

With us being a military family we moved to another state nearly a month after the documented abuse. We got the ball rolling to get Sofia into school and to get all her services up again. However, it is a struggle when you can see your daughter not connecting with adults or peers. Sofia started hurting herself by pulling her hair, scratching herself, hitting herself, and even throwing her body into anything close by. Sofia never hurt a soul but she hurt herself daily for months straight. She even took to running from adults and staff, which resulted in her being labeled as a "runner", and she has no understanding of danger or her surroundings. Around the same time, we thought Sofia could be having possible seizures but were not able to catch them on an EEG. I can't explain the feeling inside when you see your child in pain and yet she can't tell you anything because she lacks the words.

Then something amazing happened, Sofia turned 4 years old and life all of a sudden just changed. She woke up with words. She would use the bathroom. She connected with peers. She smiled! She seemed like she was no longer stuck on the inside looking out in pain. The behaviors decreased to nearly nothing. She stopped making noises. She would sleep, when before she never slept. She would let people near her and could handle lights and sounds. She learned to love music! Life seemed good and just in time to travel from one side of the country to the next for yet another move with the military.

Sofia turned 6 years old and entered Kindergarten and we noticed major changes again. Sofia started tolerating a little less from her peers, and she no longer wanted people to look at her. Sofia started to call herself stupid and dumb. She developed major anxiety. Sofia once again started to show signs of absent seizures such as rapid eye movement, rapid blinking and dazing off for lengthy periods of time. Sofia was subsequently diagnosed with a sleep disorder, which is common for children on the spectrum. Sofia's asthma comes back and she is once again running from adults and is labeled as a flight risk by her school. Sensory issues also began to intensify and, at times, Sofia no longer tolerates lights and sounds like she used to. Now Sofia hurts herself again during stressful situations. Sofia is also recognizing that she has differences from her peers. Then Sofia's one friend suddenly passed away, Peyton our dog. We were not prepared for that loss as a family. Sofia does not understand and asks daily for her.

As a mother, I hope many can relate, we search for answers and solutions. My daughter's heart is breaking and she is disconnected from the world at times. I recently found out that she is approved for a service dog specifically trained for her needs as an autistic child with Loyalty Service Dogs. It's explained to me that they're trained just like diabetic dogs starting at 8 weeks old. To know that my child has the opportunity to be paired with a companion trained specifically to all her quirks, medical needs and saftey issues is what every special needs mother dreams of. However, it comes with a hefty price tag of $20,000.00. The purchase agreement requires 30% down at the time of signing, and the remaining amount is due at the time of delivery, which is estimated to be 12 months.

Once again, I'm met with heartache, as we do not have the finances to provide this for my daughter. I'm applying for a few grants but they're only $1,000 each, if we are awarded any at all. That's only a possible $3,000.

I'm reaching out and sharing our story hoping that you can see how shut off from the world my daughter is. She is a beautiful soul that has her moments of showing the world who she is but the majority are moments that are unpredicted tantrums/melt downs, which have increased so much with her degression, it's made her life harder to leave the house. Imagine a child that can't laugh at times, feels like the peers around her are looking at her, a child that doesn't sleep, is oblivious to danger and bolts and even hurts her self and as a parent you at times can't not comfort her enough to stop. At least with a service dog, my daughter will once again have that companionship and not be alone. For the first time ever she will have a companion that can keep her safe and encourage her to be in public places. This is her chance to enhance her security and have a dog that trained in comfort/calming her in public, so she doesn't feel the anxiety and feel like the spotlight is on her because the service dog will serve as a deterrent.

Please find it in your heart to help my daughter experience life and freedoms that every child should have the opportunity to.


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Melissa Léon 
Plymouth, MA
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