Let us introduce Harry. He is a fun, cheeky, adorable and intelligent 8 year-old boy. When looking at our ‘little man’, most people could never imagine the extreme challenges and issues he faces daily.
If you want a short description to understand Harry’s challenges I would say ‘imagine a 2 year old child in an 8 year old body’. A boy rapidly approaching his teen years, that cannot speak, is still in nappies and watches Mickey Mouse on repeat. Harry struggles to interpret the world, his daily behaviour shifts between anxiety, meltdowns and nighttime terrors. This same boy who is a tall, strong and the size of a 12 year old, is expected to function like his 8 year old peers, by going to school, making friends, playing games, and connecting and participating in community activities. Harry’s ability to filter the world through his senses is severely compromised. The world is simply too much stimulation, which leads to his anxiety and terror.
We need to do everything we can to make his life easier.
The more detailed description of our little man starts with his diagnosis.
Harry has been diagnosed with Severe Autism (Level 3), Severe Intellectual Disability, Sensory Processing Disorder and Anxiety.
He was first diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 and has been receiving a diverse range of therapies since the diagnosis.
Harry’s care requires constant supervision 24/7. For example he is receiving the highest available intervention supports at his special needs school, and he is only in grade 3. At home, if left alone Harry can become destructive to property and objects and has been known to smear the contents of his nappies. Also due to Harry’s anxiety, getting him to sleep can often take up to 4 hours.
In a report submitted this year from Harry’s Psychologist, a generic overview of Level 3 autism and severe intellectually disability was given.
“A person challenged by autism severity Level 3 has severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills, causing severe impairments in functioning, very limited initiation of social interactions, and minimal response to social overtures from others. For example, this is a person with few words of intelligible speech who rarely initiates interaction and, when he or she does, makes unusual approaches to meet needs only and responds to only very direct social approaches. Inflexibility of behaviour, extreme difficulty coping with change, or other restricted/repetitive behaviours markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres. Great distress/difficulty changing focus or action is also evident.
Severe ID (intellectual disability) manifests as major delays in development, and individuals often have the ability to understand speech but otherwise have limited communication skills. Despite being able to learn simple daily routines and to engage in simple self-care, individuals with severe ID need supervision in social settings and need lifelong support. The degree of Autism and ID will remain unchanged for the individual’s life.”
Harry has no speech, which leads to great frustration, anxiety and behavioural issues when communication is difficult. And communication is always difficult!
He has a lot of struggles with anxiety, sensory issues and meltdowns, which makes school and outings really difficult. He can become completely overwhelmed when in unusual surroundings, interacting with other people, or when over-stimulated by sight, smell and noise.
Because of Harry’s frustration, anxiety and sensory deregulation he exhibits physical aggression to himself, other people and objects. It is extremely distressing as parents to see your child display challenging behaviours and repeatedly self-harm, especially when this occurs daily.
So now you know about some of Harry’s unique challenges, let us explain how an assistance dog can help improve his daily life.
Working with Brama Labradors Inc., Harry will be teamed with a temperament tested and fully trained assistance dog. The dog will be a Labrador Retriever trained in skills specific to Harry’s needs.
The assistance dog will be certified to accompany Harry at school, in all public buildings as well as being a great benefit at home.
Taking the dog to school will be a huge assistance to Harry, using it to calm or distract Harry when he is becoming anxious or frustrated, and redirecting him in the event of a meltdown. It will provide him with comfort and become his companion and loyal friend. It will also be trained to assist in play and social interactions so Harry can really feel like a member of our community – just like any other growing boy.
The dog will also accompany Harry in the car to the shops, school, and doctor’s appointments, to center and calm him. It will guide Harry’s attention to it rather than his immediate surroundings so he is less overwhelmed by the environment. The dog will be a constant companion for him. It will also work to keep him safe, acting as a barrier at road crossings, as Harry does not understand the dangers of crossing a road. Also using it’s body as a barrier, the dog will create a safe distance between Harry and other people, so he does not feel anxious, overwhelmed and over-stimulated in social situations.
Harry will also use the dog to assist in his sleep routine, providing the comfort, relaxation and company he needs to fall asleep.
We are confident that an assistance dog will greatly improve Harry’s quality of life. We just need the help of the public to do it! So why are we asking for help?
A bit about us… Our family unit of 3 survives on one income. I (Harry’s mum) live with chronic medical issues, suffering from both Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, making me unable to do paid work. My daily role, when I am well enough to be out of bed, is carer to Harry. This role continues to get more demanding, as Harry’s has gets older and the gap between his abilities and his age continues to grow. My husband works full time, as well as being my carer, and carer for Harry. We have no extended family in Canberra.
We are doing everything we can to give Harry access to the best therapies available, and provide him with the tools that will make his life easier and happier. However, we do not have the $30,000 in savings required to purchase an assistance dog.
We sincerely thank you for taking the time to read Harry’s story. We hope that you choose to share it with your network of friends. If you have chosen to donate money towards buying Harry an assistance dog, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about Harry, autism or the amazing benefits assistance dogs can provide.
Tammy, Sam & Harry
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