Alexander is loving and inquisitive.
In 2019, when Alexander was two-and-a-half, he was diagnosed with Autism (ASD), a Mixed Expressive-Receptive Language Disorder, as well as a Global Developmental Delay. From that day forward, we began researching therapeutic options for Alexander as well as educating ourselves on ASD and the supports we could interweave into his daily life. Starting exactly on his third birthday, we began in-home ABA therapy services. Applied Behavioral Analysis is a specific form of therapy designed for persons on the Autism Spectrum. Over the course of two years, Alexander received more than 2,000 hours of one-on-one therapy in our home and during that time we watched him gain innumerable skills, from cognitive to gross motor, social to verbal, life skills to emotional regulation, he was flourishing. However we knew that this was only the first of many therapeutic experiences he would need in order to live his happiest, healthiest life, and fulfill all of his potential.
When Alexander was first diagnosed, I was early on in my pregnancy with his younger brother, Arthur. There were so many unknowns, and quite a bit of fear for how he may be treated in public, how his elementary experiences might be, and how his quality of life might pan-out. I wanted to ensure I was doing everything possible to give him the tools he deserved and needed. Our community is blessed with a phenomenal Montessori school, a place that provides a sanctuary of love and kindness, that creates a joyful environment where children can express themselves and follow their intuition. When Alexander turned five-years-old, we began to transition him out of ABA services and into his new Montessori classroom.
Everything was new, everything was unique, and everything came with its own complications.
Alexander adores his school, his classmates, his teachers, but his experiences and responses to situations are unique. His Speech Delay can make it more difficult for him to articulate exactly what he needs or what has occurred, and when combined with the social barriers of his Autism diagnosis, he can have trouble interacting with other peers. He may repeat the same questions or perseverate on a single item that someone has. He also may have a difficult time disengaging with a peer after something has occurred and continue to try to recreate the experience on loop (a peer used his pencil, bumped into him, said something he found upsetting, etc.). Alexander is also prone to “scripting” and may act out a favorite scene from a movie or show in an attempt to connect with other peers.
Alexander is very sensory driven. This can be a blessing and a barrier to his learning. Sensory items can assist him calming down and focusing on a task at hand, and at the same time they can become overstimulating, and create a disruptive environment. He might become fixated on playing in the sink, with sand, dirt, pebbles, or playdoh. Fine materials that can be sprinkled are one of his favorites, but he can become overly focused on them, and it ends up causing a disruption rather than a calming environment. At times he will throw them around as he enjoys watching them fall, but this can be upsetting to other peers who do not want to be sprinkled with dirt.
There will always be unknowns to his day, no matter how consistent we try to keep everything. Some days a teacher might be gone, or student absent. Another peer may be feeling tired or sad. An item in the classroom may have broken and be out for mending, all of these things can affect how Alexander experiences his day. I can always tell when he has a had a day with an unknown variable tossed into it as he comes home disregulated. He will often be hyper-focused on something, frustrated, prone to stimming, and overall exhausted by his environment.
At school his teachers are kind and understanding, and take the time to help him navigate these feelings, however having a service dog who is also available to offer comfort, help redirect, and provide affective, consistent deep pressure (petting, hugging, cuddling) would be a boon I cannot begin to quantify. Alexander adores animals, and he has shown a particular affinity towards dogs. They are comforting to him and he enjoys having conversations with dogs, showing them his toys, asking them questions, and will seek out the comfort of animals when he is upset. Having a service dog in the classroom would afford him quicker transition times and provide him with an opportunity to independently regulate himself.
Alexander has always struggled with sleeping. Circadian rhythm interruptions are common among people with ASD. Having a service dog who is trained and happy to sleep in bed with him would be incredibly beneficial. Transitions to nighttime are difficult for Alexander, and he often seeks other comforts (a extra-large stuffed animal, cuddles from mom and dad in the middle of the night, weighted blankets, etc.). Having a dog to comfort and provide a sense of safety and normalcy to his bedtime would be a blessing for the entire family.
I also hope that by having a service dog, it may bring more awareness and empathy when we are out in public. There have been unfortunate interactions, some with adults, other times with children and peers, who have been unkind and cruel towards him. Having a service dog is a blatant reminder that not all disabilities are easily seen, and that we should all practice grace and patience towards those we meet.
From transitions in the home, to learning and social opportunities at school, to public outings and potential travel, to consistent sleep and positive social interactions, the lists of benefits from a service dog are countless. And each of them in their own special way will allow Alexander to live a fuller, happier life.
We are a family of four with a very limited income and we sincerely appreciate your love and support in our journey to funding a service dog for Alexander.