Willow is a beautiful 7 year old who loves playing with baby dolls, riding her bike and playing outside especially on the swings while singing, Happy Birthday, Jesus Loves Me and Jingle Bells are a few of her FAVORITE songs.
Willow came to live with us when she was 7 weeks old and we were finally able to adopt her 16 months later. Her start in life came with many challenges through no fault of her own, she cried uncontrollably and would have jitters. She also wasn’t meeting any of the developmental milestones that were typical for healthy infants. Since she came to live with us she has been under the consistent care of several University of Iowa Doctors and Specialists and has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and ADHD. Early on, we were unaware of the extent of the challenges and delays that Willow would face as she progressed in age – but one thing was certain – we would continue to provide unconditional love and support for her regardless of what new challenges came our way.
As she got closer to school age – her developmental and learning delays became much more apparent – and so she was able to qualify for 3 year old preschool through the Bettendorf Community School District. She had an AMAZING teacher and support staff working with her and was able to attend full time preschool for 3 years.
Enter COVID-19 and Virtual Learning. Even with the supports that an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) provides – Willow didn’t gain as much progress as we would have hoped in the first portion of her kindergarten year. The constraints of virtual learning just aren’t the best for kids with special needs, so we were excited to get her back to full time in-person learning late 2020. Between the remainder of the kindergarten year and the start of her first grade year the teachers have seen some great progress and we continue to modify her educational goals as prior ones are met.
As the years have passed we continue to learn more about life with a FASD kiddo – though her struggles are many; we continue to try and meet her where she is and adjust our expectations. A few of the struggles that Willow faces are moments where she gets into a feeling of fight or flight. If she is faced with something that scares her or is out of normal – she may decide to run off which is of course not very safe. Also, she is becoming increasingly aware of her peers and their progress and sometimes resorts to hitting herself or ‘shutting down’ (where she stares off into space) when she is frustrated or doesn’t understand something. Often times we have noticed that our family dog Bentley has a calming and therapeutic effect on Willow. This observation along with the need for consistency in Willow’s life led us to research and find an organization out of Ohio that trains and places service dogs with people of various disabilities.
We have learned that absolute consistency in Willow’s day to day routine is a necessity and because it’s impossible for complete consistency in a school setting – a service animal is a perfect choice to fill that need. A typical FASD service dog can be trained to prevent a child from fleeing, hitting themselves or just simply lay on them or near them for a calming presence. They can also be used to help locate their kiddo if they’ve wandered off somewhere.
After receiving letters of recommendation and support from various professionals that support Willow – we completed the 4 Paws for Ability application and interview and were approved for a placement. Now the financial obligation of raising the $17,000 participation fee is in front of us – the actual cost of breeding, training and placing a service dog is considerably higher but 4 Paws for Ability receives donations and grants to help absorb some of the cost. Through a partnership with a local screen printing company we are able to help raise money towards this goal. Of course people can also donate directly to 4 Paws for Ability and assign their donation directly to Willow’s name. Though donations, t-shirt purchases etc. are all helpful – prayers are just as important. We trust that God will provide the necessary provision and patience as we move through this process.