Hi friends! 🙂 Our sweet little Zella Mae was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when she was almost 3 years old. Here is just a very small part of her story. She was considered non verbal until she was about 2 years old. She struggles with transitioning from tasks and places. Making new friends is very difficult for her due to her communication skills. She has obsessions and that ends up being all she wants to talk about. She doesn’t understand yet how to engage in conversations. She is very musically talented and she uses that as a form of communication as well as a way to regulate her emotions sometimes. She is also a pro at scripting shows/movies. Large groups of people, stores, doctors visits and any change in routine gives her severe anxiety.
Everything that Zella is involved in has to be one on one. She does not do well in classroom/group settings. She panics and looks for an escape route. We also have to worry about Zella eloping just about anywhere we go. She is extremely unaware of danger. She is also an escape artist and will wander away completely oblivious to her surroundings. She is very hyperactive and has a hard time calming down. Sleep is very difficult for her. She wakes up constantly throughout the night and sometimes will go a few days with only about 5 hours of sleep. She has extreme texture issues and meltdowns are a constant thing, sometimes lasting for hours. Zella at times presents self injurious behaviors. Zella is very limited in what she can participate in and where she can go without having sensory issues and meltdowns. We have had to leave a lot of places because she could not handle the environment. She is currently in speech and occupational therapy and has been for over a year now. She is also in ISR swim lessons due to her obsession with water. She also has many OCD behaviors and cannot make it through her day without doing many things a certain way every time.
I never thought about a service dog for Zella because I didn’t even know they existed for autism until I came across a few parents who have service dogs for their autistic children and raved about how much the service dog has changed their child’s life, how much independence it has given their child and how great it has been to have help. So, after hours of deep research I came across 4 Paws for Ability and instantly fell in love with their entire mission. Here is what Zella’s service dog will be trained to do: Tethering- Zella will be linked to her dog so she can not elope in stores, parking lots, public places, etc. Tracking- So if Zella was to ever run off or escape the house (again); then her dog could assist in finding her. Behavior Redirection- Zella’s dog will be able to assist in calming her down when meltdowns occur & hopefully stop the meltdowns from the point of self injurious behaviors/screaming/tears…her dog will be trained to provide deep pressure as well. Communication- Having her dog with her at all times will help open up a world of communication for Zella and engage her in conversations. Transitioning- Hopefully she will be able to go more places by having her dog with her to help ease anxiety in public places, around other people, in groups and in changes in her environment. Sleep- Zella’s dog will be able to sleep in her room at night which will help with separation anxiety and staying asleep….. and obviously be her best friend for her entire childhood. I’ve included information about 4 Paws For Ability below.
It costs between $40,000-$60,000 to breed, train, provide vet care, provide grooming, feeding, etc. for a service dog. We have been asked to donate $20,000 to 4 Paws for Ability for Zella’s Autism Service Dog. No amount is too small, and we appreciate your donations more than you will ever know! If you can not donate, please consider volunteering at 4 Paws, donating needed items, fostering service dogs or just even spreading awareness of service dogs to the public. 🙂 4 Paws for Ability strives to be the leading provider of service dogs for children regardless of disability as well as adult children with caregiver guardianship who cannot live independently. 4 Paws assists Veterans who have given selflessly to our country by providing service dogs which can assist with disabilities on a case by case basis as well as adults living with hearing loss and diabetes.