Sunday 3 November 2019

A Superhero Pup for Lachlan

When I first began this blog and our social media sites back in 2016, I decided (in consultation with Daddy Superhero) that I would refer to my little superheroes using the initials of their first name. This was purely to give them a little anonymity.

That decision changed last Tuesday when we received this letter!

As I was sitting down getting ready for my work staff meeting, a notification popped up on my phone from my emails. I could not contain my excitement when I opened the email and read that L, a.k.a. Lachlan, had been accepted into the Smart Pups Assistance Dog program. We'd applied to the program last month and we honestly weren't expecting a response this quick!

If you've been following our journey, you'd know that Lachlan was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder at the age of three and a half. Lachlan has also been diagnosed with a host of other medical issues and we are currently in the process of going through the assessment process for ADHD. With the speech and occupational therapy that Lachlan has been doing for the past three years, he is now thriving at school but he still has many other struggles. In saying that he never lets these get the better of him. And this is where a Smart Pups Assistance Dog would greatly benefit Lachlan.

A Smart Pup, while primarily being trained as Lachlan’s companion, would also benefit O, a.k.a. Olivia. In 2017 at the age of eight years, she was given a DSM level 2 ASD diagnosis. Since then she has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Difficulties and severe Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

But what is the Smart Pups program I hear you ask.

Smart Pups is a not-for-profit organization that is based on the Sunshine Coast here in Queensland. Smart Pups trains and provides assistance dogs to children who have additional needs, such as Lachlan. These assistance dogs are trained in specific tasks and skills which improve a child’s independence and quality of life. It is a unique form of early intervention therapy and the assistance dog will have a profound positive life-long effect on the day to day lives of these children who have additional needs and their families.

A Smart Pup Autism Assistance dog can increase an Autistic child’s ability to cope with life, sensory overload and provide the child with emotional support when the child needs it. A Smart Pup can act as a bridge between the child and the outside world, guiding the child through their daily routines, keeping them safe and comforting the child when the world becomes too much for them.

Lachlan loves animals and immediately calms when he is around them. We've seen that first hand. He struggles with sleep and has averaged 4 and a half to 5 hours sleep a night since he was the age of 4 and a half months old. A Smart Pup Autism Assistance Dog would provide the level of comfort that Lachlan needs to fall asleep and stay calm.

Lachlan has very little awareness of safety and danger and he has no sense of fear whatsoever. Having no sense of fear is good in a sense that he will attempt things, like climbing to the top of trees and play equipment, that children his age and older will not attempt. However it also means that he is very accident prone - at present he is known by name in four Accident and Emergency departments in four hospitals in two states of Australia! From a very young age, as soon as he became mobile, he would run, jump, climb. 

This is one of his coping mechanisms when he needs to escape from sensory overload from crowded or noisy or bright places. When Lachlan spots something that he wants to look at, he runs. It doesn’t cross his mind that he should tell us when he wants to look at something or escape from overload. When his emotions overcome him, he runs. This is a behavior that we see in him on a regular basis. At present when Lachlan wanders, he will hide and not answer to his name. A Smart Pup Autism Assistance Dog would be trained to quickly find Lachlan using its sense of smell. When Lachlan wanders off, this would truly be lifesaving. The pup would also be trained in grounding itself, which would hopefully prevent Lachlan from running away.

A Smart Pup Autism Assistance Dog would be trained to touch, nudge or lay on Lachlan to disrupt any disruptive behavior that he exhibits, in particular when Lachlan enters into meltdown mode due to emotional or sensory overload. The Assistance Dog would be trained to snuggle and comfort Lachlan when he becomes upset or distressed, which would help prevent Lachlan’s emotional reaction from escalating into a meltdown.

A Smart Pup Autism Assistance Dog can perform a variety of simple tricks which will not only increase the bond between the dog and Lachlan but will also create fun during social interactions. Lachlan is still developing the confidence and skills required for social interactions. An Autism Assistance Dog would assist to increase his confidence when engaging with others as well as opening a dialogue between Lachlan and his peers. An Assistance Dog would give Lachlan a sense of pride as the dog would be his companion.
An Autism Assistance Dog would also assist in decreasing Lachlan’s anxiety during his daily routines.

Unfortunately Smart Pups receives no government funding to train and provide these specially trained dogs and as such relies on sponsorships and donations from the public and the families who have been accepted into the program.

The approximate training costs for an assistance dog is $30,000. All money that is raised goes directly to Smart Pups to train the pup and ultimately to the child who receives the pup as their assistance dog. Each family that is accepted into the Smart Pups program is asked to raise a minimum of $20000 to go towards the training of the Assistance Dog.

Our next step in our Smart Pups journey is raising this much needed money. And what better way to raise awareness of Autism and what an Autism Assistance dog is capable of, than approaching local community groups to raise funds for an amazing organisation such as Smart Pups.

This particular post will be an ongoing post and will be updated with our progress, so please keep your eyes peeled for our updates on our fund raising efforts. If you would like to or are able to donate to our fundraising campaign, Lachlan's campaign page can be found here.

We live and breathe Autism, Sensory Processing Difficulties and Anxiety 24/7. An Autism Assistance Dog would make a huge positive impact for not only Lachlan but also Olivia and  our family in general.

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I would love to hear your thoughts on my blog. I do read all the comments that are posted. Thanks so much for stopping by. Jen xx