Meet Jaxon, a ten year old boy with a love for video games and super heroes. A boy with a loving family who would, like most families, do anything for him. He has his favorite foods and then there’s some foods that he refuses to touch. Jaxon is loving and kind. He is a big brother to three little sisters. Jaxon is just like you and I in most ways, but in some ways he is different…Jaxon has Autism.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a diagnosis that in the last few years has just been begun to be better understood which has led to more children being diagnosed. You wouldn’t see that as a good thing normally, except in this case, it means that those who are diagnosed are no longer so misunderstood. Tantrums are no longer just tantrums. The boy in the grocery store isn’t throwing a fit because he got told “no”, he’s having a difficult time reacting to all of the stimulus in that environment – the loud noise of the checker scanning the items, the sound of a squeaking wheel on the cart, the bright flourescent lights that are hurting his eyes. The child who refuses to answer questions in class isn’t remaining silent because they’re not paying attention, they just don’t understand or learn the way that you and I do.
1 in 68 children in America are diagnosed with Autism. There are more than 200,000 new cases of ASD annually in the United States alone. Jaxon was diagnosed in 2007 at four years old.
Autism and ASD are only general terms for a group of brain development disorders. Children that are diagnosed with Autism may have intellectual disabilities, difficulties with motor skills and coordination, attention issues, and health issues such as sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal issues. Some people with ASD excel in certain skills such as music, art, and math while struggling with others. Jaxon is an excellent problem solver. His mom, Marcy, also informed me that he’s just began to learn some math and is, as she stated, “a natural”.
Jaxon was six years old when he began to be able to handle being semi-independent and completing small tasks such as bringing his Mom and Dad certain things when asked. At age eight Jaxon began talking and following one step directions to complete a task. Today, at ten years old, with the help of his educators, therapies, and of course his amazing parents he is able to understand and follow directions about 80% of the time. He is able to completely dress himself, and with a little direction he is able to get himself ready for school in the morning.
Like most who are diagnosed with ASD, Jaxon thrives on rules and systems and struggles with change. Things have to be done a certain way each time and if it’s not done that certain way then it will simply not be done at all. Jaxon also struggles with understanding safety issues, like why it’s not okay to wander off in public. Jaxon also isn’t known to express his emotions, even when it comes to things that he enjoys. Sometimes though, he does let those emotions show, like the first time he met a service dog at Retrieving Freedom this past fall.
Jaxon was about five years old when his mom saw a television program called “Working Dogs” that was airing an episode of a therapy dog working with a child that was Autistic. It was then that Jaxon’s parents began to look into getting him a therapy dog to work with and assist him with daily tasks. Sadly, the cost of a therapy dog is so overwhelming that most families are unable to afford one. For their family, Marcy and John, faced this exact heartbreaking reality. It wasn’t until Marcy’s mom told her about a presentation that was being put on at their local library by an organization called Retrieving Freedom that getting a service dog for Jaxon became a realistic goal.
Retrieving Freedom is a nonprofit organization that trains dogs to become therapy animals. Not only do these amazing canines know basic commands but their training is later personalized to match the needs of the recipient. Because of such an intense and personalized training these animals have to go through a long training process that lasts two years. The cost of a therapy dog from Retrieving Freedom is $5,200-$5,800.
Jaxon’s therapy dog will be training to keep him from wandering off and Marcy’s personal favorite command: “cuddle up”, where the dog will sleep with Jaxon and then alert his parents if he were to wake up and wander in the middle of the night. The dog will even be able to help Jaxon with his morning routine, even bringing him his shoes! The use of therapy dogs being used by those with Autism have also been known to even just create a “calming presence” to the diagnosed – a four legged, fur covered, tail wagging security blanket. They’ve also been known to enhance social, learning, and emotional improvements.
Remember earlier, how I said that Jaxon has a difficult time displaying his emotions? The first time that Jaxon met one of the dogs at Retrieving Freedom he took to the animal immediately!! He began playing, smiling, and even laughing while interacting with the dog. How beautiful the smile and laughter of a child are. His reaction to meeting a therapy dog only reassured his parents that getting more serious about matching him to a therapy dog was the right move for Jaxon.
Once funds are raised, Marcy and John are hopeful that they will be able to begin seriously training in May and bring the dog home in August of this year. Marcy and John are completely overwhelmed with the excitement of new possibilities and opportunities that a therapy dog will bring their beloved Jaxon.
There has been an incredible outreach of support and generosity from Jaxon’s friends, family members, teachers, and community but there’s still a long way to go until all of the required funds are met. Please, if you are able to, consider making a monetary contribution to help Jaxon get a therapy dog. Any additional money that is raised once Jaxon’s campaign goal is met will go towards another child or person who is in need of not just a therapy dog, but a best friend and companion.