Most children with autism thrive on structure and routine. For Declan, 7, that is remarkably true. He wakes up at roughly the same time every morning, eats the same breakfast every day, enjoys some playtime between school and dinner, and then eats the same dinner every evening. His mom, Christa, explains, “When Declan’s normalcy is broken, he has a difficult time coping with it. His reality breaks down, and it becomes all but impossible to get through to him.” Making a regular adjustment to his routine would have to be worthy of it. One special Can Do Canine goes to show that it is.
Thanks to word-out-mouth advertising through a sister’s neighbor, Declan’s family learned about Can Do Canines and applied when Declan was 4 years old. They were eventually matched with a two-and-a-half-year-old, yellow Labrador Retriever named Oma. Declan’s dad, Joel, says, “Bringing Oma home was very surreal. We had talked about the prospect of getting this service dog for years and then suddenly, we got the call that we were matched with a dog and it was a matter of a few weeks later that she came home. We said repeatedly to each other, ‘We have a dog!’ and just basked in how crazy it felt.”
Declan’s family recognized immediately how incredible Oma is. Joel says, “Oma has received a lifetime of training from incredible trainers and has prepared to thrive under stressful circumstances. She spent time with many different people in differing environments prior to coming to live with us, and all those elements breed a very well-rounded personality. All of that aside, she is an amazing dog at her core. Her eyes show tenderness and compassion, and she is so incredibly affectionate and sweet.” Joel confides, in regard to Oma’s “giant, brown eyes,” that she “really knows how to use them to her advantage.”
Aside from batting her lashes, Oma is skilled at interrupting Declan’s stimming behaviors and has become adept at “visiting” and “snuggling” to share her calming perspective with Declan. Joel realizes that “her training and practicing is always a continual process.” Also, “Declan and Oma have some work to do yet with getting to know one another and with the evolution of their teamwork, but the bridge that Oma can provide for Declan as far as his ability to cope with difficult situations is so powerful.”
That ability for Declan to better cope and adapt is seen in many ways. The way in which Declan has integrated tasks for Oma into his routine is what Joel and Christa have enjoyed seeing so far. Joel describes their regular day, when Declan “wakes up in the morning and we let Oma outside. When she’s back inside it’s time to feed her breakfast. He opens her food bin, I scoop her food, he puts it in the bowl, tosses the cup back in, puts the lid on and pushes it away. He then takes a fish oil pill and puts it in her bowl, ever so carefully takes her bowl and places it on her mat and then with perfect concentration (he’s worked hard on this) steps back and points to her bowl while saying ‘OK Oma!’ and that makes him feel so proud. He repeats this for her dinner, and it’s been such an amazing thing to see him take ownership of this job.”
Making Possibilities Happen
Joel and Christa know that as Declan gets older, he’ll want to be even more independent, and they are excited that they and Oma together will be able to help him with this. Because of that, they say to all who support Can Do Canines, “THANK YOU. Those two words and the corresponding sentiment don’t do justice how grateful we are to have been given this opportunity. The entire program at Can Do Canines really is incredible and without the help of everyone involved, we certainly would have not been able to make this happen.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser: Jamie & Brent Mueller
Special Thanks: The Nervick family
You: Thank you for your donations!