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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Service With A Smile

Korban turned 8 today!   I know it sounds trite, but he's growing up so fast. I can't believe 8 years have passed since that first time I got to hold him. A LOT has happened in those 8 years, and I'm proud of how far we have come. 

We started the day off headed to Southaven for two dr apts for Korban. They were at the same clinic--the group that oversees his medical care and provides behavioral therapy for him. 

The first apt was actually an intake session for his upcoming psychological evaluation. Nothing big, it was just time to get an updated one and I'm excited to see where we stand. So Korban basically got to play with some cool toys while me and Brad talked with the doctor.  Me talking to someone other than Korban usually doesn't end well.  Today was no exception as he punched and scratched me a few times.  Brad had to forcefully remove Korban from both rooms at some point even though both doctors attempted intervening and tried to make him happy, it just didn't last.

Then we met with his medical doctor. We decided to try a beta blocker to help with his anxiety since none of the traditional anti-anxiety meds have helped at all and some have made him feel worse. PLEASE pray this medicine is the "key to the kingdom" so to speak and that he has no negative side effects from it. We are beyond ready to see our little guy get some relief from his horrible anxiety. It's so frustrating to try and try to help and NOTHING works very well. I feel so bad for him....

Along that line--we are also pursuing another avenue to help relieve Korbans anxiety and other issues. Very exciting news:  we have been approved to start training for a service dog!

We have been thinking and praying about this for a long time--as in years. We started researching service dogs when Korban was about 5. It's not just something you decide to do and then go pick up a dog the next day. To get an actual service dog, there is a lot of training and fundraising involved. But I'm thankful to say the pieces are starting to come together for this.

Brad and I both put out some feelers a few months ago. I talked to some of Korban's therapists and one of them knew a guy who knew a guy, and the rest is history. There is an organization called Retrieving Freedon that has a branch in Senatobia, MS, which is about 45 minutes out of Southaven. That was where we headed as soon as we finished Korban's appointments this morning. 

Well, ok, we stopped and got lunch first. ;)

I was so excited to get to go meet the dogs and their trainer!  They mainly train dogs for people with autism and veterans with PTSD. (Said we would be surprised at how similar the two groups of people are. Stop and think about that for a minute.)

We tried to explain to the kids a little bit about what we were doing without them getting overly excited and thinking we were bringing home a dog today. 

Mr. Dwyer, one of the owners of Retrieving Freedom, was so nice to us. He answered all of our questions and was so good to our kids. 

We did get to meet some of the dogs. Some of them have already been matched with someone and are being trained to work for that person. It's not like we just go in there and pick out a dog. The dog and the boy--they will pick each other. Which is how it should be. 

Korban wasn't afraid of the dogs today but he wouldn't pet them either. Mr. Dwyer said not to worry and not to try and force it. It takes a while to find that bond but it will happen. 

All the dogs they have are labs or golden retrievers. I was in the floor loving on a beautiful lab today and he leaned over and licked me right on the nose. I didn't mind at all, but Korban raced over and started wiping my nose off and trying to "clean me up."  It was very funny. It also seemed backward to me--the kid trying to wipe down the mama. I guess I'm just lucky Korban didn't spit-clean me, right?  

I didn't get any pictures while the dogs were out with us--I was too excited. But I snapped this sweet shot of Selah and a pup named Bruno. 

I love how he's looking at her!  It looks like they are having a conversation. Shoot, they probably were!

Today was sort of our interview.  The trainer said he has a good idea from today of Korban's energy so that he can be looking at dogs to match him.  We were expecting for there to be a waiting period before we could start but he said "we've started today" and that is so cool.  Next we figure out what timetable works best for us and then we will start meeting dogs and training. It's a time-consuming and expensive process but we are looking forward to this journey.  Much support will be needed as we move forward and we know we have the community of family and friends to make this happen.

Mr Dwyer gave Korban this hat today as a birthday present, we can add it to his collection.  Korban wouldn't wear it long enough for a picture but I just had to show off this logo design.  The dog in between a puzzle priece and American flag.  I love it, it's so perfect.

So, you ask, what exactly a service dog does for a child with autism--it depends largely on the needs of the child. 

1. For us, we are looking for something to help ease Korban's anxiety, especially when we are out places. We can't just stay at home all the time and Korban actually likes to go places but it's hard on all of us. I wish people knew how brave he has to be to do all that he does. I'm his mom, and I don't even fully understand what it's like to live in his world. 

2.  Tethering. When we are out and about, the dog would wear a special vest and would be hooked up to Korban with a special leash. Bolting and wandering is a huge, scary problem for the autism community. Korban is an intermittent bolter. Which is good, because he doesn't do it all the time, and bad because I get lulled into a false sense of security thinking he's finally over it and BOOM he's running out to the middle of a crowded parking lot. I live in fear of losing my focus for just one second and something horrible happening. It would bring me an incredible amount of peace if I knew I had a relatively large and strong dog who was specifically trained to stop my sweet boy in his tracks if necessary.  Korban has gotten stronger and often jerks and pulls away from us without realizing the consequences.  Korban has to have time to process a comand or directive and sometimes there's not time for that processing period.  When you need a reaction to happen quickly, it's just not going to happen with him so it has to be done for him.  Peace of mind!  

3.  Grounding. This ties in with tethering. Kids like Korban have tons of sensory issues and often don't have a good sense of where they are at in the world. This leads to anxiety, stimming, and behaviors like Korban frequently engages in to orient himself, such as bouncing off of people (or objects!) grabbing at people, etc. In other words, the dog would bring Korban a sense of security being attached to him, he would know to move when the dog moved, and so on and so forth. 

Honestly, I just love the thought of another set of eyes looking out for him. I'm very hyper vigilant with both of my kids, but I have a horror of missing something. Not to put too much responsibility on the dog of course, but I simply adore the idea of Korban having a friend who will love him unconditionally, without judgment, and who is specifically trained to watch out for him. How cool is that?

One of the dogs we met today is being trained for a veteran. The dog showed us how he could turn lights on and off with, open the refrigerator, and even fetch a bottle of water on comand. Seriously one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The man he is going to has PTSD with severe nightmares, and the dog will sleep with him and is trained to wake him up when he starts having a nightmare and can even go turn on a lamp with a special foot pedal. What a friend!  My mind was blown and it just makes me teary eyed to think about. 

It was such a blessing to be able to go there today, especially on Korban's birthday. Like I said, it's just the start of a very lengthy process but we are happy to be taking the first step. Time frame?  We could have a dog in 18 months, less if training and fundraising goes well. These dogs are amazing. Check them out for yourselves. or look them up on Facebook. I'm a hopeful mama!  

After that little adventure, we headed to Incredible Pizza at the request of the birthday boy. It wasn't crowded and we really enjoyed ourselves. 

Great atmosphere!  Korban was super excited to see all those cool balloons. 

He loves playing games!

Both my kids are crazy good at Ice Ball!

"Outta our way, people!"

"Beep, beep!"

Selah and Daddy playing a game together. She pouted so bad because she thought he won!  (She's a sore loser. The only game she knows is "I Winned.")

She looks disappointed--probably mad the giant frog isn't real!

Happy boy!  Happy birthday!

How amazing is it that we get the approval to start this process on Korban's birthday?  That is just too cool! God knows what he's doing and in his timing it is all just perfection!

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