*To answer a FAQ , 100% of funds will be dispursed to cover the expenses and training for LJ's service dog*
Please follow LJ on Facebook - managed by her mother, Jamita.
Operation Autism Service Dog
"Help LJ find her furever friend!"
LJ is a beautiful child. She has big brown eyes, long eyelashes, and curly hair. LJ is very smart, sweet, and full of curiosity. She enjoys trips to book stores and the local zoo. She also likes collecting Beanie Babies and Littlest Pet Shoppe figurines. At first glance, LJ is a "typical" 6 year old (I really dislike using this word, but it seems to be engraved in my head from various medical specialists). Unless you are made aware, you would probably never guess that she has Autism.
Every now and then, I relive the day that I received the "news" of LJ's diagnosis. At the time, I was cramming for college exams and her father was overseas fulfilling a military assignment. I arrived at the daycare to pick LJ up, but before I could get to her classroom, a concerned teacher asked if I had a moment to chat. She seemed a little hesitant as she said, "...she doesn't respond when we call her name...you should probably get her hearing checked..she probably needs tubes." I thanked her for informing me of her concerns.
After 8, long months of referrals and appointments with occupational therapists, speech therapists, an ENT specialist, and developmental pediatrician - I finally had an answer to my worries! LJ was diagnosed with Autism and "developmental delays".
Ok so we have a diagnosis, now what?!
Once LJ was diagnosed, I went through a roller-coaster of emotions. Initially, I was relieved. Then I went into complete denial - she couldn't have AUTISM, she knows all of her letters, she can count, and she can name over 100 animals! Shortly after, sadness and guilt crept up on me. I began to question why I hadn't realized earlier on that LJ was "different". To make matters worse, my husband - my support system was thousands of miles away and I longed for him to be by my side. At the time, we didn't have any family or friends nearby and trying to explain what I didn't quite understand, was very difficult. After struggling back and forth with my emotions and learning about interventions, I was able to overcome my feelings with acceptance!
Autism will not define my child.
As we began to learn about LJ's unique needs, my days (and nights) became filled with an intensive therapy schedule. We started with weekly occupational therapy and speech therapy sessions. However, once we discovered that her "picky eating" was actually connected to sensory processing issues, feeding therapy was added to LJ's "intervention team". LJ was also enrolled into an early intervention preschool program, for emotional and socialization support and for additional resources. After a few weeks, LJ quickly learned a few "mands" (demands) by using sign language. She could finally communicate some of her needs by signing for "more milk" or "all done", but we also faced new behavioral challenges. Her "go to" behavior is what I like to call "spaghetti legs" - when LJ is extremely frustrated or having difficulty communicating her needs, she will flop on the floor. This can happen anywhere, at any given time - in a busy waiting area, restaurant, or in our driveway. After stressing my own frustrations with her behavior, LJ's speech therapist recommended a "picture schedule", which seemed to help reduce some of her "meltdowns".
Unfortunately, soon after I developed her therapy team, my husband was given orders to relocate to another state. Although I was thrilled that we would finally be together again after 12 long months, we didn't know how to prepare LJ for this huge transition.
More challenges, more therapy.
To date, we have lived in three different states since LJ was diagnosed. She has been to over 6 different schools! As with most children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, changes to LJ's routine and environment are very difficult for her to comprehend. Typically, changes lead to new and challenging behaviors. To help LJ with behavior challenges and transitions, we added ABA therapy in addition to OT, listening, speech, and feeding therapies. We also added therapeutic horseback riding to improve her cognitive thinking skills.
In some areas, LJ is showing signs of progress. While in other areas, she just doesn't have the ability to fully understand certain concepts, such as safety precautions. LJ is not aware of dangers, whether we are at home or out in the community. Most recently, we added security precautions to our home just in case LJ tries to wander out of our home - again.
Despite our day-to-day challenges, LJ must learn how to adapt. However, when we go to one of her favorite stores, it is extremely stressful. Especially, when her dad is on a deployment or fulfilling a training assignment out of town. I am always on alert due to my worst fear of possibly losing LJ. Yet no matter how "on guard" I may be, if LJ sees something that sparks her interest or if she is over stimulated (due to large crowds) she could suddenly bolt down an aisle or try to exit out of the store.
Furfriend for LJ.
Our research on Autism is never ending - whether it's new therapies, therapy equipment, or attending an Autism seminar. Prior to our most recent move, LJ's developmental pediatrician recommended for us to get a service dog to assist with her medical needs. I immediately began to explore the benefits of service dogs and became ecstatic with my findings. A service dog can be trained specifically to assist LJ with daily tasks (challenges), while also becoming her lifelong companion! Unfortunatley, most organizations have a 2 year wait list, and charge a hefty fee of $15k-$20k!! Despite the shocking price, making a difference in LJ's life is worthwhile.
Since then, we have been trying to figure out how to afford the expenses.
LJ's dad has dedicated his life as a military service member to support our family. However, we are unable to fulfill the expenses of a service dog and the specialized training on our own.
We need your help.
The demand for service dogs definitely plays a major role in the cost. Thankfully, I found a local service dog trainer that has offered to train a service dog for a fraction of the cost!
By supporting LJ's Operation Autism Service Dog fundraiser, you will be making a difference in the quality of her life. The service dog will receive specific training for LJ's needs, such as alerting us when she is trying to wander and comforting her when she is in an overstimulating environment, such as the grocery store, mall, or even a family restaurant. By interacting with the service dog LJ will also be able to improve her safety awareness, verbal communication, and emotional development.
We need to raise a total of $5295 for LJ's service dog.
Our trainer will assist us in finding a dog that will be able to fulfill LJ's tasking needs. By relying on our trainer's expertise, will ensure that the service dog will be able to complete all of the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
The expenses for LJ's service dog will cost $2000.
The cost for 15 months of private service dog training and weekly classes is $3295.
Our goal is to have LJ's service dog by the beginning of the summer (2015). This will allow us the necessary time to train with LJ and her service dog during her summer vacation.
We are excited to start this journey and will be posting updates on LJ's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/autismservicedogforlj
Thank you for your consideration, your time, and your donation.
The Johnson Family