Five year old Perth girl Grace tells of the immense challenges her little brother Fletcher faces. Her four year old brother Fletcher has non-verbal autism. He cannot communicate or understand those around him. Being on the severe end of the autism spectrum, Fletcher cannot speak or comprehend simple language and commands. He does not understand the dangers when he runs onto the road, or away from his mum when they are at the shops. He lives in a world where he cannot express emotions and his coping mechanism is to run, and run and run. He does not understand when his mum yells “Stop!” as he bolts.
But Grace does understand, and because she adores Fletcher, she runs after him whenever he bolts to make sure he is safe. Or if her parents are chasing after Fletcher, she waits patiently for them. Although she is only five, Grace has had to grow up beyond her years, and show incredible maturity in her care and love for her brother Fletcher.
For Grace and Fletcher’s parents, Rick and Kate, life has been incredibly challenging and stressful. They are constantly on high alert especially when they take Fletcher out of their home.
Last year Kate found herself in the worst possible situation when she was forced to make a decision that no parent should have to make.
Kate was out walking with Fletcher and Grace when Fletcher ran towards the road. Kate had to decide, in a split second, whether she would keep Grace safe on the busy road side or run after Fletcher who had sprinted onto the road.
“I had to decide which child to save” says Kate.
Kate knew that the family could not go on like this – something had to change. She knew she had to find a way to keep both Fletcher and Grace safe.
Because of the generous support of the West Australian community, Guide Dogs WA was able to place Koha, our very first Autism Assistance Dog with the family.
Koha is a lovely golden Labrador who has settled into family life and has formed a very special bond with Fletcher. When they leave home, Fletcher is secured to Koha and he cannot bolt anymore. Fletcher has now become content to stay by Koha’s side and adores him. Kate can now take both Fletcher and Grace for a walk after school. Grace can hold Fletcher’s hand, or her mum’s free hand when they cross the road.
Grace says “Koha is the loveliest friendliest dog and he is good for Fletch. He helps him sleep – every night they cuddle up in the same bed. The best thing is that Koha stops Fletch from running away. Now that he does not run away when he is with Koha we go for walks after school – my favourite part of the day”.
There are many more West Australian children like Fletcher and Grace whose lives could be transformed with the gift of an Autism Assistance Dog.
You can help by making a donation today.
Find out more about the Autism Assistance Dog program.