Joshua “JJ” is one of the most unique children you will ever meet. Along with autism, he has synethesia – he sees color when he hears sound; any sound. He’s great with math – he can solve math problems out loud that children his age aren’t doing yet. He can listen to his sisters practice a song on the piano then sit down and start playing what he heard. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty amazing.
His background is also unlike most. He entered foster care at three days old. His first foster mother says he cried through his whole first year. At two years old, she realized she was not a good fit for a permanent home. At two, JJ and his teenage sister went to his second foster home. Unfortunately, the second placement was not a good fit either.
We met JJ when he was 2.5 and he and his sister moved into our home. Six months later, on December 14, 2014, we finalized our adoption for both of them. We took our family of six to a family of eight. In 2016, their birth mom had another little boy. We brought him home, and in 2018 we finalized little brother’s adoption making us a family of nine. His little brother is also on the autism spectrum and actually received his diagnosis before JJ.
I knew before I met these kiddos, they were meant to be here. But JJ struggled. I was the third mom in a six month period. He was grieving, confused, and angry. He didn’t understand what happened, where everyone was, and if they were okay, and he couldn’t verbalize any of his concerns.
We also realized he didn’t process his world in a typical way; but we waited and watched. We did this for a number of years while we tried to find someone who would agree to evaluate him. Most turned us away because JJ’s verbal, but they didn’t realize his struggle with pragmatic language and how hard it was for him to put together his words to get his needs met.
Along the way, we received an ADHD diagnosis, and it’s manageable (but not gone by any means) with medication. However, we just had to increase his medication to meet his needs.
Finally, in October of 2018, when he was 6, we received an autism diagnosis. It took four years of pushing for answers to finally have some of those answers and access to therapies and services to help us all be better and move forward. It also took some close calls with danger for people to see there was something going on.
Along with the ADHD and autism diagnosis, we saw markers for anxiety and ODD.
JJ started kindergarten in 2016 and seemed to do okay, but his teacher saw some of his struggles.
In 2017, he started his first grade year. It did not go well.
The school didn’t believe he met the qualifications for an IEP, but offered 504 accommodations, but those seemed to be put on the sidelines and forgotten.
Due to my son’s neurodevelopmental differences, he became a target for bullying on multiple fronts. And because of the communication deficits, the adults he trusted didn’t realize when he was asking for help because his word choice didn’t reflect his needs.
His brain also has difficulty recognizing danger. Luckily, he doesn’t bolt (yet, it is a possibility), but he will wander into dangerous situations and has been hurt on the playground because of this.
With the new school year starting, his anxiety about going back was high. We made the decision to home school this year because he no longer feels safe at school.
EVERY child should feel safe going to school. This dog will be the difference between my son attending school and being isolated at home instead of taking advantage of all of the enriching things our schools have to offer. This is his hope for more independence, his hope for feeling safe so he can learn, and his hope for making friends.
JJ would like to have real friends at school. An autism service dog will help create opportunities for positive peer interaction and common ground to bond over. He’ll also be known throughout the school as the little boy who has the service dog – the adults that are supposed to help him won’t forget he has a disability just because they can’t see it…my son won’t be forgotten and overlooked.
In addition to those benefits – which are incredible opportunities for him – we’re hoping to lessen his anxiety during hard transitions, add comfort when things don’t go his way (at home and at school), distract him from things he would obsess over or stim on, help him fall asleep easier, possibly reducing medication need for night time, and more.