For the family of Alex Wood, March can't get here fast enough.
Seven months from now, 5-year-old Alex will receive his autism service dog. Alex was diagnosed with classic autism when he was 18 months old and his parents, Jeremy and Tamara Wood, have searched for ways to help their son. In a February story published by the Reporter-News, Tamara and Jeremy said they were working to raise $13,000 for the dog. Since then, they have raised the money and have been approved by 4 Paws For Ability to receive a dog early next year.
The Ohio-based organization trains dogs to tolerate the behaviors of children with autism and to be a constant companion. Tamara said she believes the addition of a service dog will enhance her son's development in many ways. Most importantly, the dog can help keep him safe.
"You can tell a 5-year-old don't go into the street because you know it's dangerous," Tamara said. "With Alex, you can't tell him that because you can't explain that a car is dangerous, or just being in the road is dangerous."
Alex is nonverbal, and he has a condition called pica, a disorder that causes him to eat inedible items.
Autism service dogs are trained in search and rescue. Once the dog is here, Alex will be tethered to it and if Alex bolts away from his mother, the dog will obey a command from Tamara to stop and return. Tamara also hopes the service dog will attract other children to Alex, helping him develop friendships.
"Little kids love dogs. So he may have kids around him all day and that may help him to learn how to deal with having children around," Tamara said. "Maybe at some point, some kid will say 'Hi,' and Alex will say 'Hi' back."
Tamara and Jeremy want more than anything to be able to communicate with their son. Alex memorizes letters and numbers, but for the most part they are sounds without any meaning.
"We know him by the way he acts," Tamara said. "We want to know him through his mind."
Tamara said she and Jeremy long for the day when they can listen to Alex describe his day at school.
"Our hope is that maybe this dog can help him to calm down, be verbal, maybe have some friends," Tamara said.