In our story, probably just like every other story of a PDA family, there is a general picture of failed services, lack of funds, long diagnoses and failure to be listened to but within that are hundreds of smaller’ stories of missed opportunities and times when I have been let down by an individual professional, often it is these stories that hurt the most, often too it is at these points that things could of been turned around….
Today this picture came up on my Facebook timeline, a lovely picture of my son hugging a dog, it made me cry.
You see this isn’t just any dog, this is the dog I know could have got my son back to school. This is one of those little stories where an opportunity was missed to support a child because professionals failed to recognise the importance of the detail in a package. This was a decision that broke my heart and almost broke my son. I am sharing it because it is so important for professionals who are involved with support packages to realise that it has to be so exact for a PDA child, so completely tailored, you can’t just replace one thing with another similar one and expect it to work the same, it is like replacing a climbing rope with a piece of string, on one level they are just the same and on the other they are nothing like each other, one can save a life the other can not.
Anyway this is the story of my son and this wonderful dog who’s name is Wolf….
My son was diagnosed with ASD using the PDA profile in July 2016 By this time things had got really difficult with school. He was on his third school, he was refusing regularly, he was highly anxious and as a result showing extreme and explosive behaviour. After diagnoses he was put on a part time time table before the summer holidays and it wasn’t really working. I thought things would improve over the holidays but he was so anxious that even the break from school did not reduce his anxiety or down scale behaviour. I started to scour the internet and discovered to my amazement there was a local forest school that offered respite services during the holidays a few miles up the road.
The lady who ran the service was a teacher and had a now grown up son who was autistic plus she had worked with other PDA children, she was open and friendly and encouraged my son and I to visit. Although the majority of the visit did not go well over all, a miraculous thing happened, my son met wolf the therapy dog and from the very start Wolf was able to do the impossible and take my son’s anxiety away. My son also suffers with selective mutism and was unable to speak with the lady who ran the forest school (and was also Wolf’s handler) until she put the lead in his hand, when she needed my son to let him off the lead he could no longer speak.
I can not tell you how profound the effect was on my son. The forest school, lady was also clearly moved by seeing this and said it was one of the quickest and most profound changes she had seen in a child through handling wolf and that she worked with Wolf in schools to help with school phobia. I felt like all my prays had been answered.
Over the summer my son continued to work with wolf and the relationship grew.
Every time our car pulled up wold would howl a greeting to my son, something he normally reserved for his people family, my son could not wait to see him each week. As an added bonus my son was choosing to spend time outside and was taking to someone outside the family. I knew I had to convince the school/LA to allow wolf to help my son.
On the first day back at school I went to see the headmaster, I told him about Wolf and the effect he had had on my son. I explained that Wolf was an accredited therapy dog and licensed for use within schools and that he was currently being used in another local school with a similar child to great success. I explained that my son had told me he felt safe with Wolf and that if Wolf could come with him in the mornings he felt he could manage some time at school. The headmaster said he didn’t know what the situation would be from the LAs point of view but he would try his best, the next day he told my son he would do everything in his power to get permission for wolf to come into school.
My son did not manage school at all for the next few weeks and we waited for news on Wolf.
The headmaster emailed back and forth saying they (the trust who ran the school) had agreed to the dog in school but were awaiting the funding. My son asked everyday when he could have Wolf and help him go back to school. Finally I was called into a meeting with news of a way forward. When I got there the lady from the city farm was not at the meeting but representatives from another inclusions service who specialised I’m excluded children was. I was told the LA thought this other inclusion service would be better suited and that they had a dog my son could ‘use’. On pressing them it turned out to be a staff members dog. I tried to explain that it was not just any dog but wolf and his handler that made a difference to my son. I did my best but they had already decided at another meeting I was not invited to. I looked the headmaster in the eye and reminded him of the promise he had made my son and he burst into tears and left the room!
I manage to get them to agree to a one week trial with wolf to see how it went.
During that week my son made it into school everyday and stayed for the hour that they had allocated as his goal. The following week they switched the funding to the other interventions team. He met their dog the first day and one of the tam who obviously was not autism (let alone PDA) trained. The next day he went in tears and the interventions worker tried to persuade my son back to the interventions centre and my son refused, the next day my son refused to get out of the car at school, the next he refused all together and they sent a worker (a different one) around who asked if she could talk to him through the door instead entered his room without my knowledge or convent and tried to drag him out. My son was hysterical and I asked her to leave. I was reported for ‘not allowing my son to engage with services.’
I emailed Wolf’s handler and discovered that her service was cheaper and rang the LA demanding they swap the services only to be told that the class teacher had refused to have a dog in the classroom in case it made another child nervous. They did fund interventions at the forest school with Wolf eventually but which no indoor facilities my son just could not cope long term as it was very cold as by now it was almost winter and he can’t stand thick coats or the cold. Pressure for him to attend for longer was being placed on the forest school and it was happening too quickly so things broke down although he was still desperate to see Wolf. It was obvious that the school wanted him off the premises rather than integrating him back into school sadly and my son picked up on this and was left with a feeling of being rejected. I really feel if he could of had Wolf it would of built up his trust with the school, helped he connect with other pupils and feel less anxious and he could of reintegrated into the classroom. Sadly instead that was the end of his school days..