Like so many children with autism, 10-year-old Nicholas Conley doesn’t sleep through the night. At least, he didn’t. That is, until he met Truly, a two-year-old black Goldador (Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever).
“Everybody told us – even the autism specialist – the only solution for the sleeping problem is a dog,” Nicholas’s mom Paula says. “I was in disbelief. It’s been 10 years. We’ve tried everything. But since the first day of receiving Truly, Nicholas has not come to our bed.”
But prior to Truly’s arrival, there were more than seven years of stress and anxiety, both for Nicholas and his family. It was a very difficult time.
Nicholas was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. In addition to sleep difficulties, he has trouble communicating, is anxious in public, and has trouble eating.
“Socializing for him is definitely harder,” Nicholas’s dad, Justin, says. “He’s very verbal now, but socializing for him was definitely hard, because he has the mentality more of a five or six-year-old. As he gets older, that gap gets wider and gets harder for him.”
One quick trip to the store turned into a nightmare for Paula. “I had to very quickly pick up milk, and he proceeded to throw himself on the floor in the middle of Walmart and scream that I was hitting him, because he didn’t want to leave,” Paula says. “So everybody was looking at me like, ‘Why is she hitting that kid?’ I was late. He was angry. It was a lot of stress, and I couldn’t even pick up milk. I had to leave without it, because we couldn’t be in line.”
The notion of getting an assistance dog came to them while traveling from Florida. They saw another boy with an Autism Assistance Dog.
“I saw this boy, he was a teenager, with the dog got onto the airplane,” Paula remembers. “I thought, ‘Hmm…, I’m going to ask.’ I asked his mom and she said, ‘Yes, this is an autism dog.’ And then we decided to apply, and we’ve been waiting for seven years, but finally she is here.” Nicholas had been on the waiting list since he was two.
Truly provides the soothing and calming presence that Nicholas needs. She also helps alert Paula and Justin if Nicholas needs help. Nicholas typically gets very anxious at doctor appointments. At one visit he was getting his blood pressure taken, and Truly could sense his anxiety.
“She went over and put her paws up on him to soothe him. The doctor was able to do everything. It was not stressful for them or us.”
Truly has also given him a sense of self-confidence that surprised everyone. When he first brought Truly to school, Nicholas stood up in front of the entire school and introduced his new assistant. “He stood up and started talking about her in front of everybody,” Paula says. “He never would have done something like that before. He’s definitely happier since she came here.”
To the puppy raisers and donors, Paula says their hard work and gift has been a blessing. “I wish I could hug them and I wish they could be here before and after just to see,” she says. “When I wrote the testimony, it just brought tears to my eyes. If they only knew what it was like. My son has a friend now. My son has a life. I don’t even know how to thank them enough. I’m eternally grateful for what they did.”
To help say thank you, the family is going to fundraise for Can Do Canines as part of a “Pay it Forward” effort by speaking to their church and other churches.
“At least if we can raise enough to raise one dog, I’ll be thankful.”
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Great Start Home—Frank & Vickie Ernst
Puppy Raiser—The Inmate Handlers at the Federal Correctional Institution at Sandstone
Special Thanks—Sue Forsberg