When Lori and Stefan received an autism diagnosis for their son, Lukas, shortly before he turned three years old, they were overwhelmed with how best to address his therapy, his schooling and, most importantly, his overall quality of life. The Colorado couple began attending as many autism conferences and peer-to-peer programs as their schedules would allow, and during the next four years, they celebrated successes and achieved milestones that, in the beginning, they weren’t confident their son would attain.
However, says Stefan: “As all parents and siblings of children with autism are aware, the tantrums are always lurking around the corner, often brought on by unidentifiable triggers or sometimes no triggers at all. They simply are a part of living with autism, and though their frequency and intensity can be managed as time goes on, they are always going to occur, which raises the ultimate question that all autism parents ask: How can we diffuse a tantrum before he hurts himself or others around him?”
While attending an autism conference, Lori and Stefan learned about the Disco’s Dogs program at Freedom Service Dogs, which custom-trains service dogs for children age five and older who are living with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental and neurocognitive disabilities. After being accepted into the program, the family was paired with a black Lab named Tico, and after six months of intensive training, “Team Tico” graduated in December 2017.
Today, Lori and Stefan are beyond delighted with the difference Tico is making in Lukas’ life. Says Stefan: “Since Tico joined our family last July, words cannot express the calm he has brought to this family. Each time a tantrum begins, Tico is a little more responsive to Lukas’ needs, and their bond continues to grow daily. He is a cherished member of the family, and his bond with Lukas will be instrumental for Lukas’ continuing progress. He is revered by all of us for his ability to reach through to Lukas in a way none of us can. As any special-needs parent will question if they are doing all they can do for their child, we take pride in knowing we have—and Freedom Service Dogs of America made it all possible.”