At age 3, Tupper is as cute a kid as you could imagine. With tussled brown hair and melt-your-heart brown eyes, plus a wicked smile, he has a fondness for choo-choo trains.
His grandmother will tell you he is very special and, since she was my best friend all through school growing up in Carman, Manitoba, I believe her. You see, Tupper has been diagnosed with autism and must face life with more challenges than most.
Children with autism perceive the world in a different manner than many children. Their reactions to stimuli can be extreme and their social interaction skills can be challenging. Their hearing may be more acute and they may be more easily startled and frightened leading to sensory overload that may result in meltdowns that appear as a temper tantrum and are not based on wants.
Children with ASD may unexpectedly bolt and run away without regard to safety. They may hide themselves away from those who want only to care for them and see them safe.
Tupper’s mom, 43, because of her condition called scleroderma, is unable, when necessary, to hold him securely unless she can encircle him with her arms.
The disease produces a hardening of the skin and has meant that her hands are no longer flexible but bent inward which makes grasping almost impossible. Reflex actions tend to be slower and quick movements are difficult. You can imagine the difficulties that could arise!
Then along came Lego. A specially trained service dog, he has been taught to assist a child with autism. A white English Lab, Lego has been trained from a puppy by MSAR – Service Dogs. This Manitoba based company works with families in need to develop a dog specifically for the child’s requirements and provides ongoing support.
Wearing a special harness that the child is meant to hold, he becomes a guiding angel, if you will. He is trained to stay with a child who is attempting to bolt, to provide comfort and relieve stress and anxiety in public.
Lego is a calming influence who gives unconditional love and affection as well as assisting in settling Tupper for sleep. Lego alerts a parent if the child wakes in the night.
The service dog can nudge the child to interrupt repetitive behaviors and offer companionship which may lead to better social interaction and expanded vocabulary.
A properly trained service dog like Lego can give a child a much needed sense of responsibility and security.
How wonderful, you might say, but all this training and special service comes at a huge cost. Would you believe $30,000?! That’s the cost of a new car, a home addition, or an extended European vacation for those who cherish such things. But, for a family of six living at home, sharing a home with grandparents, and already dealing with a chronic ailment, this is overwhelming.
Fortunately, family and friends are banding together to plan and conduct fundraising efforts to make this happen for Tupper. His sisters have created a key fob or zipper pull consisting of an amulet with a dog paw print attached to a toggle and these are sold for $5 apiece.
There are plans to have a fundraising social and many have contributed toward the special fund. A Facebook page has been set up, called Adventures of Tupper and Lego.
Would you like to make a difference in the life of a child who faces great challenges? Do you want to feel really special? Would it make you happy to know that you can do something to assist those less fortunate than yourself?