Help 9 year old Andrew with the funding his family needs to cover out of pocket expenses for his Autism Service dog. Read his story below.
Address: Andrew Dittman, 310 Amelia Drive Hedgesville WV 25427. We are Matt and Missi Dittman. We live in Hedgesville, WV and are the proud parents of two beautiful children who were adopted from South Korea. Our son Andrew is 9 years old and has been one of the greatest blessings that we have received. He was born in Seoul, South Korea on October 30, 2003. Andrew arrived at Dulles Airport and was placed in our arms and it was an immediate connection. Our baby boy was home! Our daughter is 6 years old and was born on October 24, 2006 and is the best little “mother hen” anyone could ever ask for. She also came home via Dulles Airport and from the moment we laid eyes on her, we fell in love! Our family was complete when she arrived home to us. Currently I work as a Registered Nurse at an elementary school and Matt is a truck driver for FedEx Ground. Andrew is in the third grade at Tomahawk Intermediate School and Kierstyn is in Kindergarten at Hedgesville Elementary school. We live in a single family home that is located in a nice, quiet neighborhood in Hedgesville, WV. Andrew began having some difficulties around the age of 2 with his speech, expressing frustrations because of his inability to express his needs and wants, fine motor delays, and sleeping difficulties. Otherwise, Andrew was very healthy and progressed normally in his development. We began having him evaluated through early intervention programs that were offered through our local school system. After being told 3 times that he did not qualify because his delay was not significant enough, we became a little more insistent that we wanted outside testing as a second opinion. There was no doubt that there was something going on with our son. One of our very close friends had experience with Autism and expressed that Andrew showed some signs of having this disorder. We were completely in the dark when it came to Autism and what it was and what it meant for our son. After speaking with his pediatrician we were referred to Kennedy Krieger’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore, MD, as well as Total Rehab in Hagerstown, MD for a speech, OT, and PT evaluation. It took many months to get into both of these places because of the tremendous amount of children that face this condition. Finally, when Andrew was 4 years old, we were seen at Kennedy Krieger and we left that appointment with a diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism. Although we suspected that this was the case, our world as we knew it was changed. Our dreams for our son were changed in an instant. Hundreds of questions began running through our mind; will he ever have a wife, a job, and children? Will he go to college? Will he ever be able to live independently? These questions, we are told, are normal questions that every parent has but it was almost like we received a different child into our hearts, although he was the same child that we welcomed into our arms, with unconditional love, at the airport a short time before this. Since his diagnosis, Andrew has come a very long way and so have we. We became much more educated on Autism and began to explore the resources that are available for him. He had an intense regimen of speech therapy, OT, social therapy, as well as 26 hours per week of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy that was provided in our home. All of this as well as the many doctors that are involved comes at a very big expense. However, the success and the abilities that Andrew has developed as a result are well worth every cent! Andrew still has many struggles that he faces every day. He still has some communication barriers, many social inabilities; he has a very difficult time making friends, as well as the attention and learning disabilities that come along with having Autism. We are very blessed to have a very supportive family, which Andrew is very close to, as well as having a loving Church family and friends who are familiar and non-critical or judgmental of Andrew and his quirks. Andrew finds a great deal of peace and comfort in learning on the computer and he loves trains. These two things are his “special gifts” that he can talk and talk and talk about. He loves to visit the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum and does so every weekend. This is his reward for a great week at school. We have been working with an organization called Susquehanna Service Dogs in hopes of receiving a service dog for Andrew. There are many children and adults on the Autism Spectrum that receive assistance and help from these amazing animals. SSD is in Harrisburg, PA and has been wonderful to work with. Andrew has gone through the preliminary application process to see if he is a good candidate for a service dog; AND HE IS!! Andrew has met with 3 service dogs that are trained to work with children and adults who are testing to see if they would be a good match and all three proved to be a great match for Andrew and this service. He has gone out on public handlings into a very busy area with many distractions as well as working in a private setting with the dogs. He did amazing during his testing period. Andrew found a great deal of comfort in working with the dogs and was able to read to them, have them lay on him to apply pressure to him in periods of anxiety or frustration, and has had unwanted behaviors interrupted by the simple nudge of the dogs snout to Andrew’s leg to distract him from the behavior. Not only did this distract him but it also stopped the unwanted behavior that Andrew was having. Andrew finds animals to be very therapeutic and often tries to sit with our family dog and converse with him or try to read a book to him, but our little dog just doesn’t participate. The service dog would provide companionship, responsibility, social opportunity, discussion opportunity, as well as physical forms of therapy for Andrew. Andrew often wanders off and this would also be an added security measure for his safety and this is a very critical aspect to ensuring that Andrew does not get lost or leave our home without us knowing. All of the dogs are trained for search and rescue as well, which provides a peace when this is a possibility that your child could wander off. This is something that would benefit Andrew immensely and is critical to his social development. Like any other medical or therapeutic resource there are costs associated with getting this service dog. The cost of getting the service dog is $5000.00, which is a fraction of the cost if we would have went with some other organizations that charge up to $30,000.00 for this benefit. SSD has volunteers who foster the animal while they are being trained to the specific needs of the client, in this case Andrew. Along with the cost of the dog, there are some requirements that we have to meet as well, before the dog would be permitted to come live with Andrew. The only requirement that we do not meet currently is that we have to have a fence around our yard so that the dog can be safe and have an area to get exercise, use the bathroom, etc. The costs associated with fencing in the yard are a minimum cost of $4500.00. Although there is scholarship money available through SSD, we do not qualify because we are not residents of Pennsylvania. There is no money available through local programs that we are able to get to help with these costs either. We do not receive any government assistance for expenses that we have associated with Andrew’s medical needs, medication needs, or therapies; as this is all out of pocket expenses for us after insurance is billed. So as you can imagine, staring at a $9500.00 need to make a better life for your child is very frustrating and what seems to be “not that much” is a tremendous amount for us. The dog that Andrew would be matched with is going to be trained to his specific needs. Some of the specific needs that Andrew has are his difficulty with focus and completing school work. For this, the dog will be trained to nudge him or place his/her snout in Andrew’s hand and place it back on his paper on his desk. Some other specific things that the dog will be trained to do is to lie on Andrew if he wants it to which would apply some light pressure to Andrew. Some kids with Autism find comfort in having slight pressure applied to them. The dog would also be trained to sleep in bed with Andrew, which is something that will be incredibly beneficial because he is very afraid of being alone and wanders into our bed every night. As he gets older and bigger, this takes up a lot more space. We consider this a mommy and daddy benefit as well. There is no cost to us, the family, for the fees associated with fostering or training the dog. When the dog is ready to come home, we, as a family, have to attend a 2 week training with Andrew and the dog. This has no cost associated with it either and at the end of the training the dog will receive recognition as a licensed service dog. The dog will accompany Andrew everywhere, even to school. This is something that Andrew needs desperately and would benefit him tremendously. It would make the difficulties in his life a little bit easier. We are prayerfully asking for help with this matter. Donations in any amount would be greatly appreciated and it takes prayer and hard work to make things happen. Any donation checks, money orders, etc. can be made to Andrew Dittman. We want the monies to come to him because this is a fundraiser specifically for him and his needs. He is aware that we are asking for help and he will be providing letters of thanks and will provide frequent updates on the status of his fundraising goal of $9500.00. Please prayerfully consider helping our little boy bring home his new “best friend” and companion that he will find in his service dog. Thank you so much and we wish all of you many blessings through the coming months. Love, Matt, Missi, Andrew, and Kierstyn Dittman “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:24-25