The Ballajura Primary School pre-primary student hasn’t had the easiest start to life. He was diagnosed with autism a year-and-a-half ago. Six months later he was diagnosed with epilepsy.
But the adoption of Tahlia the border collie five weeks ago has brought with it significant changes, according to mum Candace Cheesman.
Mrs Cheesman said her five-year-old son had experienced quite a few seizures, had trouble sleeping and had been on medication since his diagnosis, but since Tahlia’s adoption, his sleeping patterns had improved and seizures decreased.
Mrs Cheesman said she had heard from various people including her son’s therapist, that a dog in the household could help with her son’s development.
‘We were told by our therapist that dogs were really good with children who had social issues and I had spoken to quite a few people who had children with autism and had found the same thing,’ Mrs Cheesman said.
‘I did a lot of research beforehand and everything was positive, so we thought we’d give it a go.
‘Since Tahlia’s adoption they have been inseparable, Noah has come off the medication, he is now sleeping through the night and his confidence has increased.’
Mrs Cheesman said she contacted WISH Animal Rescue Group who organised nine dogs to match up with the family’s requirements.
‘I can’t believe their bond has become so tight in such a short time frame, we have only had her five weeks, but it was instant,’ she said.
‘Tahlia actually chose Noah and it was a special moment. They are just so close.’
Last month, according to Mrs Cheesman, this bond was set in stone after Tahlia alerted her that Noah was having a seizure in the middle of the night.
‘Even though we’ve only had Tahlia a short time she isn’t a barker, so when she started barking in the middle of the night we knew something was up,’ she said.
‘I ran to Noah’s room and she was at the foot of his bed barking at him and then barking at the door, it was like she knew something was wrong.
‘I sat there with Noah making sure he was OK and once the seizure stopped, we rewarded Tahlia with a treat.
‘Since then she has become even more protective and clingy. It really is an amazing bond they have.’
Mrs Cheesman hopes Noah’s story will bring awareness to autism and families going through the same situation.
‘I knew nothing about autism before I had Noah besides what I had seen in the movies, so my perception of autism was completely wrong,’ she said.
‘I think people have a misconception that children with autism should not be around animals because they are rough and could hurt them, but it’s not the case.
‘I found it’s completely the opposite, they are actually quite gentle and it keeps them calm because they have something that is relying on them. It really has been life-changing.’
Winthrop Professor Andrew Whitehouse who heads the Autism research team at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research said pets could be beneficial for children with autism.
‘Pets can be a wonderful education for children, by teaching them valuable skills about responsibility and companionship.
‘Children with autism, in particular, may get added benefits of having a pet, as they are able to learn these skills in a completely non-judgemental environment,’ Prof Whitehouse said.