Joondalup girl funding her own way to autism assistance dog

Tilly Schmidt (11), of Joondalup, with James Brown from Wagamuffins Dog Training. Picture: Martin Kennealey d490427
Tilly Schmidt (11), of Joondalup, with James Brown from Wagamuffins Dog Training. Picture: Martin Kennealey d490427

WITH no funding available for an assistance dog, Tilly Schmidt has taken things into her own hands.

The 11-year-old from Joondalup, who has previous held blanket and food drives for RSPCA WA and the Dogs’ Refuge Home, has autism and her therapists have said an assistance dog would be of great benefit to her.

“It would help me with daily life chores and calm down my anxiety,” Tilly said.

“I have thought about it for a few years and spoken to my psychologist and occupational therapist and with Mum and Dad about it, but we did not think it was possible as it’s not a funded thing here.”

So Tilly decided to start her own GoFundMe page.

“I have also been going through my toys, books and clothes and selling things I don’t need, and Mum and Dad have been doing the same,” she said.

“I have also been making dog biscuits to sell, which I have been selling to friends and in Mum’s Seastarz Swim School and I have offered dog walking of small dogs but not had any interest.”

Louise Schmidt said her daughter’s autism diagnosis came later than many kids – when she was eight.

Picture: Martin Kennealey

“Tilly was a great baby… and at school she did well, forming a small group of friendships but as she got older, stress and anxiety started to affect her and she struggled to make new relationships,” she said.

“I realise now that she faces daily challenges and difficulties most of us will never have to deal with, especially as she has hyper-mobility and significant sensory processing problems as well.

“She can cope with some things well but a build-up of little things can lead to a meltdown.

“It’s like having a constant flight or fight reaction to everyday activities.

“Imagine trying to concentrate at school when the uniform you have to wear irritates your skin, when you can feel every seam and label in your clothing.

“Add to that the need to constantly fidget, the noise of your peers, the smells in the room, the bright lights and other distractions and then trying to focus on what your teacher is telling you.

“Another issue with sensory processing is having a poor short-term memory so it’s hard to take in and retain information without all these outside distractions.”

Mrs Schmidt said an assistance dog would help Tilly in several ways, providing safety, reducing anxiety and stress, and providing deep pressure therapy when needed.

“Even simple things like getting dressed for school can be a challenge for Tilly so having a dog bring her all her clothing takes the stress out of it and makes it fun,” she said.

“Dogs can also be trained to shower with the child.

“Tilly has a natural affinity with animals – she loves them all – and she has spent the last few years researching this so its something she really thinks can help.”

Wagamuffins assistance dog trainer Kay Whiteley said dogs could be trained to detect anxiety responses in their handler and provide deep tissue pressure to help recovery.

Kay Whiteley from Wagamuffins Dog Training with Angus, and Tilly Schmidt (11) and James Brown. Picture: Martin Kennealey

“Should the handler become overwhelmed in a crowded or loud area, the dog can take the handler to a quiet area, or if they get scared and run for safety the dog can locate them and alert a safe person to their presence,” she said.

“Should the handler have difficulty sleeping, the dog can also lie with and comfort them and can also be rained to wake them from nightmares.”

Mrs Schmidt said there was a lack of funding because assistance dogs were “quite a new idea for Australia”.

She said while the fundraising initiative was a lot of work, she could see how passionate her daughter was and she wanted to see her achieve her goal of $10,000.

“We wanted her to do something outside of the GoFundMe page as well, so she has to work for her goal not just expect others to help her,” Mrs Schmidt said.

“She has been so motivated with the biscuits, it’s been amazing and it’s teaching her life skills such as budgeting, reading and cooking.

“I helped her with the first few batches and now the only help she needs is putting them in the hot oven and getting them back out again – she even does the washing up.”

For more information on the dig biscuits or local dog walking of small dogs, email louise@seastarzswimschool.com.