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Riley & Blake

New life and new hope, thanks to a wonderful dog - and you.

Seven years ago, we met Riley. Diagnosed as severely autistic, five-year-old Riley was non-communicative and unpredictable.

Leaving the house was a major challenge for his family. A simple walk to the park or the shops was out of the question.

“We would have to strap Riley into his stroller or hold him. We had to be 100 per cent aware at all times of what he was doing, for fear that he would bolt away into danger,” said Riley’s mum, Nicole.

Riley had also just started school. “When he realised he had to go every day, he just wouldn’t go. It was taking me an hour to coax him to leave the house,” she said.

“He was also extremely afraid of dogs. The idea of an Autism Assistance Dog (AAD) seemed out of the question – I couldn’t imagine how it would work. I was in despair for my little boy, and my family.

“But then we met the Guide Dogs team. They were just amazing. We were on the AAD pilot program – one of the very first matches. I was afraid and excited, all at once.

"They gently and skilfully introduced Riley to our wonderful Blake – and overnight, life changed for the better.”

The difference when Blake arrived was extraordinary.

Nicole says the change she has seen over the years from a non-communicative, shy, afraid little boy, to a settled, happy young man is phenomenal.

The difference after Blake arrived was extraordinary. Riley would happily connect to Blake, walk calmly next to him and play with him. He started saying a few words and his social skills improved.

“Riley became calm and content around Blake. I clearly remember the day I looked out the window and saw them playing in the yard and Riley was laughing like mad. It was so wonderful. I had never seen anything like it before.

“I remember the first time I decided to use Blake to help us get Riley out the door to school. I connected him and we ‘went for a walk’, without protest. My husband met us down the road with the car; we got in and went to school. We never had a problem again,” she said.

“Most importantly, there was no more fear. We could leave the house without any stress or fear of danger. It was such a relief to know he was safe, and that life was actually going to get better,” says Nicole.

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Riley has blossomed.

Over the years, Riley’s relationship with Blake, his social skills and his personality have blossomed.

Nicole feels so much more relaxed and confident these days. Originally, her biggest concern was Riley’s safety. But over the years, he developed such a special connection with Blake that he understood that he needed to stay with him and did not run away. It was an understanding that didn’t really exist between him and his parents.

“For several years he was totally reliant upon Blake. Now, when they are in a safe environment like the nearby park, Riley is somewhat self-sufficient when walking. Riley is obviously bigger now so he isn’t ‘attached’ to Blake to stop him from running away. However, their close bond means that Riley is more confident and knows to stay beside Blake which in a way gives him a little more independence.”

Riley still only says a few words, but is very good at taking direction. He’s a young man of 12 now and his life is very different. He loves playing Minecraft on his iPad; he loves swimming, riding his scooter and his bike. He goes to school every day, is doing well with his letters and numbers and loves to sing! He likes to help in his Grandpa’s workshop and Nicole hopes that one day he’ll be able to participate in hands-on work like this.

Life is just normal now.

Nicole and her family cannot imagine what life would be like today without the gift of Blake.

“Being matched with an Autism Assistance Dog was the first step in changing not only Riley’s life, but our whole family’s life.”

These are the stories we love to tell. Riley’s life has changed forever and it was made possible through your donations and your support. Thank you.

This joy should be available to all families living with autism. Families who are trapped at home, isolated and living in fear. Diagnosis of autism is increasing and there are so many more children who need our help. An Autism Assistance Dog, just like Blake, would be life changing.

Will you please continue your generous support so more families can live a life without fear?

Riley & Blake