Real Life

Weekly people: Why Noah needs a dog

A four-legged buddy will help to improve a special little boy's life.
Weekly people Noah Wheeler

Dogs are known to be man’s best friend. But for six-year-old Noah Wheeler, a canine companion will completely change his life. Born with both autism spectrum disorder (the most severe form of autism) and global development delay, Noah lives in his own little world and has no sense of danger. But with the help of an assistance dog, he will be able to enjoy greater independence and provide his loving parents, Natasha (35) and Shane (40), with much more freedom.

“Keeping our son safe is a big challenge,” Natasha explains. “Noah has no idea of what can harm him. For instance, he will walk straight out onto a road with no awareness of the cars. We know an assistance dog can improve Noah’s socialisation and behaviour, and give him the freedom to be safer out in public.”

The Auckland family is fundraising for a specially trained dog provided by Assistance Dogs New Zealand, which costs $20,000. The canine will be leashed to Noah every time he’s out in public. It will also be trained to stop when the little boy gets to the side of the road and bark if he runs off or gets in trouble at the beach.

“Noah loves the beach. He loves the water, but he has no concept of depth. Having a dog will be a huge part of his life,” adds Natasha.

Natasha and Shane say that the last six years have been challenging for them. Their daughter, Samantha (4), was also diagnosed with a mild form of autism and global development delay. But it’s Noah’s autism that is the most difficult to manage. Noah was born healthy but his parents noticed that something was not right with their son’s developmental stages. He had limited speech, misunderstood words and was socially awkward.

“He cried a lot, wouldn’t leave my side or let others pick him up,” says Natasha.

When Noah’s condition was diagnosed at the the age of two, it shook the couple to the core. They both burst into tears after hearing the news. “I was hysterical,”admits Natasha. “I didn’t see this coming and didn’t know anything about autism. We were told that it’s genetic and it’s just one of those things.”

When Samantha was born and displayed similar behaviour, they immediately got her checked. “She was different because she’s very quirky and very sociable, whereas Noah is very standoffish,” Natasha tells.

The couple admit their son’s autism can be difficult. “He’s hard to control. For instance, he withholds bowel movements and a lot of the time I have to give him an enema,” explains Natasha. “We take it day by day, but it’s more difficult the older he gets.”

There is no cure for autism and the couple refuse to medicate their children. The stress of raising two kids with autism has also taken a devastating toll on Natasha and Shane’s relationship and they have separated. They say the stress contributed to their split. Both confide that others find it hard to understand autism.

A trained canine like Labrador Logan (left) will be of huge benefit to Noah.

“On the surface, Noah looks fine,” Natasha explains.  “Someone once asked me when will Noah grow out of it. I fear that when he gets older, I won’t be able to look after him any more.”

Shane admits that other parents often judge them. “When we go to a supermarket or other public place and Noah has a tantrum, people look at us like we’re bad parents for not being able to control our children,” he tells. ”People need to understand that when they see children behave like this, there might be a good reason, and they should think twice before

they make judgments.”

Noah’s parents are desperate to raise enough funds for Noah, who attends a specialist class at Anchorage Park Primary School, to get an assistance dog. When the Weekly visits the Wheeler family there are two assistance dogs for Noah to meet. It’s obvious he adores them, but what the little boy doesn’t know is just how life-changing having a canine helper like this could be.

“Despite what he has to go through, he’s just a wonderful little boy,” says Natasha.

To help Noah get a dog, please visit givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/assistancedogfornoah.

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