Autism Support Dog for Leonie

Can you help Bruno join our family? Bruno is a highly-skilled autism-support dog, specially trained to provide emotional support to people with autism in situations that are likely to overwhelm them. He has been matched with our daughter Leonie by a wonderful organisation called Supporting Paws, but we need to raise funds for his training.

Leonie was diagnosed with autism in 2021. She experiences severe anxiety, especially in social situations like school, and this is complicated by extreme constant exhaustion caused by Long Covid, which she has been living with for 3½ years. Despite her love of learning, she has not been able to attend school for over 2 years. She often feels isolated and overwhelmed and is sometimes so full of despair about her life that she harms herself.

Bruno would give Leonie the reassurance she needs to do things that are currently impossible for her – to meet a friend, to go into a shop, and eventually, to return to school. Autism-support dogs can detect when a person is on the brink of panic attack or a melt-down. They are trained to interrupt episodes of self-harm. These amazing animals respond with comfort and physical contact, and provide the experience of unconditional non-judgemental love that a person with autism can struggle to accept from a human being. As a fully certified service dog (similar to the more well-known guide dogs for the blind), Bruno could accompany Leonie anywhere, including libraries, shops and school.

Bruno is a beautiful young Labrador. For Leonie, it was love at first sight. They have met once and if this can go ahead, then Leonie would be involved in the later stages of his training. But the training of autism-support dogs is understandably costly and even though it is heavily subsidised by Supporting Paws, in order for him to come to live with Leonie, we need to contribute £11,000.

Please help Bruno join our family and give Leonie back her hope, joy and independence

Further information about Leonie’s situation:

Leonie is now 14 years old and has suffered from Long Covid and a resulting autonomic nervous system disorder called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) since March 2020, which affects her heart. She is also autistic and very sensitive to sounds and bright lights. Most importantly, she is afraid of people, as it is very stressful for her to interpret their behaviour and know how to respond appropriately. Before she developed Long Covid at the age of 10, she was just able to cope in school and in most social settings, although even then it was clear that being in large groups was quite stressful for her.
Leonie contracted Covid at the very beginning of the pandemic and has been ill ever since. For over 3 years, she has suffered from extreme fatigue, headaches, and joint pain, and often cannot sit or stand for more than a few minutes without fainting. For the first year of her illness, she was able to attend school on a greatly reduced schedule, but her illness worsened and eventually resulted in her being unable to leave her bed frequently. She has now been out of school for two years and her condition has not improved, so she will most likely not be able to attend school in the 2023/24 school year (Year 10).

Long Covid's exhaustion interacts with her autism, making it even harder for her to interact with other people because she does not have the energy to recognise their social cues– something neurotypical people do automatically and without conscious effort, but which takes a lot of work for her. She is aware that she is at risk of misunderstanding people’s intentions because she is very empathetic, and has therefore developed strong social anxiety. Fearful of upsetting others by misunderstanding them and being judged, she has become very isolated and rarely leaves her room. She cannot be in the same room with other people, not even her own parents. In the last two years, she has not been able to have meals with us (her parents and younger brother), not even at Christmas or on her birthday. There are often entire days when she only communicates with us through the closed door of her bedroom.

The Long Covid and POTS have also severely limited her mobility. A year ago, she even had to use a wheelchair inside the house; now, after making some progress, she only has to use the wheelchair when she leaves the house for longer distances. Before Covid, she was very athletic, riding her bike, rollerblading, swimming and learning judo. Now she can usually only sit for 45 minutes before the blood drains from her upper body and pools in her legs, causing her to pass out. She spends most of her time listening to audiobooks and crocheting scarves while resting in bed.

To date, there is no medical treatment for Long Covid. She is cared for by the local paediatric service for Long Covid. They see her regularly and try to help her adjust to her “new normal” by explaining how to manage her energy. She has also been prescribed antidepressants to help her cope, but her situation is so bad that they do not help much.

Since there is currently no treatment that will give her more physical energy and stop her Long Covid symptoms, we are currently focusing on reducing the energy sapping effect that the anxiety caused by her autism has on her. For this reason, her Long Covid doctors and NHS psychologist have suggested an autism support dog.

Autistic people, and Leonie is an example, often find it easier to relate to animals than to people. Leonie says it's easier to figure out what animals want than what people want, and most importantly, animals don’t judge you.

Leonie would like to be out and about and have a life. She would like to be able to tolerate social situations again and slowly return to school. She is very intelligent and would like to graduate from high school because in the long run she would like to be a researcher and study animal cognition. But right now, the Long Covid is not only limiting her life physically, but her social anxiety is also keeping her from attending school. This is where Bruno would make a life-changing difference.

Thank you for reading our fundraising plea. We would be so grateful for your support.

7.5% of all donations to Tree of Hope in relation to this appeal will be allocated to the general charitable purposes of Tree ofHope to cover our core operating costs.

If we raise insufficient funds, or surplus funds, then the funds will be used, if appropriate, to fund support for our child’s needs in accordance with Tree of Hope’s charitable objects. If in those circumstances we are unable to use all or part of the funds for the benefit of our child in accordance with Tree of Hope’s charitable objectives, then any funds that cannot be used will be transferred to be used for the general charitable purposes of Tree of Hope.

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