What a whirlwind the past few weeks have been. More and more families have begun to speak out over being scammed by an autism service dog organization. As we tell our stories, it seems to beg a question from those around us… Didn’t you research, look into this organization? Didn’t you ask questions? Didn’t you see the red flags? How could you have been so misled? The answer is yes, yes, yes and yes, and yet somehow, yes, we were still misled. Why? Because we needed hope. It was offered, and we took it.
Let me tell you a little about some of the children involved in this Animals for Autism/ Pepsi Refresh Scam. Some don’t speak at all. Others have very limited verbal skills. Some use speech devices to communicate their needs. Some have been in and out of hospitals. Some are at risk for wandering. Some have self injurious behaviors. Some aren’t potty trained. Some have seizures. Some have other serious health issues on top of autism. Some have mobility issues. All have autism and ALL are beautiful, sweet, talented children who deserve better in life than what they are getting.
Life is hard for children with autism. Simple everyday tasks become a challenge. The world is overwhelming with sights, sounds, and smells that are hard for an already overly worked nervous system to take in. They often don’t understand dangers like wandering off at the playground, or bodies of water, or even hot stoves. All you have to do is watch the news to hear the horror stories. They miss out on many of the opportunities that most of us take for granted. Society doesn’t understand them. They are misjudged. They are ignored. They are made fun of. As parents we want desperately to help them. We seek out treatments. We seek out educational programs. We fight for their rights daily. We want somehow to ease just a little of the pain they feel and we want to find a way to protect them, to keep them safe. We want hope. Hope that their lives will someday be a little easier, a little better.
In walks Lea Kaydus (Animals for Autism). Wow, does she offer hope. Let me just share what she said in one of her press releases.
While not appropriate in every case, Autism Service Animals are a wonderful addition to the treatment programs of many individuals on the autism spectrum. According to USA Today, “A 2004 study showed assistance dogs could help autistic children learn about living beings, feelings and needs…” Service animals can:
*Help save lives by preventing wandering.
*Provide opportunities for positive social interaction in the community.
*Disrupt undesirable behaviors.
*Redirect their owners.
*Provide structure to daily living.
*Help teach respect and responsibility.
*Calm their owners with pressure therapy.
*Provide sensory awareness.
*Increase self-esteem. -and-
*Provide constant companionship.
Hope indeed. The thing about most service dog organizations is that they charge anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. A lot of money to families already strapped with the costs of raising a special needs child. Animals for Autism only charged an average of $5,000, since they relied on volunteers and donations to run their program. More hope, but lets not forget the best part, Pepsi gave them a grant to provide 10 dogs “free of charge.” For those who were already making payments, their balance would be paid in full. Wow, now we are really talking big time hope.
Why wouldn’t we trust her? She was offering this amazing gift for our children and she had an autistic child herself. One thing about the autism community is that we support each other. We understand each other. We help each other. It all seemed too good to be true…. Looking back now, it was.
The families involved in this mess are not ignorant. We are smart families. We just simply got taken advantage of. We needed hope, it was offered, we took it. We were betrayed by an individual claiming to be one of us, who in reality cared more about her own personal gain than about our children and by a company that cared more about their reputation than standing up for what is right.
Something has been taken from our families, something more than a dog…. Our hope was taken away. It will take a long time for us to heal, but we will heal. It will take a long time to learn to trust again, but we will trust, and it may take a long time, but we will find hope again. We will go on. We are autism moms and dads. We fight for our children, and we NEVER give up.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope” Martin Luther King, Jr.