Lichfield Service Family receive support dog despite COVID-19 outbreak

A local service family from Lichfield have finally received their specialist assistance dog named Coco for their son after they struggled to secure funding earlier this year.

Sgt Gemma Luxton, a RAF Medic based at Defence Medical Services, struggled to secure funding for her four-year-old son, Yian, in order to provide him with an autism assistance dog to support with his additional needs.

However, with the support of SSAFA’s RAF Personal Support and Social Work Service and an RAF Benevolent Fund grant, they were able to fund the scheme run by Autism Dogs Community Interest Company in Cheshire.

The family were fortunate enough to have been put on the waiting list before applications were closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown restrictions.

The Covid-19 outbreak meant that instead of travelling to the centre where Coco was receiving training, the family were able to complete training in their own home environment, meaning Yian has had even more essential bonding time with Coco.

Gemma Luxton said:

“I had been looking into autism assistance dogs for some time but didn’t know where to start. I reached out to Caroline at the Hive in Lichfield, who referred me to Sharon, a SSAFA caseworker at RAF Leeming. She provided me with all the information I needed and supported us throughout the process.”

“With the assistance dog, you would usually go to the farm they are trained on and have 1-2-1 training sessions with them on site. However, due to Covid-19, our dog, Coco, came to us straight away and we received 1-2-1 training with the specialist trainers in our own home. “

“Yian is the youngest child to be accepted on the scheme. We were just in time before the application programme was closed due to Covid-19. We were lucky to be accepted and we’re so excited to have Coco in our family.”

Yian was officially diagnosed with autism in May this year, but Gemma began to notice changes in his behaviour in April 2018, such as him being unable to communicate or connect with others. Gemma hopes that the animal-loving youngster will benefit from having 18-month-old chocolate Labrador, Coco, in their family.

“Yian finds it difficult to make connections with other people but seems to have an affinity with animals. We are hoping that Coco will be a best friend for him. If he gets overcome or compulsive, Coco can take charge of the situation through nuzzling and licking Yian to calm and comfort him.”

Coco will support Yian in several ways, including deep pressure therapy, to calm Yian down and help him settle, and anti-bolting, which will mean Coco will drop to the floor when Yian tries to run away.

Gemma added:

“We feel very lucky. It went from nothing happening to nearly having Coco so quickly. The Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown has been beneficial for us in terms of receiving Coco – the whole process was altered and fast tracked to ensure we received Coco for Yian as quickly as possible. The teams have been working non-stop and we can’t thank the charities enough for everything they have done for us.”

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity provided support to Gemma and Yian through their RAF Personal Support and Social Work Service, which provides support for the Royal Air Forces Community. The family’s caseworker helped Gemma apply for funding from the RAF Benevolent Fund, which supports serving and retired RAF personnel and their families.

The dog was provided by a company called Autism Dogs Community Interest Company. They match and train the dogs specifically to meet the service user’s needs and provide a fully managed Assistance Dog ‘Educational’ Programme for persons diagnosed with ASD, with no maximum age limit working with people living anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales.

The programme has recently received a National Autistic Society (NAS) Accreditation, meaning the programme is the first to be awarded the NAS Accreditation.

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