STANFORD — A Lincoln County mother is hoping to raise $13,000 so her autistic son can have a specially trained K-9 guardian that could help save his life and make things easier for his caregivers.
Twelve-year-old Nelson Martin enjoys Hot Wheels cars and taking trips to hotels, but his multiple medical conditions — including autism, epilepsy and encephalopathy — mean he will always need someone to care for him.
Nelson, a Stanford resident who attends special education classes at McGuffey Sixth Grade Center, has to deal with a lack of depth perception, balance problems and low motor skills on a daily basis, said Donna Martin, Nelson's mother.
Nelson also suffers from seizures. One of the medications he's on to help prevent them comes with side effects that exacerbate his autistic problems by making him easily irritable.
"An average day is very stressful — not just for him, but for us and whoever's around," Martin said.
Sometimes, Nelson has periods of about 20 minutes when he's content to watch TV or play with his Hot Wheels, but many other times, he is restless and discontent, prone to flapping his hands around and repeating phrases loudly.
"In some ways, he's an 18-month-old; in some ways, he's a 2-year-old," Martin said. "I'll always care for him."
Despite all his issues, Martin said her son is blessed in a way many others with similar conditions aren't — he doesn't deal with debilitating depression or frustration about his conditions because he doesn't fully comprehend all his limitations.
"He's loving. He's very, very happy," she said.
Thanks to a Medicaid waiver program, Martin is able to stay home and care for her son whenever he's not at school, but Nelson needs near-constant attention and things are getting more complicated as he gets older and taller.
But one thing that has the potential to make life easier for Nelson and his family is the addition of a specially-trained, four-legged friend to their household.
After researching service dogs for people with conditions similar to Nelson's, Martin discovered the non-profit organization 4 Paws for Ability, which works to meet the needs of children suffering from seizures by providing them with dog companions.
Dogs trained by 4 Paws are able to detect when their companion child is having a seizure and seek out and alert adults to the problem. Such a watchful companion could mean the difference between life and death for Nelson, since he is prone to seizures while he sleeps, Martin said.
Seizure alert dogs trained by 4 Paws often have the ability to alert on a seizure before outward physical signs are visible to humans, according to a press release from the company.
The dog would also be able to interrupt Nelson's repetitive behaviors and hand-flapping, allowing for a substantially more peaceful home situation.
And if Nelson wandered off, his dog would be trained to alert nearby adults and then pursue Nelson and stay with him wherever he goes, Martin said.
"It would be like his own search and rescue dog," she said.
4 Paws, an Ohio-based organization, estimates it places about 100 service dogs with children in need every year. Dogs trained by the organization help their owners with hearing disabilities, seizures, autism, mobility issues and diabetes.
Martin said a dog from 4 Paws would be "life-changing" for Nelson, herself and others who care for him, like her fiancé, Brian Aldridge.
Currently, even everyday activities most people take for granted like grocery shopping or going out to eat are huge tasks with Nelson involved. But with a companion animal helping ensure Nelson's safety and reduce his stress and unwanted behaviors, those activities become much more doable, Martin said.