How a friend can make a difference for a child with autism

“I think people are like dogs, we all have emotions, feelings and a soul. Everyone is different but all our different abilities count. Diesel is my power for life – even when I’m at school and he isn’t with me, he is always in my heart.”

Before Jacob met his best mate a year ago, the world felt like a “scary” place. Jacob has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was uncomfortable going places that involved speaking with or being around people.

Growing up, he did not have many friends and 12-year-old-Jacob today can clearly describe how lonely he felt. He also suffered from night terrors, so his mum Juanita did not sleep well either and was on high alert each night.

Jacob distinctly remembers the day he met Diesel, his Compass Assistance Dog, and invited him to join his family. Compass Assistance Dogs are highly trained to support children with many conditions, including autism – and in this case, for Jacob the world became instantly easier with Diesel in it.

“I knew Diesel was special; he makes me feel calm and safe. He is my best friend, and we go anywhere we like together now. Every day I wake up and see Diesel first, he sleeps by me. I fill his water bowl, brush him, walk him, and get him ready for the day; it’s my job to take care of him too,” Jacob says.

Having Diesel at his side has changed Jacob’s perspective and many of his challenges have become more manageable due to Diesel’s presence. Diesel is also helping Jacob to make more human friends as he’s now more comfortable and feels more confident to engage with people.

“When Diesel is wearing his jacket he knows it means he is working and although people want to pat him, I just explain that he might get confused that it is play time. A lot of people are friendly now and ask me questions about Diesel, but I like it better when people just say he is a cute dog, so I don’t have to explain what he does,” Jacob explains.

The family’s journey has been challenging. Juanita stopped working to support her children’s health and therapy needs, which caused financial strain. She knew when she first investigated support options for autism that there was a range, but they could never afford an assistance dog themselves. It was an option that Compass explored and suggested, then made possible based on Jacob’s particular needs.

Juanita finds the Compass program of matching a child with autism with the right dog to be extraordinary.

“Jacob has always been comfortable with animals, so the transition to having Diesel for support was incredibly rewarding and immediate. People often ask me why Jacob required an assistant dog rather than a pet. Jacob struggled outside of the home in public and assistant dogs have public access rights so Diesel can support Jacob in more of the places he would usually find overwhelming, like restaurants, supermarkets and cinemas,” Juanita notes.

Diesel’s presence is helping Jacob to learn life skills and helps to make the world feel equitable for Jacob. Jacob is now able to find his voice and communicate with people comfortably. Because Jacob now sleeps well, he feels calm.

Juanita acknowledges that Diesel enables Jacob to live his best life and makes a big contribution to the whole family’s life. She believes that Diesel has changed all of their lives for the better and gave the family hope.

“We are filled with gratitude for Compass, sponsors and everyone that made this possible for us and for the balance that it has brought to all of our lives. To know that people donated their time and money to help a child in need that they may never meet is truly magical,” she says.

On that note, Jacob says if he had an Elder wand like Harry Potter, he knows what he would do – he would ensure every kid who needs Compass’ help would have it.

“I want to say thank you from deep in my heart for giving me Diesel. He helps me every day with autism, dyslexia, and understanding sarcasm. I think people are like dogs, we all have emotions, feelings, and a soul. Everyone is different but all our different abilities count. Diesel is my super power for life – even when I’m at school and he isn’t with me, he is always in my heart.”