Balancing work and the needs of your children is a constant juggle, familiar to any parent, but if your child has special needs the additional care and stress add an extra dimension of pressure that often results in having to make difficult choices in order to give the family the support they need.

Sarah, is a mum of two children, her youngest of whom has autism, she left her career as a solicitor in order to give all the family the support they needed.  Now thanks to their autism assistance dog, Ivan, life has become much calmer for everyone.  Happily, Sarah has also been able to commence training for a new career and life for the whole family is much more positive. Read Sarah’s story…

“You just can’t go on like this”

I’ll never forget that conversation with my boss, a partner in the law firm I worked for as a solicitor.

Our second child, our son, was about two years old. Looking back, that was the moment that I realised that he wasn’t just “more of a handful”, I wasn’t just a working mum who wasn’t trying hard enough to juggle things, something more was going on. What I couldn’t say, because I didn’t know, was “My son has autism”. That came later, after a three year struggle for diagnosis.

Our son struggled to cope with the overload that the world put on him. We supported him and kept him safe through frequent meltdowns, stopping him just bolting across the road or away from the house to escape his feelings. The hypervigilance and emotional overwhelm was totally exhausting.

I wasn’t working but it didn’t feel like a “choice”

I couldn’t work. After hours each morning just to get our son to school I would sit in the car and cry for forty minutes, my limbs limp like a rag doll and my anxiety levels sky high. I would just about manage to cook and clean.

My husband felt overwhelmed by his new sole responsibility for being the bread winner. I felt guilty if I spent money and we would argue about money. Every single day we worried.

I lost a lot of confidence. I didn’t believe that I could work any more. We lived in an autism bubble and it was tiny and restricted. In that bubble was our daughter, two years older than her brother, and struggling with the impact of his needs tooSarah, Marcus and Ivan.

Then, we got Ivan our amazing assistance dog. Within 6 weeks life with our son was completely transformed. We could go out and about together as a family, he was calmer and his sleep improved. Ivan helped transition to special school go smoothly. Later, Ivan helped us fight our way back from a severe regression back onto an even keel. Throughout it all the Charity is always there to support us.

We have visited so many places that our son has loved and we could never have done before. All those experiences build his skills and confidence. Our son now not only gets himself up and dressed for school, but feeds his dog and takes him outside too; we hope this is a sign that he will be able to care for himself one day too.

Returning to work

Ivan and MarcusI was able to go back to work as a business manager knowing we’d cope. Now I’ve gone back to university to retrain for a completely new career. I would never have had the confidence before and we wouldn’t have been able to cope as a family.

For our son, even though mum’s routine is different, he has that complete security and consistency of his four-legged best friend (who he calls his “furry angel”).

My husband knows that when I’m qualified I will be working again, that he won’t be carrying the financial burden on his own any more.

Our daughter has been able to have time just being a child, not a young carer. She’s more confident knowing Ivan is there to help her brother. We can enjoy family time now.

We all have hope for the future thanks to our amazing assistance dog.

 Dogs for Good is celebrating World Autism Awareness Week from 27 March to 2 April.