Bruce and Claudia, parents of 15-year-old Sabina, always knew their little girl was different from her peers, but it wasn’t until she was 2 that they finally received a diagnosis from their doctor. Until then, they were simply told she wasn’t hitting her milestones. They were left with many unanswered questions and the challenge of raising a child with intellectual disabilities alongside their two other children, both under 5. Sabina has a chromosome deletion disorder called Neurofibromatosis which presents characteristics similar to those in autistic children. At 15-year-old, Sabina’s behaviour is much like a toddler, presenting numerous challenges for her family as she grows in strength and determinism. Through her younger years, Sabina was known to run away from her parents regularly which became harder to control, causing the family to stay at home more for fear of her safety in public. Life for her family became more isolated, stressful, and challenging.
In 2014 the family applied for an Assistance Dog in the hope the dog would act as a tether for Sabina, providing safety and enabling the family to go out more. In 2016, Assistance Dog Niles was matched with Sabina and tailor-trained for her specific needs. By this time, Sabina had stopped running away as much and the tether harness was quickly retired once Sabina worked out how to detach it! In the first months of placement, the ever calm and collected Niles adjusted quickly, performing a number of different tasks and roles to help the developing needs of his new client and her family. More recently, Sabina developed epilepsy and Niles is able to support his her through episodes, providing comfort when she comes around and reassurance to her parents that she will be ok, even if they’re not in the room.
Niles is now 8 and has been a tremendous blessing for Sabina and her family. He is Sabina’s best friend and provides companionship to his teenage client, helping her feel less isolated and alone. Her parents could see the dramatic difference Niles made every time Sabina came home from school. If Niles was lying across her lap while she watched TV, they knew she had had a bad day and needed his comfort. If he was napping at the end of the bed, her day hadn’t been so bad. Niles accompanies her everywhere and makes their regular trips to hospitals, specialist appointments and dentists more bearable by providing a distraction for Sabina. Like many of our young clients, Sabina is able to follow Niles’ example as he calmly enters new and stressful environments and provides comfort when new challenges arise. When Sabina does struggle and have a meltdown, he quickly helps diffuse the situation and assists her in de-escalating much quicker than she could by herself, or with the help of her parents. This drastically reduces the stress and anxiety of leaving the house for the whole family, as Bruce and Claudia know their daughter will be easier to manage and will have a better time when in public. These days Sabina’s disability is often invisible until she experiences challenges and her mood shifts; she may look like a neurotypical teenager to those around her. In his smart blue ADNZT jacket, Niles provides a welcome signal to passers-by that Sabina has extra challenges, and her family needs a little more patience and understanding. Whether it's jumping on a plane or train, heading to a dance class or rollerblading through the botanic gardens, easy-going Niles takes it all in his stride and widens Sabina’s world, letting her experience opportunities she wouldn’t be able to without him. He allows her to step out a little bit further and will continue to open doors to new experiences as she gets older.
Earlier this year the family moved house and Niles provided constant companionship and support for Sabina as her world changed around her, helping her settle quickly. In her new town, he attracts the attention of younger children who want to come and say hi, and Sabina thrives getting to show off her handsome dog and build friendships with them. Every morning Niles and her parents drop her off at school, and Sabina eagerly awaits his arrival at the end of the day, where she gets to play with her best friend and the other kids in her class before heading home again. Niles has become a much-loved member of his community and will continue to provide incredible benefits to the whole family through his working life. Sabina will always rely on her love of animals to navigate new environments and build friendships. As she heads towards the end of high school, the family will wait to see whether they will need another Assistance Dog for their daughter when Niles retires, or if her needs will continue to develop and change over time.