Joel was only two years old when his mum Janet noticed he wasn’t really engaging with his family and the world around him. As he grew older, Joel began to find things increasingly difficult. When he started school he struggled to cope, and would become highly anxious and upset, often resulting in violent meltdowns.
On one awful day, Janet went to pick Joel up from school to find him in huge panic and distress. When she asked what had upset him so much he cried out ‘I just want to be like everyone else.’ It was a devastating moment for Janet. ‘I knew the realisation he was different had hit him hard, and it terrified him’, she says. Joel has autism. It means he is deeply affected by noises, sounds and new places. Unpredictable or unfamiliar environments, such as school,
a supermarket, or park, are hugely stressful and traumatic for him. Sudden noises, smells and sights which most people are not even aware of can frighten the life out of him. It was heart-breaking for Janet and her husband to see their son so desperately unhappy.
At an age when his peers were growing in confidence, enjoying school and time with friends, Joel was becoming increasingly withdrawn. Soon, he was refusing even to go into his own garden. It seemed there was no where else to turn. Then, one day, hope
came in an unlikely form...
A paediatrician told Janet about autism assistance dogs. After doing some research, Janet began to see a glimmer of hope. She knew what a difference a dog like this could make
to her son. In September 2012 Caddie the golden Labrador arrived. From
that day, everything changed.
Janet recalls the day Caddie arrived. ‘The first day we met Caddie it was just amazing. Joel agreed to go outside into the garden – something he’d refused to do for months – and played with Caddie with a ball. My husband Kevin broke down in tears when he saw it; we both knew Caddie was going to transform our lives.’
Life before autism assistance dog Caddie arrived was very different to how it is now for Joel and his family. Getting Joel out of the house had become next to impossible and increasingly dangerous. He refused to hold Mum Janet’s hand and would ‘bolt’ – run off – and hide. One day he skipped blindly out into the road and was almost run down by a car.
Caddie had been specially trained by Dogs for Good to support Joel in many different ways. A constant companion, Caddie is always by Joel’s side, and has hugely reduced the anxiety and distress Joel faced. New and unfamiliar places, which would previously have caused huge distress, are now manageable, even enjoyable, with the ever steady Caddie by Joel’s side. Simple things, which most children take for granted, have become possible for Joel. Ordering a drink in a café. A family meal at a restaurant. A walk home from school chatting to his mum, not experiencing fear and anxiety at every turn.
Caddie is so in tune with Joel’s needs that he picks up on when Joel is getting stressed or not coping before anyone else, running to his side to calm him and alerting Janet to the fact her son needs help. So great is the transformation in Joel, earlier this year he appeared on national television to tell the world about the difference Caddie had made, and try and raise enough money to train another dog like Caddie. From a little boy for whom a trip to the supermarket was almost impossible, this remarkable achievement is nothing short of a miracle.
No one sums up the difference Caddie has made better than Joel himself. ‘This world we live in I find hard, I find everything hard, but Caddie is my special friend, my SuperDog. He keeps me calm and keeps me safe’, he says. ‘He’s like a guardian angel to me.’
Mum Janet says, “The first day we met Caddie it was just amazing. Joel agreed to go outside into the garden – something he’d refused to do for months – and played with Caddie with a ball. My husband Kevin broke down in tears when he saw it; we both knew Caddie was going to transform our lives.”
With Caddie, a different world is possible for Joel. One not consumed by fear and anxiety. One filled with happiness, adventure. One that every young boy deserves.
Read more from Joel and his family here.