LIVING with autism and Down syndrome can be an isolating experience for a 10-year-old boy, but thanks to the love of a young, black labrador, Lochie Bailey is beginning to open up to his teacher and school friends.
Rory is one of 40 Smart Pups placed around Australia over the past four years, specifically trained to assist children with special needs.
After only four weeks, Rory has helped calm Lochie and temper the inevitable "meltdowns" parents of children with autism know all too well.
Smart Pups trainer Andrea Kirwin was in Rockhampton this week to prepare Rory, Lochie, teacher Amanda Hood and the children at Rockhampton North Special School for Rory's arrival at school next week.
"He's already become a bit of a celebrity with staff and students," Andrea said.
"The children understand they aren't allowed to touch Rory when he's wearing his 'work' jacket'."
Most importantly, he is trained to nuzzle Lochie when he starts to melt down, breaking the energy and giving the much-needed distraction.
Rory follows Lochie everywhere and if Lochie runs away, which he's done many times, Rory stays with him wherever he goes.
Mum Kath Bailey said Rory was opening up a whole new world for her son, who is now going places he previously wouldn't have.
"Lochie is fairly non-verbal and doesn't tend to talk to the other kids," Kath said. "But now with Rory in tow and the other children's fascination with him, he's beginning to talk to the other children and answer their questions.
"He's developed Lochie's sense of purpose… he's the only one to feed him and Rory sleeps in his room, so it's his job to let him out in the morning and he loves it."
With the help of some very generous people in Rockhampton, Kath and her husband Adrian raised the $25,000 needed to train Rory.
The couple have dedicated their lives to caring for their two special needs children.
Sister Gracie, 9, also has Down syndrome and Kath said life was now that little bit simpler.
"Because Lochie is calmer, we're not on hyper alert as much and can function a bit easier, going out and doing things," Kath said.
"After only four weeks, it's getting better every day."
Smart Pups are based on the Sunshine Coast and aim to improve the quality of life for young people with autism and seizure-related syndromes by training dogs in "task specific" skills
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