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Parents hope autism support dog will comfort 'scared' son who has forgotten to laugh

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To his mum and dad he is simply Ol, the little boy who has forgotten how to laugh and smile and who lives in his own world.

To outsiders he is a five-year-old boy who never interacts and for whom life is terrifying.

But it hasn't always been this way.

For when Oliver Fenner was a toddler he loved pirates, shouting "love you" to his mum and dad and playing with his older sister Amy.

But slowly he has changed. And now he has become isolated and afraid.

But there is one thing he still enjoys and that is playing with his Nanny's dog Hetty.

Now his mum Kate, 43, and dad Jon, 47, are hoping they can buy Oliver a specially trained dog which will help him come to terms with his autism.

So they have been busy fundraising and organising events such as auctions, bag packing and car boot sales and Oliver's 13-year-old sister Amy, who is visually impaired, will be attempting to climb the biggest indoor climbing wall in the UK at Kendal Wall.

"We believe the dog will really help Ol," said Kate, who lives at Ruyton-XI-Towns. "It is a lot of money, approximately £5,500 but if it helps him then it is worth it. The dogs are specially trained to deal with people with autism and they know how to respond to them."

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Oliver has been assessed over recent months and found to be suffering from hypermobility and the onset of an autistic behaviour called sensory processing disorder.

"When he was 20 months old there were question marks raised over his development," said Kate.

"He seemed to have some autistic traits but there was nothing too specific. Then he developed a few more traits such as hand slapping or rocking. But there was nothing massively wrong. He would give eye contact and would interact with us.

  • There are more than 700,000 people in the UK with some form of autism, accounting for more than one in every hundred people. When families are taken into account, it is estimated to affect 2.8 million people every day.
  • Autism includes a spectrum of conditions, which means that while all people share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some are able to live relatively independent lives, but others may need a lifetime of specialist support.
  • People with autism may also experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
  • Asperger’s syndrome is a form or autism. Those diagnosed with it are often of above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech, but may still have difficulties with processing language. They may also have difficulties understanding some of the rules governing social interaction.
  • Sixty-three per cent of children with autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them.

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"But then last year everything changed. Now it seems we have lost him. Since the start of the year there has been a massive regression. He is still undergoing neurological and medical investigations so we don't really know what has caused it.

"He finds going into the world really, really scary. He gets anxious and starts to hallucinate. We seem to be losing him week to week. It is incredibly hard to watch. He has significant learning difficulties and interaction and communication problems.

"What this means to him is that the world around him has become a very scary and difficult place to be for him.

"He is unaware of his surroundings and shows very little emotion even to the things he used to love or hearing him say 'Mummy or Daddy' or his shout of 'love you'.

Kate and the family are hoping that the dog, which they aim to get through the Assistant Dogs Europe, will offer Oliver a little comfort and make him feel safer.

"For him to have a dog that will be trained to go into any place that he goes, be his pal and accept him for just being Ol and be with him when he can't tell us what is wrong or if he's in pain," she said.

"These are things that his dog will be trained in and it will make life changing differences to him."

Anyone wishing to donate to Kate's just giving page should visit https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/kate-bishop

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