As we wait for her mum to arrive home, I sit with Summer on the outside deck. To pass the time smoothly I pull out my iPhone to take some happy snaps of Summer and I. Summer is immediately intrigued as she can see both her face and mine in the screen as I take pictures. Funny faces, tongues poking out, hugs and smiles, she shrieks with delight and her laughter is infectious - this is an instant winner and I note this for future fun.
Summer is 5 years old, and as her name suggests, is a very sparkly, warm and energetic little girl. Something that is not immediately obvious is that Summer has been born with a neurodevelopmental disorder called Lissencephaly and Microcephaly. To put it simply, Summer's brain is much smaller and smoother resulting in severe developmental delay, which means she has underdeveloped speech, motor skills, behavioural challenges, amongst other issues.
One of the first things you notice about Summer is that she is incredibly affectionate. When she was a toddler, while other children would give a two-second hug and run, Summer would sit in your arms for what seemed like forever - she seemed to sense that exact moment when you really needed a good hug.
The second thing you notice is that Summer loves and embraces EVERYONE. Spending time in the park, I have often observed how Summer would never hesitate to run off in one direction and then join the neighbouring picnic, laugh and play with whoever was there and help herself to whatever food was on offer. Funny the first time, slightly awkward the fourth, fifith, sixth time... and so on.
The down side to her disorder is that Summer has no sense of what is safe, who is a friend or who is a stranger. And while it is sweet that she hugs and embraces everyone, unfortunately we live in a world where not everyone is safe or can be trusted with the affection of a child. In public places, unless she is held tightly by an adult, or if she is let go for a second, Summer often sprints without stopping, not aware of busy roads or other dangers.
The other challenge of her disorder is that Summer is not able to rationalise or control strong emotions or cope when routines change. In a stressful situation, she frequently experiences a "meltdown" and can become highly agitated and uncontrollable, resulting in sometimes unintentionally hurting others around her.
For Summer to be in a safe environment where others are safe too, Summer requires constant supervision and attention, which can be a challenge in any family, but particularly in a family with four brothers and sisters, one of whom has the same (slightly less serious) condition.
A Special Dog
Recently her family was introduced to the possibility of having an "assistance dog". Similar to a blind guide dog, these dogs are specially trained to help families and children with special needs. An assistance dog is trained to develop a special bond with the child while receiving commands from the parent. When out and about, an assistance dog is connected to their special child via a leash and keeps the child in close proximity to their carers and away from strangers or other forms of danger. A special difference with an assistance dog is that he / she is trained to sense a potential meltdown and calm the child. This may be in the form of a "doggy hug", lying down with the child, or simply staying close.
There are no words that can describe what having an assistance dog would mean to Summer, her family and a safe, happy future. Unfortunately, as her parents are first and foremost committed to their children and their community rather than pursuing a high-paying career, they are unable to raise the $25,000 required to pay for this special dog.
How We Can Help
Recently, the local school which she attends one day a week (she attends a special school four days a week) decided to support Summer by raising funds selling green bandaids by Green Aid. The box of sterile strips sells for $3 (20 pieces). $1 goes towards the cost of the product, $1 towards better water, medical support, education and nutrition for children and their families internationally and $1 will go towards buying an assistance dog for Summer.
We've decided to help out too. After some considerable thought, we decided that with every online order until Friday 2nd November, we'll include a box of these bandaids for free. We'll donate the $3 and you'll receive your tea goodies plus a box of 20 bandaids. To make it even easier for you to support Summer, we're giving free postage on all orders. This will automatically be applied at checkout.
So fill up your cupboards with beautiful Fairtrade organic tea, get your Christmas presents purchased early and help this beautiful girl.
Why? Because every child should have a safe, happy future and this special child is extra special to me - she's my beautiful niece, my wonderful sister's daughter.
Indulge in life.
(The below information was added 17/10/2012 in response to requests)
We've had a number of enquiries from people wanting to donate to help Summer's family pay for the assistance dog. Here is some information on how you can donate now:
Donations can be made directly to Dogs for Kids with Disabilities to help raise the $25,000 needed to pay for Summer's assistance dog.
In your donation, please include the reference SUMMER.
You can also donate via Paypal by sending payments to: email@example.com
If you wish to contribute via bank transfer please send funds to:
Account name: Dogs for Kids with Disabilities Ltd.
BSB: 033 132
Account #: 263882
Bank: Westpac North Melbourne
CHEQUE / MONEY ORDER
You can also donate via cheque, or money order. Cheques can be mailed to:
Dogs for Kids with Disabilities Ltd
PO Box 575
North Melbourne VIC 3051
DONATIONS TO DOGS FOR KIDS WITH DISABILITIES LTD ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE
*In your donation, please include the reference SUMMER. To enable DKD to track your donation and forward a receipt DKD requires your full name, address, and email address.