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Lightning, the service dog helping a boy with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

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According to a recent story in the Duluth News Tribune, Marty and Teresa Christiansen, who live in rural Merrifield, Minnesota are blessed with two teenage children, Elaina, 15, and Eli, 13. Eli, who was adopted when he was two years old, presents particular problems as he suffers from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Eli’s FASD is where the other member of the Christiansen family, a service dog named Lightning, comes in.

What us fetal alcohol spectrum disorder?

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) affects children whose mothers drank alcohol during their pregnancies, according to the CDC. FASD affects different children in different ways, both physically and psychologically. The disorder manifests itself in smaller than normal size, poor coordination, behavior and learning disorders, and intellectual deficits among other symptoms. No cure exists for FASD, but early intervention and certain medications can alleviate the worst of some of the symptoms.

How FASD affected Eli

The Christiansen family knew that Eli had FASD when they first adopted him but were not prepared for some of the challenges that condition presented them. Eli finds it difficult to process sensory perceptions such as sight, sound, and touch which seem extreme in him. He is also prone to suffering meltdowns in public, some of which can last for hours. He has a hard time dealing with changes in routine and will often make poor judgments, even from the standard of a teenager. His social skills are about half of what can be expected for a boy of his age, and he does not understand cause and effect. On the plus side, Eli’s language skills seem to be about average for a 13-year-old boy.

Eli’s propensity for having meltdowns made getting him ready for school a trial, featuring as the process did a lot of yelling and struggling. Taking him out in public, such as to a restaurant or a sporting event, was impossible. The movements inherent in car rides caused the boy a great deal of stress.

These displays of fear and rage have given the Christiansen family a great deal of grief. People witnessing the meltdowns are unaware of Eli’s condition and will often just assume that Marty and Teresa are bad parents. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Eli’s problems only escalated the older and bigger he got. Clearly something had to be done.

Enter Lightning, the service dog

The Christiansen family acquired Lightning from an organization called 4 Paws for Ability. They had to raise $13,000 for the organization and undergo a week’s worth of training in Ohio. When Lightning went home with the family, he had already bonded with Eli. The effects were nothing short of miraculous.

Eli’s parents no longer have to wake him in the morning. Eli does, and the process of getting ready for school now takes about 15 minutes with no fuss whatsoever. Lightning now accompanies Eli to school and elsewhere in public and has had a marked effect on the boy’s behavior.

Lightning can sense when Eli is about to have a meltdown even, before his parents do and can calm him down before it gets out of control. Now, the Christiansen family can go out without having to fear an incident that will ruin the outing for them. The dog sleeps with Eli, and they play typical boy/dog games together, like playing fetch with a tennis ball.

To be sure, Eli still exhibits some behavior problems, but these are the usual grief that all teenage boys give their parents, arguments and back talking rather than full-fledged screaming fits. Lightning, the wonder service dog, has brought a measure of peace to Eli and his family.


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