Jackson set for the next leg of his journey

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

A boy and his dog share a special bond.

That's exactly what Ray and Judi Grobowsky are hoping, when they bring home a service dog for their six-year-old autistic son, Jackson.

After a phenomenal whirlwind fundraising weekend, and a two-year wait, the couple finally got a call from National Service Dogs that a dog is ready for Jackson.

Jackson's journey began roughly two years ago, when Judi first learned about the National Service Dogs organization, which breeds and trains dogs to assist autistic children and their families. They applied, and were accepted with ease.

But then the hard part started - the long wait. It takes roughly two years for National Service Dogs to find and train a suitable dog. They can only accommodate 20 dogs per year in the program, but not all of them will have the gentleness and patience needed for this type of work, noted Judi.

In the meantime, the Grobowskys were asked to help raise funds for the dog. Each one is an $18,000 investment on the part of the organization, and the family is asked to help raise $12,000 to offset the cost. The Grobowskys decided to hold a monster garage sale, with the aim of raising perhaps a few thousand dollars.

But they were overwhelmed with the community's response. Not only did they hold their own garage sale, but 63 other families held one as well, each donating the proceeds to Jackson's Journey. Area businesses and service clubs also chipped in; The Willow Tree held a sidewalk sale; Pizza Hut held a car wash, the Hamilton Firefighters donated $2,000 and Shoppers Drug mart held a barbecue and raffle, among others.

The Grobowskys were particularly touched by the children of the community. One teenage boy on their street donated some of his most prized possessions to sell for Jackson's Journey. Two young sisters sat at the end of their driveway with a table and the Jackson's Journey logo, collecting $3 each for the cause.

By the end of the day, the community had raised $15,000 towards the dog. That allowed the family to not only secure a dog, but to enroll Jackson in a costly speech and language training program.

Now that the dog is ready, the real adventure begins. Judi will be heading to Cambridge for a one week, 24/7 training session in early May, to learn how to handle the dog. She doesn't know anything about the animal selected for Jackson, whether it's a male or female, or if it's a golden retriever or a lab.

"I don't even know its name yet," she said.

Judi will spend a full week with the dog, day and night, to get acquainted. She's also required to become certified as the dog's handler, a license which must be renewed annually, to keep the dog as a legal service dog. That designation gives the dog the legal right to go anywhere people go, just like a seeing-eye dog. It can go into stores, on airplanes, even dog-free beaches.

"I'm a little nervous about how to explain that to people," she said.

Judi is confident the dog will change Jackson's life for the better.

"He loves animals, and he loves dogs," she said. "I don't know why, but animals have a calming effect on him."

Jackson is enrolled in a wide variety of programs, including a horseback riding program for special needs kids.

"He gets on that horse, and just rides for an hour," said Judi. "He doesn't squirm around. It's really something."

Service dogs are trained to keep autistic children safe. Autistic children don't understand when something is dangerous. They think nothing of running into traffic to watch the lights, or they wander into a lake, and just keep walking. The dogs, which are connected to their charge by leash, are trained to stop and hold firm when the parent commands them to, to give an adult time to intervene.

Jackson is no different. The family has been forced to stay away from many events, because it's just too hard to take Jackson out, especially with his five-year-old brother.

"My worst fear is that Jackson will take off in one direction, and my little guy will shoot off in another. There's usually just me with them. It's so hard," Judi said. "This is going to change my family's life."

Although the dog's main function is safety, it can be trained for child-specific tasks. Jackson, for instance, has trouble with stairs, because he often lacks the focus the task requires.

The dog could be taught to assist with that, or to prevent him from running into water - a common love for autistic children.

Judi and Ray also hope the dog will be a friend for Jackson. He's very bonded to Judi, "but it's hard for one person to be another person's entire world," she said. "I hope this dog can be a companion for Jackson."

The couple hasn't decided if the dog should accompany Jackson to school. Many service dogs do attend school, waiting patiently under the student's desk until they're needed. But it will require consultation with several teachers and staff members to arrange it. If it can be arranged, Judi hopes that the dog will help draw Jackson into the social realm of the school, by drawing attention to him.

Jackson recently started emerging from his shell at school. Although he's always been comfortable with adults, he's never bothered with his peers before. But just recently, Judi was told that Jackson had reached out and held hands with a little girl in his class.

"This little girl was thrilled, and they just walked around holding hands all day," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

A few days later, Jackson repeated the game with another little girl. "He really likes the girls," she said with a laugh.

He's also started playing "chase," where he'll tap a classmate, tell them to run, and then chase them throughout the schoolyard until one of them stops from exhaustion.

The Grobowskys feel lucky that Jackson is so sociable.

"Many kids with autism never form relationships. They never make eye contact," Judi said, noting that she and Ray have made social interaction a main priority. Because Jackson is developmentally delayed as well as autistic, Judi knows academics will never be high on the list.

"But I want him to be happy," she stressed. "I want him to have relationships and to interact and to feel included."

She's worked hard to infuse his life with as much love and affection as possible, to help him grow into a happy, secure person.

"I'm in his face all the time," she said. "I'm always hugging him and kissing him, and stroking his head. At first, he'd push me away. He still pushes me away, but I keep going."

She feels that has helped Jackson become the happy, easy-going kid he is today. He doesn't show the aggressive tendencies of many kids with autism, who often hit out of frustration from not being understood.

Jackson has been enrolled in the Intensive Behavioral Intervention program at Chedoke Hospital. There, he learns appropriate social behaviours, by having them broken down, step by step. Through that program, he's learned appropriate social cues.

"Someone can ask him his name, and he'll say 'Jackson Grobowsky.' How are you doing? 'I'm OK.' Where do you go to school? 'Allan A Greenleaf.'

"Does he know what any of it means?" she asked. "Who knows? Who cares? It's a real conversation he can have with another person. A real conversation with correct answers."

After the dog comes home, it will take time for Jackson to bond. He'll be taught to take responsibility for the dog; he'll feed and groom it. The rest of the family isn't allowed to interact with the dog, to allow that bonding to take place.

Once the family settles in, they plan to hold an open house, so the community can meet Jackson and his dog.

And see the difference they made in one little boy's life.

Jackson set for the next leg of his journey

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

A boy and his dog share a special bond.

That's exactly what Ray and Judi Grobowsky are hoping, when they bring home a service dog for their six-year-old autistic son, Jackson.

After a phenomenal whirlwind fundraising weekend, and a two-year wait, the couple finally got a call from National Service Dogs that a dog is ready for Jackson.

Jackson's journey began roughly two years ago, when Judi first learned about the National Service Dogs organization, which breeds and trains dogs to assist autistic children and their families. They applied, and were accepted with ease.

But then the hard part started - the long wait. It takes roughly two years for National Service Dogs to find and train a suitable dog. They can only accommodate 20 dogs per year in the program, but not all of them will have the gentleness and patience needed for this type of work, noted Judi.

In the meantime, the Grobowskys were asked to help raise funds for the dog. Each one is an $18,000 investment on the part of the organization, and the family is asked to help raise $12,000 to offset the cost. The Grobowskys decided to hold a monster garage sale, with the aim of raising perhaps a few thousand dollars.

But they were overwhelmed with the community's response. Not only did they hold their own garage sale, but 63 other families held one as well, each donating the proceeds to Jackson's Journey. Area businesses and service clubs also chipped in; The Willow Tree held a sidewalk sale; Pizza Hut held a car wash, the Hamilton Firefighters donated $2,000 and Shoppers Drug mart held a barbecue and raffle, among others.

The Grobowskys were particularly touched by the children of the community. One teenage boy on their street donated some of his most prized possessions to sell for Jackson's Journey. Two young sisters sat at the end of their driveway with a table and the Jackson's Journey logo, collecting $3 each for the cause.

By the end of the day, the community had raised $15,000 towards the dog. That allowed the family to not only secure a dog, but to enroll Jackson in a costly speech and language training program.

Now that the dog is ready, the real adventure begins. Judi will be heading to Cambridge for a one week, 24/7 training session in early May, to learn how to handle the dog. She doesn't know anything about the animal selected for Jackson, whether it's a male or female, or if it's a golden retriever or a lab.

"I don't even know its name yet," she said.

Judi will spend a full week with the dog, day and night, to get acquainted. She's also required to become certified as the dog's handler, a license which must be renewed annually, to keep the dog as a legal service dog. That designation gives the dog the legal right to go anywhere people go, just like a seeing-eye dog. It can go into stores, on airplanes, even dog-free beaches.

"I'm a little nervous about how to explain that to people," she said.

Judi is confident the dog will change Jackson's life for the better.

"He loves animals, and he loves dogs," she said. "I don't know why, but animals have a calming effect on him."

Jackson is enrolled in a wide variety of programs, including a horseback riding program for special needs kids.

"He gets on that horse, and just rides for an hour," said Judi. "He doesn't squirm around. It's really something."

Service dogs are trained to keep autistic children safe. Autistic children don't understand when something is dangerous. They think nothing of running into traffic to watch the lights, or they wander into a lake, and just keep walking. The dogs, which are connected to their charge by leash, are trained to stop and hold firm when the parent commands them to, to give an adult time to intervene.

Jackson is no different. The family has been forced to stay away from many events, because it's just too hard to take Jackson out, especially with his five-year-old brother.

"My worst fear is that Jackson will take off in one direction, and my little guy will shoot off in another. There's usually just me with them. It's so hard," Judi said. "This is going to change my family's life."

Although the dog's main function is safety, it can be trained for child-specific tasks. Jackson, for instance, has trouble with stairs, because he often lacks the focus the task requires.

The dog could be taught to assist with that, or to prevent him from running into water - a common love for autistic children.

Judi and Ray also hope the dog will be a friend for Jackson. He's very bonded to Judi, "but it's hard for one person to be another person's entire world," she said. "I hope this dog can be a companion for Jackson."

The couple hasn't decided if the dog should accompany Jackson to school. Many service dogs do attend school, waiting patiently under the student's desk until they're needed. But it will require consultation with several teachers and staff members to arrange it. If it can be arranged, Judi hopes that the dog will help draw Jackson into the social realm of the school, by drawing attention to him.

Jackson recently started emerging from his shell at school. Although he's always been comfortable with adults, he's never bothered with his peers before. But just recently, Judi was told that Jackson had reached out and held hands with a little girl in his class.

"This little girl was thrilled, and they just walked around holding hands all day," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

A few days later, Jackson repeated the game with another little girl. "He really likes the girls," she said with a laugh.

He's also started playing "chase," where he'll tap a classmate, tell them to run, and then chase them throughout the schoolyard until one of them stops from exhaustion.

The Grobowskys feel lucky that Jackson is so sociable.

"Many kids with autism never form relationships. They never make eye contact," Judi said, noting that she and Ray have made social interaction a main priority. Because Jackson is developmentally delayed as well as autistic, Judi knows academics will never be high on the list.

"But I want him to be happy," she stressed. "I want him to have relationships and to interact and to feel included."

She's worked hard to infuse his life with as much love and affection as possible, to help him grow into a happy, secure person.

"I'm in his face all the time," she said. "I'm always hugging him and kissing him, and stroking his head. At first, he'd push me away. He still pushes me away, but I keep going."

She feels that has helped Jackson become the happy, easy-going kid he is today. He doesn't show the aggressive tendencies of many kids with autism, who often hit out of frustration from not being understood.

Jackson has been enrolled in the Intensive Behavioral Intervention program at Chedoke Hospital. There, he learns appropriate social behaviours, by having them broken down, step by step. Through that program, he's learned appropriate social cues.

"Someone can ask him his name, and he'll say 'Jackson Grobowsky.' How are you doing? 'I'm OK.' Where do you go to school? 'Allan A Greenleaf.'

"Does he know what any of it means?" she asked. "Who knows? Who cares? It's a real conversation he can have with another person. A real conversation with correct answers."

After the dog comes home, it will take time for Jackson to bond. He'll be taught to take responsibility for the dog; he'll feed and groom it. The rest of the family isn't allowed to interact with the dog, to allow that bonding to take place.

Once the family settles in, they plan to hold an open house, so the community can meet Jackson and his dog.

And see the difference they made in one little boy's life.

Jackson set for the next leg of his journey

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

A boy and his dog share a special bond.

That's exactly what Ray and Judi Grobowsky are hoping, when they bring home a service dog for their six-year-old autistic son, Jackson.

After a phenomenal whirlwind fundraising weekend, and a two-year wait, the couple finally got a call from National Service Dogs that a dog is ready for Jackson.

Jackson's journey began roughly two years ago, when Judi first learned about the National Service Dogs organization, which breeds and trains dogs to assist autistic children and their families. They applied, and were accepted with ease.

But then the hard part started - the long wait. It takes roughly two years for National Service Dogs to find and train a suitable dog. They can only accommodate 20 dogs per year in the program, but not all of them will have the gentleness and patience needed for this type of work, noted Judi.

In the meantime, the Grobowskys were asked to help raise funds for the dog. Each one is an $18,000 investment on the part of the organization, and the family is asked to help raise $12,000 to offset the cost. The Grobowskys decided to hold a monster garage sale, with the aim of raising perhaps a few thousand dollars.

But they were overwhelmed with the community's response. Not only did they hold their own garage sale, but 63 other families held one as well, each donating the proceeds to Jackson's Journey. Area businesses and service clubs also chipped in; The Willow Tree held a sidewalk sale; Pizza Hut held a car wash, the Hamilton Firefighters donated $2,000 and Shoppers Drug mart held a barbecue and raffle, among others.

The Grobowskys were particularly touched by the children of the community. One teenage boy on their street donated some of his most prized possessions to sell for Jackson's Journey. Two young sisters sat at the end of their driveway with a table and the Jackson's Journey logo, collecting $3 each for the cause.

By the end of the day, the community had raised $15,000 towards the dog. That allowed the family to not only secure a dog, but to enroll Jackson in a costly speech and language training program.

Now that the dog is ready, the real adventure begins. Judi will be heading to Cambridge for a one week, 24/7 training session in early May, to learn how to handle the dog. She doesn't know anything about the animal selected for Jackson, whether it's a male or female, or if it's a golden retriever or a lab.

"I don't even know its name yet," she said.

Judi will spend a full week with the dog, day and night, to get acquainted. She's also required to become certified as the dog's handler, a license which must be renewed annually, to keep the dog as a legal service dog. That designation gives the dog the legal right to go anywhere people go, just like a seeing-eye dog. It can go into stores, on airplanes, even dog-free beaches.

"I'm a little nervous about how to explain that to people," she said.

Judi is confident the dog will change Jackson's life for the better.

"He loves animals, and he loves dogs," she said. "I don't know why, but animals have a calming effect on him."

Jackson is enrolled in a wide variety of programs, including a horseback riding program for special needs kids.

"He gets on that horse, and just rides for an hour," said Judi. "He doesn't squirm around. It's really something."

Service dogs are trained to keep autistic children safe. Autistic children don't understand when something is dangerous. They think nothing of running into traffic to watch the lights, or they wander into a lake, and just keep walking. The dogs, which are connected to their charge by leash, are trained to stop and hold firm when the parent commands them to, to give an adult time to intervene.

Jackson is no different. The family has been forced to stay away from many events, because it's just too hard to take Jackson out, especially with his five-year-old brother.

"My worst fear is that Jackson will take off in one direction, and my little guy will shoot off in another. There's usually just me with them. It's so hard," Judi said. "This is going to change my family's life."

Although the dog's main function is safety, it can be trained for child-specific tasks. Jackson, for instance, has trouble with stairs, because he often lacks the focus the task requires.

The dog could be taught to assist with that, or to prevent him from running into water - a common love for autistic children.

Judi and Ray also hope the dog will be a friend for Jackson. He's very bonded to Judi, "but it's hard for one person to be another person's entire world," she said. "I hope this dog can be a companion for Jackson."

The couple hasn't decided if the dog should accompany Jackson to school. Many service dogs do attend school, waiting patiently under the student's desk until they're needed. But it will require consultation with several teachers and staff members to arrange it. If it can be arranged, Judi hopes that the dog will help draw Jackson into the social realm of the school, by drawing attention to him.

Jackson recently started emerging from his shell at school. Although he's always been comfortable with adults, he's never bothered with his peers before. But just recently, Judi was told that Jackson had reached out and held hands with a little girl in his class.

"This little girl was thrilled, and they just walked around holding hands all day," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

A few days later, Jackson repeated the game with another little girl. "He really likes the girls," she said with a laugh.

He's also started playing "chase," where he'll tap a classmate, tell them to run, and then chase them throughout the schoolyard until one of them stops from exhaustion.

The Grobowskys feel lucky that Jackson is so sociable.

"Many kids with autism never form relationships. They never make eye contact," Judi said, noting that she and Ray have made social interaction a main priority. Because Jackson is developmentally delayed as well as autistic, Judi knows academics will never be high on the list.

"But I want him to be happy," she stressed. "I want him to have relationships and to interact and to feel included."

She's worked hard to infuse his life with as much love and affection as possible, to help him grow into a happy, secure person.

"I'm in his face all the time," she said. "I'm always hugging him and kissing him, and stroking his head. At first, he'd push me away. He still pushes me away, but I keep going."

She feels that has helped Jackson become the happy, easy-going kid he is today. He doesn't show the aggressive tendencies of many kids with autism, who often hit out of frustration from not being understood.

Jackson has been enrolled in the Intensive Behavioral Intervention program at Chedoke Hospital. There, he learns appropriate social behaviours, by having them broken down, step by step. Through that program, he's learned appropriate social cues.

"Someone can ask him his name, and he'll say 'Jackson Grobowsky.' How are you doing? 'I'm OK.' Where do you go to school? 'Allan A Greenleaf.'

"Does he know what any of it means?" she asked. "Who knows? Who cares? It's a real conversation he can have with another person. A real conversation with correct answers."

After the dog comes home, it will take time for Jackson to bond. He'll be taught to take responsibility for the dog; he'll feed and groom it. The rest of the family isn't allowed to interact with the dog, to allow that bonding to take place.

Once the family settles in, they plan to hold an open house, so the community can meet Jackson and his dog.

And see the difference they made in one little boy's life.