Four-year-old Leon Kirby-Bulner has autism and struggles to communicate. He never showed a true connection or interest in other people as a baby, and was often trapped in his “own little world.” Now, Leon is free to communicate and connect with those around him thanks to his furry best friend, Fern.
Mom Hayley, who affectionately nicknamed her son ‘Mancub’ after Mowgli in The Jungle Book, is incredibly grateful for all that Fern has done for her son and their family. Fern, a three-year-old cocker spaniel, was adopted as a puppy when Leon was just a baby, and it was “love at first sight.” Hayley explained, “The pair quickly became inseparable, the very best of friends.”
This indissoluble duo are growing up together, and can often be found playing hide and seek and wearing matching outfits. “He is a true animal lover and prefers animals to people,” said Hayley of her son. “He is now an excellent communicator with non-stop chattering.”
But Fern hasn’t only helped Leon build his confidence with communication. She takes care of him as if he is her own, ever aware of impending meltdowns or fits of self-destruction, ready to help. Fern provides pressure stimulation when Leon’s behavior shows her he needs it, she blocks the stairs so he’s unable to hurt himself, and will even get between him and the floor when he tries to bang his head. “She has numerous routines and tasks that make our family life so much easier and she loves helping out,” gushed Hayley. “We couldn’t imagine not having her assistance now.”
Inspired by the incredible level of help and support Fern has provided their son, Hayley and her husband, Karsten, looked for ways they could help families with autistic children. They began a fundraiser to provide assistance dogs to other families in need, and they couldn’t have done it with Leon’s help either.
“Since the start of lockdown, Mancub and I have been making embroidered items to fundraise for the first T.A.P. Assistance Dog — a fully trained working cocker spaniel.” Hayley and her family and now very close to reaching their fundraising goal, and will soon be able to provide a child with autism with their very own ‘Fern.’
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