Colorado Springs family raising money for service dog to help son with autism

Henry Sutherland and his service-dog-in-training, Skye. / Mike Duran - FOX21 News
Henry Sutherland and his service-dog-in-training, Skye. / Mike Duran - FOX21 News

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Autism Society estimates the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism is as much as $2.4 million.

The Sutherlands have two children with autism, and though they were told by three specialists that their son Henry would benefit from a service dog, insurance denied any coverage.

At first glance, Henry looks like your typical kid. But at 3 years old, he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism.

“What ends up happening when you have high-functioning autism is that society sees you as typical,” Henry’s mom, Tara Sutherland, said. “They don’t see the things that happen behind closed doors. A lot of stuff that happens with Henry is social, revolves around him socially, and so he seems like he’s being naughty when he’s really not.”

Henry was also diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, and he doesn’t like to be touched.

“Any place we go, he won’t hold my hand,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland said Henry doesn’t understand danger, and will run off. She said he has bolted into traffic and in front of a bus before.

“He doesn’t want me to touch him at all, which is a problem because if we’re in parking lots, I know when to pull him back and when to be safe, but he won’t let me do that, and that’s where the dog comes in,” she said.

Sutherland said three specialists recommended an autism service dog for Henry, but insurance denied their claim.

“So Skye is supposed to be trained in order–if Henry tries to run away, she’s supposed to sit and stop him, especially if it’s dangerous,” she said. “If Henry does get away from us and we can’t find him, she’s supposed to be able to search him out in a crowd so that we can find him.”

Skye will also be trained to help calm Henry in new places or when his routine is broken–two things that cause Henry a lot of anxiety. But without help from insurance, Skye and her training will cost the Sutherlands nearly $10,000.

“As of right now we are making payments for her so that she can stay with us, and it’s as much as a car payment,” Sutherland said.

They’ve tried fundraising, but this military family is new to the area, and they don’t know that many people yet.

“We don’t have a lot of community outreach right now, so it would help if people did donate, because it would give Henry safety, and that’s what we want for him,” she said. “We want to keep him safe.”

Sutherland said Henry has been making remarkable strides since enrolling at the Alpine Autism Center.

“Since he’s so smart at it, we just reinforce his good behavior, which hopefully will decrease his bad behavior, so when he’s walking along with us, we just remind him, ‘hey, that’s a really good job of walking,” said Ian Bebow, line therapist at Alpine Autism Center.

Despite Henry’s progress, Sutherland said she’ll feel a lot better when Skye is by her son’s side.

Sutherland has done everything she can to bring the cost of Skye down, including applying for a grant and taking on puppy training by herself, but they’re still about $7,000 away from their goal.

Skye will be trained through Noelle’s Dogs Four Hope, which takes about a year to 18 months, and will be trained specifically to work with Henry and his needs.

The Sutherland family has set up a YouCaring page to raise money for Skye’s training. Tap here to visit the page. 

The Alpine Autism Center, which Henry attends, is holding a 5k walk on April 29 at America the Beautiful Park. Tap here for more information.

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