Luca’s quest for new best friend

Rochelle Kersten hopes to enlist an Autism Assistance Dog as a new best friend for her son Luca. Picture: Rebecca Hosking 203121

by Luke Voogt

Shopping, gatherings, getting out of the car and even getting to sleep can be overwhelming for Herne Hill youngster Luca Kersten, according to mum Rochelle.

Her “beautiful” five-year-old boy suffers from the most severe level of autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual disabilities.

“He will have sensory overload and have huge meltdowns, where he physically throws his body around and he’s in danger of hurting himself,” she said.

“His lack of speech also makes that very hard because we don’t know what he wants or what he’s scared of. For us it just ends up being a guessing game.”

Until a couple of years ago, Luca was non-verbal, Rochelle said.

“Now, at five-years-old, he could probably say a phrase that’s four or five words long.”

When “well-regulated”, Luca was affectionate, calm and had a great sense of humour, Rochelle said.

“Everyone he meets falls in love with him because he’s just so sweet.”

But that could change in an instant during a meltdown.

“He won’t come back when his name is called so we have to chase him,” she said.

“He has no road safety awareness around cars and in carparks.

“It’s absolutely terrifying and as a mum of two kids I find it extremely difficult to get out of the house.

“Sometimes we just can’t calm him down, that’s the reality.

“We have to abort functions, gatherings or walks to the park because he’s not coping.”

Splitting her focus between Luca and his three-year-old sister Matilda could also be very difficult, she said.

“It’s quite depressing – you end up feeling like a bit of a failure as a mother because you can’t take your kids out on your own.”

But Luca’s “extreme love of dogs” could be “life-changing” for him and his family, Rochelle explained.

“If he’s not coping and we see someone walking past with a dog – we ask together if he can pat it,” she said.

“He just changes into a different child – he calms down and becomes peaceful and happy.”

Rochelle believes an Autism Assistance Dog could help Luca when he is “on edge” and keep him safe.

“We pick certain areas that are concerns in Luca’s daily life and we train the dog in those areas,” she said.

A canine companion could even help at bedtime for Luca – who had suffered from insomnia since he was “tiny” and only slept better now with medication, Rochelle said.

“The dog could help him sleep just by being asleep near his bed.”

But the dogs cost between $25,000 and $30,000 due to hundreds of hours training to help with specific behaviours.

So Rochelle set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money in the hope of enlisting a new best friend for her son.

The page has had 115 donations, including from ‘Filmore the Golden Retriever’and his apparently-Canadian owner Cameron, raising about $7,200 so far.

“We are super thrilled and grateful for the outstanding amount of support and generosity we have seen pour out from family, friends and strangers,” Rochelle said.

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