Imagine you’re out for a walk with your child or grandchild, holding his hand like you always do. Then he pulls his hand away and before you can turn to grab it again he’s gone.

Not wandering aimlessly like your average child might. He’s off running at speed right into the road, right into the traffic.

Now imagine this happening every single day. That’s the reality of life with a child who has autism.

Ciaran’s dad Donal told us: “On two occasions we had very close shaves. The last one was literally less than a one second lapse. That’s how quickly it can happen. One second and he was gone. Straight out across a main road. He was nearly killed.

“We were on the waiting list, but after that we literally begged for an Assistance Dog, and the minute Yani came the bolting just stopped.”

Not long ago the Deegans were on the waiting list, and they know only too well how hard that wait is.

“We were on the waiting list for about two years. It’s soul destroying because you’ll give a kidney, or an arm, or whatever, to get that dog to try and help your  child. So it just can’t come quick enough.

“When Yani arrived, the difference she made, it was like walking your first born for the first time. I actually got to go out and to walk my child without him being in danger. I was near to tears. It was a fantastic feeling.”

First of all, the bolting stopped. With Yani constantly attached to Ciaran every time they’re out, Ciaran is safe. That’s an enormous relief to his parents, as Cliodna told us.

“As soon as Yani came along the bolting stopped. Ciaran doesn’t even try and get away anymore. He just wants to be with Yani. I feel like I can breathe again because I can take Ciaran anywhere and not have to fear for his life at every corner.”

Secondly, Ciaran began speaking for the first time. Ciaran had always been “non-verbal”, meaning he had never been able to communicate with people. He could echo other people’s words, but couldn’t answer questions, or put his feelings into words. So he could never express how he was feeling.

However, as his dad Donal says that’s now all changing.

“Since Ciaran got Yani his speech has come on a lot. He actually tries to talk to Yani, whereas before he was completely non-verbal. In school his scores, on the tables they use, have also improved an awful lot. Yani has been absolutely instrumental in bringing him to where he is today.”

Thirdly, the Deegans now enjoy a normal family life. Before Yani, Ciaran could have frequent “autistic meltdowns”. His behaviour could upset people, “cause a scene”, sometimes provoking insulting comments  from people who did not understand he was having a sensory attack, not a tantrum.

As a result, the family stopped going out together. Now, however, “we have a life outside the house. We can go on a walk, we can climb a mountain, we can go on holiday, go shopping, go to mass, go to the pictures, to festivals, whatever. Yani’s after giving us our family back, and it’s fantastic.

“Yani’s after bringing such calmness into our lives. She’s as much part of the family now as any of the children or myself or my husband are. I don’t know what we’d do without her. I don’t think I’d be able to get up in the morning.”

Meanwhile, Donal is also more positive about the future.

“Our hopes are for independent living for Ciaran. Yani has absolutely opened our eyes for the future.”

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