VIGO CO., Ind. (WTHI) - One of the first set of hands to hold a newborn is his mother's.
Over the years, those hands let go more often as the child becomes independent: taking first steps, first day of school and first day of college to name a few.
But for parents of autistic children, that can't always happen.
One local mother is using her two hands and your kind donations to make sure her son can have four paws and a sense of freedom.
7-year-old Levi Walker loves to run.
If it were up to him, there'd be no boundaries, but there are.
His family has spent many hours putting up fencing to keep Levi from wandering off.
But that doesn't mean he hasn't tried pushing the limits.
"I like to say we are a step ahead of Levi…Levi's always a step ahead of us," said Levi's mother, Amy.
Levi's mother said the family has tried everything from clip locks to spring locks and now combination locks, all to keep Levi from running off.
"In our family, it doesn't matter if I'm standing right there. If he wants to bolt, if he can figure a lock out, he's going to be gone," said Amy.
That's a big problem, because Levi has a non-verbal form of autism.
He doesn't speak and his brain doesn't process information as quickly as other people. So if he took off, finding him could be very difficult.
"Between everything that goes along with autism: the wandering, the behaviors—just anxiety in general—it's kind of like 'Okay how can we alleviate this for Levi" said Amy.
So Amy decided to find a solution, not only to give her peace of mind, but also to encourage Levi's growing need for independence.
After a lot of research on the Internet, she kept coming back to the site 4 Paws for Ability . It's a non-profit group, based in Ohio that trains service dogs for children with disabilities. And more specifically, it's started training dogs for children with autism.
"4 Paws eliminates a lot of the waiting list that other agencies have, by allowing their families to fundraise part of what it would cost to train a service dog," said Amy.
The non-profit said training a dog costs around $22,000 and asks each family to come up with $13,000.
It's a goal; the Walker family knows could take awhile to reach, but what this dog will give back to their family will be worth it.
"When Levi is upset, if I try to interrupt, if I try to get in his space, it just escalates and makes it so much worse, where the service dog will be able to come and, if nothing else, just place his head on Levi's lap," Amy said.
After reaching their goal, the Walker family will head to the 4 Paws complex for 11 days of intensive training, including learning a skill called tracking.
Should Levi ever get away from his parents or home, the dog will be able to find him more quickly by tracking his scent.
"It's going to give me a little bit of comfort knowing that there's another option to keep Levi safe," said Amy.
As the mother of an autistic son, Amy said that means a lot.
Hopefully soon, a set of 4 paws will be working right alongside those human hands to make sure Levi remains a happy and healthy kid.
You can help Levi reach his $13,000 goal by attending a fundraiser coming up Tuesday night from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Bouncin Barn in Terre Haute.
The cost is $5 per child.
During those three hours, half of all the admissions will go to 4 Paws for Levi.
Also, if you can't attend, but would like to help Levi, Amy has created a Facebook page documenting their journey called 4 Paws for Levi .
- LEARN MORE ABOUT AUTISM | Click here to read
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