Autistic child’s family raises money for service dog

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Carter Scott, a 3-year-old Woodville resident and student at West Primary School diagnosed with autism, facial blindness, severe steroid dependent asthma and subglotic stenosis, pictured at right, gives his mother, Cristy Carter, a squeeze. Some of Scott’s symptoms include tantrums, wandering and restlessness, though he can be very affectionate, even to strangers, Cristy said. Scott’s supporters are raising $13,000 to buy him a service dog at a lower-than-average rate through the nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability, which will help calm Carter and keep him out of harm’s way. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

At 10-months-old, Carter Scott was hitting every developmental milestone with ease, his mother Cristy Carter said.

He pointed to a lamp and mouthed his first word, “hot,” with perfect pronunciation.

He started walking right on schedule.

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But in August 2010 — three months after Carter suffered an asthma attack that left him on a ventilator for three days — something changed.

“The regression was very, very severe,” Cristy said.

Carter, now 3, began to have tantrums, uncontrollable diarrhea, and “tummy attacks” or abdominal migraines, said Cristy, a Woodville resident.

He lost a word a week, sometimes more.

“It was like the boogey man was breaking into our house and stealing a piece of our child,” Cristy said.

“And there was nothing we could do about it.”

Cristy’s pediatrician referred her to a neurologist, who diagnosed Carter with autism, among other things.

“The doctor could have hit me in the face with a two-by-four, and I would have expected (that) more than autism,” Cristy said.

But then she started noticing symptoms at home, and Carter’s downward spiral of behavior started made sense.

Carter began walking on his tiptoes, flapping his arms and spinning — all symptoms of autism.

“Every day it was a new symptom.”

He was also diagnosed with severe steroid dependent asthma and subglottic stenosis, which is a 30-percent reduction in his airway, and facial blindness, a diagnosis whose symptom is inability to recognize faces, even that of Cristy’s, without voice or other sensory recognition.

As a result, Carter shows lots of affection toward strangers, which Cristy said is cute now but could be socially disastrous or even dangerous when he gets older.

Since Carter, who is constantly restless, doesn’t have an instinct to feel a sense of danger, his constant wandering is a serous concern.

“He expects the big Mack truck to play with him just as fast as it will kill him,” Cristy said.

“And he’s just as likely to go straight into a briar patch just as he is into the highway.”

So Cristy has one eye and ear on Carter at all times and latches on all the doors and cabinets in her house.

Simple tasks like going to Walmart or the grocery store can be nearly impossible. Transitions, from the grocery cart to the car, for instance, are the most difficult for Carter and can spark a tantrum.

“Yes, it’s bad behavior, but you have to understand why,” Cristy said.

Since he can’t tell Cristy he has to go to the bathroom or that his shoe is hurting him, for instance, it goes from bad to worse in an instant.

“When I don’t pick up on those things, it results in a meltdown.”

But Cristy has hope that a new friend in Carter’s life can help change his life — a best friend, in fact.

Last summer, Cristy was talking to a friend of hers about her troubles with Carter, when she was told about a family in Liberty, whose son with disabilities has been helped by their dog, Fizz, who was specifically trained to help him.

Through the nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability, Jacqueline Robertson acquired the dog to help her child.

Cristy went home and read everything she could find about 4 Paws for Ability, she said. The next day she called the Ohio-based charity and ordered information to be sent to her. A short time later, Cristy filled out the 22-page application, and a service dog was approved for Carter.

She learned the nonprofit matches each dog to the child’s personality and disability. If a child is shy, the dog will counter that by being very sociable.

“With a child like Carter that’s all over the place, (the dog) will be laid back,” Cristy said.

Once Carter’s supporters raise $13,000, the nonprofit will pay the additional $9,000 it costs to train the dog.

Cristy said service dogs can cost an average of $60,000 when purchased through private trainers, but 4 Paws for Ability only charges for the cost of the dog, it’s care and training, and the cost to train Carter and Cristy with the dog.

Cristy said she believes a four-legged mate will help Carter with his daily activities and his development by calming him down and keeping him from wandering off into dangerous situations.

Carter, who is large for a 3-year-old, is more powerful than other children his age.

He now wears a harness to school at West Primary School, where he attends a special education inclusion class, so his teachers don’t bruise him or hurt him when they need to grab him to keep him out of harm’s way. Cristy was able to enroll Carter in school in Adams County since resources for his disabilities were not available in Wilkinson County, she said.

“He has no fear of heights,” Cristy said.

“I’ll be sitting in a wing-back chair, and he’ll (grab the chair) and put both of his feet on the chair.”

When the dog arrives, Carter and the dog will be tethered so the dog can keep him safe.

And judging by Carter’s relationship with other animals, a service dog will help calm Carter down.

Carter has already developed a special relationship with a black lab named Hudson, owned by friends.

“I remember (Carter) laying on the floor with Hudson with a Sippy cup, just watching TV,” Cristy said. “He’s never still like that.”

And Hudson’s patience with Carter always amazes Cristy. They bonded when Carter was less than a year old.

A service dog could change their lives, Cristy said. Even allowing her to take Carter to Walmart.

“The dog will lay down (forcing Carter to be still) instead of (allowing Carter) to clear the shelves,” Cristy said.

These days, Cristy won’t take Carter anywhere without her sister or parents there to help.

“It takes a village…” she said.

Cristy said she’s not sure why Carter was diagnosed with autism — whether it was the final vaccinations he took shortly before his symptoms began revealing themselves, the sedatives he was placed on while he was ventilated or just the fact that he was so sick at such a young age.

“There’s no smoking gun,” Cristy said.

Though no one in her family has been diagnosed with autism, she recognizes that it’s diagnosed much more today than it was in the past, perhaps even over diagnosed today, in her opinion.

But regardless of the tantrums, worry and challenges on the horizon, Cristy said she will do anything for her son, including taking on a new family member in the form of a service dog.

“My friends tell me all the time, they don’t know how I do it,” Cristy said.

But Cristy said she assures those friends that they, too, could find the strength from somewhere in them every day to care for Carter, too, if he was their child.

“When I’m literally on my lest leg and don’t have anything left, Carter will turn around and give me the biggest hug, and it just reminds (me) why we fight so hard and never stop,” Cristy said.

Donations to Carter’s service dog can be sent to 4 Paws for Abilty, In Honor of Carter Scott, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, Ohio, 45385.

Cristy and Carter’s supporters will also be selling raffle tickets for $2, to win a $100 gift certificate to Roux 61, $60 to Lambuth’s Quick Lube and Carwash and $60 in gas to Wolf Trak Citgo on U.S. 61 South.

Tickets will be sold from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 31 at Lovely Lane United Methodist Church at 65 Morgantown Road during their March Madness crafts fair and flea market. They can be purchased by calling Cristy at 601-870-2626.

Once 4 Paws for Carter raises $13,000, Carter’s dog will begin to be trained, and Carter can take home the service dog after traveling to Ohio to train with the dog for 10 days.

For more information go to the “4 Paws for Carter” Facebook page.