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autism navigate outings such as going to the supermarket and the movies. “The first night with Zeke, Lachlan slept through the whole night,” Judy said. “The change in Lachlan was beyond amazing, and it was immediate. “Zeke is Lachlan’s ticket to the outside world. Things like going to the movies; we could never go to the Above: Judy and Lachlan Masters with Zeke at home. Opposite page: Lachlan and Zeke, image courtesy Guide Dogs SA/NT. and Zeke sits under Lachlan’s seat.” there’s been a 95 per cent reduction." Lachlan has been on the National movies before. Now it’s his ultimate thing. We go to the movies as a family meltdowns every now and then but “I believe he’s talking now because Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) he’s in a much better place. Once life for four years now, and to begin with, became a bit more settled, things Lachlan’s NDIS plan included funding Lachlan being calmer, safer and started to fall into place for him to cover a portion of costs such as pet having developed verbal skills. developmentally. insurance, dog food and twice-yearly Three key points of change include “Lachlan started to become verbal “Zeke is very calming; if Lachlan follow-up visits with Guide Dogs SA/ about 18 months after we got Zeke,” was having a meltdown he’d go NT. However, maintenance costs for Judy said. sit with the dog. Lachlan still has Zeke are no longer covered – and Judy said other families are in the NDIS funding same situation. he National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) told Link that funding for an assistance animal’s maintenance and ongoing training is included in a participant’s NDIS plan where “an assistance animal is considered to be a reasonable and necessary support under the NDIS Act, and continues to be an approved support in a participant’s plan”. dealing with,” she said. T “The NDIA will consider the participant’s lived experience, goals, identified benefits of an assistance animal (above those arising from a companion animal or pet), and the cost of alternative supports available to the participant,” an NDIA spokesperson said. “For an approved assistance animal, funding would be considered for “People who don’t live with autism have no understanding of what we’re “A screaming kid who is throwing themselves on the ground and bashing their head isn’t being naughty, they are overwhelmed, and in these instances of an autism meltdown, the dog is calming and helpful.” The family recently enjoyed their first holiday to the Gold Coast, only possible because of Zeke, who happily necessary supplementary training of the animal and its handler, as well as the went along for the ride – flying in the extra maintenance costs of an assistance animal over those of an equivalent plane, staying in the hotel, travelling in companion animal or pet. The NDIA would expect the cost of an assistance the hire car and going to Movie World. animal to vary over time, from the initial purchase, to maintenance and care costs covered in subsequent plans over several years.” The NDIA’s guidance on assistance animals and their consideration for NDIS participant plans can be found on the NDIS website. www.ndis.gov.au Judy said Zeke and Guide Dogs SA/NT had “given us our life back as a family, and given Lachlan a chance”. “I shudder to think where we would be without Zeke,” she said. www.guidedogs.org.au linkonline.com.au autism 23