By Sonya Campbell
Killeen Daily Herald
NOLANVILLE - There's nothing more heartbreaking than seeing your child suffering and in need of help, and being unable to do anything about it.
For Nolanville residents Dea and Jason Shatterly, who are the parents of a child with autism, that scenario has played out repeatedly for nearly a decade.
When their oldest child, Matthew, was around 2 or 3 years old, they realized he wasn't communicating at the same level as other children his age.
"He would say a word here and there," Dea Shatterly said, noting her son also didn't seem to want to play with other children.
Problems with speech and social skills are typical challenges faced by children with autism.
Meltdowns - severe emotional outbursts - and night terrors also are common.
"Matthew's anxieties cause him to have night terrors. He will wake up screaming bloody murder and nothing can calm him down," his mom said. "It's very scary to feel your son's heart racing and see him sweat through his clothing because he's scared and you can't do anything to help."
Sometimes, children with autism are "runners," a term used to describe those who run off the first chance they get, which means their caregivers have to continuously hold on to them or risk possibly dire consequences.
For the Shatterly family, all of these struggles became a matter of routine.
Matthew was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at 8.
Now, four years later and after much research, the couple has found a way to provide some relief - a service dog specifically trained to meet Matthew's particular needs.
They've been trying to raise the money to get the dog for the past 18 months.
About half of the $11,000 needed has been raised, Dea said.
The nonprofit agency overseeing the dog's training and the account set up for the Shatterly family is 4 Paws for Ability, based in Xenia, Ohio.
One of the requirements is for the family to raise donations to cover the training.
Doing so helps ensure the recipients have a vested interest in the dog and will be more likely to care for it properly, Dea said.
She noted her insurance won't cover any of the cost.
"Since we've moved to Texas (in May), we haven't really done any (fundraising). But before we moved, we did bake sales, Pampered Chef fundraisers, yard sales, car washes, etc.," Dea said. "My husband is a Mason and my dad is a Shriner, so their brothers in Arkansas actually donated the first $1,000 to get us started."
When the total amount is received, the agency will notify the family.
Seven to nine months later, the family will be assigned a class and train with the dog for about two weeks before bringing it home.
"These dogs sleep with their kid and get to where they can sense when a night terror will occur. They then either intervene or get one of the parents to come help," Dea said.
The dog also will help prevent Matthew from running off - something the entire family, including Matthew's 9-year-old brother, Scott, welcomes.
"We have to be almost overly cautious and very vigilant any time we go somewhere. Sometimes, his little brother will actually keep track of Matt for us. Scott's done it his whole life so it doesn't seem strange to him," Dea said. "Typically, if we go shopping, one of us will stay home while the other one goes to the store simply because it's easier than trying to keep up with him and get what we need also."
With a service dog trained to be tethered to Matthew, Dea believes a trip to Six Flags or Disney World might be possible one day.
Anyone wishing to make a contribution can mail donations to 4 Paws for Ability, 253 Dayton Ave., Xenia, OH 45385. Be sure to designate it for Matthew Shatterly's account.
For more information about the agency, go to www.4pawsforability.org.
Contact Sonya Campbell at
firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7585.