Assistance dog Leon the Labrador helps autistic youngster
Sonia Kamdar describes her son Soham Rajasingam as an escape artist.
Whether it's at a park, a shopping mall, or a cafe, the five-year-old will bolt from his parents - Kamdar and husband Kuhan Rajasingam - at any chance he gets.
"One of us is always gripping him to make sure he's not running off. When he does he doesn't look back," Kamdar says.
That's all changed since the south Auckland family got Leon, a friendly Labrador, a month ago.
An assistance dog, Leon is trained to help calm Soham, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder and struggles with things like loud noises and aeroplanes.
"We can go out as a family for a half hour walk around the park with very little trouble because we know he can't go very far with Leon as an anchor."
According to Autism New Zealand, about 1 in 66 New Zealanders have Autism Spectrum Disorder, a developmental disability which affects social and communication skills.
Soham was first diagnosed when he was two after his parents realised he behaved differently to some of his friends.
"It was very hard, those were the worst days of my life. It's not just today, it's going to be his whole life we have to deal with this diagnosis," Kamdar says.
"It's very tough. People say it gets better but I'm waiting to see when that happens."
Kamdar immediately started researching autism support, including therapy services, and came upon Assistance Dogs New Zealand Trust (ADNZ).
The trust provides dogs to children and adults whose lives are impacted by disability. The trust has a long waiting list for its dogs, which cost up to $48,000 including their training.
After three years on the waiting list, Soham received Leon this year and he's been a massive help already for the youngster.
He's the first thing Soham asks about when he wakes up, he gives him lots of hugs and kisses, and doesn't like going anywhere without his new buddy.
With ADNZ relying completely on donations, Soham's family is now fundraising for $20,000 to help future families be able to benefit from an assistance dog.
"I know how much it's helping and how much he loves it so I want to help another child get that opportunity," Kamdar says.
To donate, go to the family's Givealittle page.