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The Wonder of Support Dog Elvis, Best Friend to Young Autistic Boy

boy with his pet Labrador

Support dog Elvis has rocked the world of Eli Wilson and his family – not only has the pooch brought comfort to the autistic youngster, he saved his life.

Just like the Presley hit, support dog Elvis is most certainly Eli Wilson’s “Good Luck Charm”.

Up until recently, the seven-year-old boy, who is autistic, had been non-verbal and struggled with violent ‘meltdowns’.

But the bond between Eli and the Black Labrador, provided by the Sheffield-based Support Dogs charity, is so strong, he has worked wonders in encouraging Eli to talk and in reducing and calming his meltdowns.

This has brought more harmony to the lives of Eli and his family.

Mum Rebecca with support dog Elvis and son Eli

But another reason Eli’s family are even more grateful for the arrival of three-year-old Elvis is the dog recently saved Eli’s life.

The youngster had run into the path of an oncoming car, having been spooked by something on the way home from school.

Around one percent of UK children are diagnosed as autistic, half of which tend to bolt and wander away from their parents or carers, which could prove fatal.

Thankfully, Elvis, had been trained to ‘brace’ – and stopped the unthinkable from happening, by preventing Eli from stepping into the road, while the driver slammed on the brakes just inches away.

Eli was attached to Elvis via a strap connected to the dog’s jacket.

Eli’s mum Rebecca Wilson, 32, who had been with Eli and her two other children, Reuben, 10, and five-year-old Arlen, at the time, said: “Had we not had Elvis, it would have been a very different outcome. There were certainly a few tears.

“That’s the thing with Eli,” added the full-time carer, who lives in Osbaldwick, York, with her children and their father, Karl Dawson.

“He can be okay one minute and then he’s not. There was something he didn’t like on the way home from school and his instinct was to run away.”

Since Elvis’ addition to the family, meltdowns have reduced from being daily after school to occasionally.

Now, if Eli is nervous about going somewhere or doing something, his mum “talks” through Elvis, with Eli asking “what does Elvis think?” and Rebecca replying: “Elvis says it looks exciting.”

Last year, Eli was able to go to the dentist for the first time without having a meltdown – thanks to Elvis’ presence.

He used to struggle going in and out of school, with the amount of people and noise, but now he looks for Elvis – who was named by Global Radio listeners – and runs for a cuddle.

Rebecca first noticed Eli was different when he was a baby.

“He didn’t look or smile at me and didn’t look interested in anything,” she said.

“He never slept either, and as he got older he never spoke. He made screeching noises and everything used to upset him.”

Rebecca took Eli to a GP when he was two, and he was put on a waiting list to see various clinicians, including speech and language therapists.

He was diagnosed with autism when he was three and life was difficult, with Eli becoming violent and lashing out.

Just before the pandemic, in early 2020, when Eli was non-verbal and not wanting to interact with anyone, Rebecca became aware of Support Dogs – which trains and provides assistance dogs to help autistic children or adults with epilepsy or disability to live more independently – after searching online for something which included animals.

“Whenever we took him to a farm with animals, he was a different kid – he wanted to be around them and was calmer,” she said.

Due to lockdown, an initial Zoom call explaining how the charity works was followed by two support dogs visiting the family, to assess how they were with dogs.

In July 2021, Rebecca went to the charity’s headquarters in Sheffield for dog handler training.

The following March, Eli was matched to Elvis and two months later, Rebecca went to meet him.

“I loved him straight away and thought he would fit in perfectly,” said Rebecca.

The following day Elvis went to the family home and met everyone.

He has spent a year in training and has just graduated from the Support Dogs course.

Rebecca said: “It’s fantastic to have graduated – I’m so proud of Eli and Elvis and the how strong their bond is.”

She added: “That’s what I find fascinating – Elvis is totally in tune with Eli, he can sense if he needs comforting.

“I can’t imagine him not being here now – he’s very much part of the family.

“Eli is more likely to speak to other people now, because he is really proud of Elvis.

“He has started to become more aware that he is slightly different to other people, but Elvis isn’t a negative reminder.

“I think it’s amazing what Support Dogs does. I applied because I wanted to improve our lives, but I didn’t realise how much of a difference Elvis would make. He has helped massively.

“It has honestly changed our lives so much – I’m so grateful.”

Elvis, Eli and Rebecca are set to follow in the footsteps of support dog Tinks by appearing on CBeebies show, Dog Squad.

The programme follows the adventures of superhero working dogs and how they use their superpowers to help their owners in their everyday lives and the episode is set to air before Christmas.

To find out more about Support Dogs’ autism assistance programme, please visit www.supportdogs.org.uk/autism or call 0114 261 7800.