TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) - A Region 8 family added another mouth to feed to their household in hopes of helping their son with autism.
According to the National Autism Association, autism affects 1 in 68 children.
One of those children is Cooper Mason.
Jaclyn Mason, Cooper's mom, said his diagnosis in 2013 changed their lives.
"It's really scary when somebody like your kid has autism," Jaclyn said. "Not because I think that my kid's life is over, but it's because what expectations you had for your child are now going to be different."
Cooper was diagnosed right before his fourth birthday. Chad Mason, Cooper's dad, said no day has been the same sense.
"When it's really good, it's really good. And when it's bad, it's really bad," Chad said.
Screaming meltdowns in every place imaginable are just the beginning.
Jaclyn said the worst thing to happen is Cooper running away.
"Cooper opened his window, jumped out, and ran off," Jaclyn said.
With problems seeming to get worse, Jaclyn and Chad felt there must be something out there that could help Cooper.
They knew there was hope.
The Mason family found hope in the form of four legs, two eyes, and another mouth to feed.
"We are going to raise $14,000 and get a service dog," Jaclyn said.
She said it sounded insane, but after hours of online research, they felt this really may do the trick.
"You just have this gut instinct that something's going to work," Jaclyn said.
Chad is the one who found 4 Paws for Ability online, and with the okay from Cooper's doctor, the Masons got started.
The fundraising journey started in November 2014.
Region 8 News sat down with the Masons in February 2015 to discuss their progress.
T-shirt sales, walk/run fundraisers, and a benefit concert helped the Masons reach their goal.
Thanks to the generosity of those near and far, they raised $14,285 in four months.
The next step involved patience. It wasn't until August 2016 the family packed up to go to Ohio to meet Fandral, a Goldendoodle.
Chad, Jaclyn, Cooper, and his little brother Harper spent two weeks training at 4 Paws for Ability.
A place Chad Mason says he finally felt at ease.
"Being in that circle of understanding and that circle of trust, of parents, of all types of disabilities," Chad said.
They learned a number of commands including sit, fist bump, nuzzle, and over.
All the commands fit a variety of needs. One of the most important being at Cedar Park Elementary in Trumann.
"Right before we got Fandral, Cooper had been having a lot of problems at school," Jaclyn said. "We were going home a lot, and he was just really struggling."
With Fandral now in the classroom, Cooper even admitted it's completely different.
There are fewer meltdowns and fewer disruptions.
"Fandral helps him exceed our expectations all the time," Jaclyn said.
"Having him at home, having him at school, having him wherever we go, is huge," Chad said.
Training hasn't stopped since returning home with Fandral.
"We do basic obedience training every night," Jaclyn said. "We do at least one track a week, and of course it's not an active track, but we kind of know where Cooper is, and one of us will hold him and the other one goes with Cooper."
Jaclyn said they have had to use Fandral to track Cooper, and he found him within minutes.
While Fandral is a vital part of the family, his presence doesn't come without judgment.
Jaclyn said when the family goes to the grocery store they get a lot of looks and sometimes comments.
"That's cool you get to take your dog with you everywhere, and I was like well we don't get to leave our autism at home," Jaclyn said. "The autism goes, so does the dog."
But Chad and Jaclyn hope telling people about Fandral and their journey will open more eyes.
"That's one less person who is less educated in autism," Chad said.
Educating some while also helping those who are just starting their autism journey.
"If you think that you're alone you're not," Chad said.
Fandral is now a part of the family.
"He had as many Christmas presents as our kids did," Jaclyn said. "He's like having another kid."
A member they can't imagine parting with.
"I really don't know how we did all this before we had him," Jaclyn said. "He makes it that much easier."
The Mason's admit a service dog may not be the right fit for everyone, but that is why doing your research and taking advantage of resources available are so important.
The goal for Cooper is to become more independent as he gets older.
To follow Cooper and the Mason's journey with Fandral click here.
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