By Kim Reader
A six-year-old autistic boy who has ‘never had a friend’ now has his first buddy – a cute Cockapoo pup who is finally bringing him out of his shell.
Cameron Costelloe, of Dunblane, Scotland, has been unable to make any friends as his autism created a barrier between him and other children, according to mum Shona Costelloe.
Even when the youngster first met pup Coco, his condition meant he would push her away when she tried to play and refused to let her sleep upstairs at night.
But patient and loving Coco, 18 months, has slowly won over Cameron’s heart and now the pair are inseparable – playing together, watching cartoons and cuddling up in bed every night.
The duo’s unbreakable bond has helped Cameron cope with tasks previously made daunting by his autism like his first haircut, trips to the shops – and even bonding with other kids.
Full-time mum Shona is constantly amazed by Coco’s calming effect on Cameron during his meltdowns and said the inseparable pair, who practice agility in the garden, dream of making it to Crufts.
Shona, 38, said: “Cameron is really social with the family but he has never had any friends. At school or in the park, he never has anyone to buddy up with or play with.
“Because of his autism he doesn’t know how to play nicely or make friends with people – there’s a barrier between him and other kids.
“Coco has given him the companionship that he has never had before. They are the best of friends and I think they always will be. They have this amazing bond.
“Watching him learn to be friends with her has been incredible. He’s so gentle with her and they love to play.
“One of Cameron’s favourite things to do is build agility courses in the garden for Coco.
“Hopefully when he’s a bit older and she’s out of the puppy phase, he’ll be her handler and they might even make it to Crufts.
“When they were playing in the snow the other day and Coco was so excited she kept tearing through the pile he was collecting to build a snowman, I was just waiting for him to have a meltdown.
“We had to give up on building a snowman in the end and normally that kind of disruption would really upset him but because it was his friend Coco it was okay.
“She was throwing the snow about, so he started to throw it about too and we ended up having a snowball fight instead. It really was amazing to see that change in him.
“His friendship with Coco is teaching him how to be friends with other children too. He’s starting to play nicely and interact better, it is amazing.”
Parents Shona and Gary, 42, suspected their little boy had autism from the age of two as he struggled with speech and found day-to-day tasks ‘challenging’.
When Cameron was officially diagnosed at four, Shona started researching therapy dogs for autistic children but when she couldn’t find a centre nearby decided they would buy and train a puppy.
Working alongside trainers at Stirling Dog Behavioural Centre, mum-of-one Shona has dedicated hundreds of hours to making sure Coco is the best support she can be for Cameron.
While he didn’t immediately take to the chocolate-coloured and curly-haired pup, Cameron now adores Coco and will go anywhere if she is going too.
Seeing the incredible progress her son has made, has inspired Shona to work with charity Paws for Autism and they are fundraising to open Scotland’s first facility to train therapy dogs for autistic kids.
The mum-of-one is determined to help other families the way Coco has helped Cameron.
Shona said: “When we first brought Coco home, Cameron wouldn’t bother with her at all. If she tried to play or cuddle he would even push her away.
“At night I would ask him if he wanted Coco upstairs with him and he would say ‘no’ so she stayed downstairs.
“But she kept trying and she was very patient with him. Slowly he warmed to her and now they are inseparable.
“Day-to-day tasks that Cameron used to find challenging, he’s now happy to do if he’s go Coco with him.
“She comes everywhere with us – to the shops and for Cameron’s first ever haircut. We tried for two years to get him to the barbers but when he knew Coco could come with him, he was fine.
“He has made an unbelievable amount of progress in the last year and it is all down to Coco and her friendship.
“She is an amazing dog, she is so loving and she knows exactly how to deal with him. If he’s having a meltdown then Coco will run in to be with him and having her to focus on calms him down so quickly.
“When he’s not in the mood to play she can tell and she’ll just sit next to him and eventually he’ll start to stroke her or cuddle her.
“Seeing him make so much progress makes us so proud and it makes all the hard work we’ve put in training Coco so worth it.
“We really want to get the training facilities up and running and include a play area for children with autism and their dogs.
“I know how special Coco is to our family so if we can achieve that for other families too, it would be so amazing.”
To donate click here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/pawforautism