A MUM of four is hoping to raise £12,000 to be able to afford an assistance dog for her youngest son.

Emily Lowndes, from Kings Barton, Winchester, has launched a JustGiving campaign to raise money for a four-legged friend to help her seven-year-old son Stefan.

Stefan, who has autism, struggles with going to new places and changes in routine which can lead to heightened anxiety and meltdowns. Stefan and Emily regularly travel to Basingstoke on Sundays, visiting Planet Ice and Hollywood Bowl as part of Stefan's weekend routine.

The Barton Farm Primary pupil didn’t speak or even make a noise outside the home setting until he was at school and his mum still describes him as a “situational mute”.

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Mum Emily, 41, works as a paediatric nurse at Shepherds Down, a special school in Compton, believes an assistance dog could pick up on Stefan’s anxiety and help boost his confidence levels.

She said: “Stefan has problems sleeping and settling down too and autism assistance dogs can help get people into a routine. I was amazed when I found this out because that’s something I have always struggled with, sometimes it can take me four or five hours to get him in bed.

Basingstoke Gazette: StefanStefan (Image: Emily Lowndes)

“A dog would also provide companionship and reassurance. It would be phenomenal if we got a dog. We have been on the list for two years and Stefan’s been asking for a dog for a long time.

“Autism assistance dogs are trained to perform a series of advanced tasks, which are carefully selected to mitigate the individual challenges that their handler experiences. The reliable support that their assistance dog provides can enable an autistic person to grow in confidence, feel safer and more secure, and truly enjoy exploring outdoor spaces with their loyal and beautiful friend at their side.

“It would be overwhelming if we got one, like a dream come true. I was over the moon when we got put on the list, I literally cried. I didn’t think we would get picked as thousands apply, it’s now just a case of getting enough money.”

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Basingstoke Gazette: Stefan and EmilyStefan and Emily (Image: Emily Lowndes)

Emily, who lives with her family in Morse Road, had never thought of the idea until her son Billy, 14, suggested it.

Since launching the fundraiser, the mum-of-four has been delivering toy dogs to community centres such as the Worthies Sport and Social Club and South Wonston Village Hall for name-a-dog competitions. People can donate £1 to enter and the winner, who guesses the name correctly, will earn a prize.

The family are hoping to raise £12,000 for the Autism Dogs Charity in around six months. They are being supported by ‘The Bradley Lowery Foundation Trust’.

For more information or to donate, go to justgiving.com/campaign/supportforstefan.