Still the best of friends The past 12 years have not been easy ones for Ethan and his mum Mandy Dyson. Until he was two Ethan was advanced for his years. Then a month after his second birthday, for no apparent reason, he turned into a completely different child overnight. Autism was diagnosed. Ethan’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. He started to escape from his buggy and run away when out shopping with Mandy. He stopped talking, but started screaming. Leaving the house became impossible. “Everyone working in shop security in Bury knew us because there was an episode every week,” says mum Mandy, wryly. When he was seven Ethan was introduced to two Support Dogs and although Jay was not initially lined up to be his companion, in Mandy’s words, “it was love at first sight,” and boy and black Labrador bonded immediately. Although the first weeks of training were extremely hard for Mandy, who had her own health issues, after a few months she realised just what Jay could do for her son. “We were out and Ethan had a meltdown, and I sat him in a corner with Jay and reasoned with him and he calmed down – I’d never seen that before,” she recalls. “After that we went from strength to strength.” That year Ethan started attending a special needs school, and with Jay’s help they started ‘unlocking’ Ethan. So much so that he was able to go to a mainstream comprehensive school at the age of 11. While there have inevitably been problems along the way, with the help of a one-to-one classroom assistant, Ethan, now 14, has done well and is regarded as a highly intelligent young man. Once something has been read to him he has an excellent memory and recall, and can retain information, such as the Periodic Table. He is head of his year in science. He still finds it difficult to make close friends, and remains close to his beloved dog. His mum says the pair are ‘like brothers,’ and are often found cuddled up on the sofa together. Thanks to Jay, Ethan is able to go out normally. He plays the guitar and piano and loves Lego. And he would like to be an engineer when he grows up. Jay is due to retire in two years’ time, around the time that Ethan finishes his GCSEs, so there will be plenty of changes ahead for boy and dog. In the meantime Mandy is just grateful to Support Dogs for providing the family with Jay, and their help and support over the past seven years. “I could not be prouder of Ethan and Jay, and Support Dogs have played a massive part in his growing up,” she adds.