A broad smile stretched across Tobin McChandless' face as he dribbled a basketball and took a shot at a hoop in front of his East Manchester Township home recently.
The 13-year-old boy was calm and enjoyed himself as he played with his 8-year-old sister, Shimer-Breaz Trout.
But it's not always such a happy-go-lucky scene.
Tobin has autism; anxiety associated with the disorder can keep him from leaving the house and awake with little or no sleep for days, his mother, Charlie McChandless, said.
"He doesn't like to go out in public," she said. "He doesn't like to leave the house because of anxiety."
But McChandless is hoping a four-legged friend could help change that. She's in the midst of raising money for an autism support dog that would serve as a comforting tool for Tobin.
But it comes at a cost.
The family must raise thousands of dollars for the dog from the Ohio-based 4 Paws for Ability.
The cost: It costs the nonprofit agency $22,000 to train a service dog, but it asks receiving families to raise $14,000 toward the cost, said Duante Beddingfield, agency spokesman.
"This makes it easier to accelerate the process and get dogs to our families much more quickly than other organizations, where the wait can be as long as five years or more," he said. "Our families generally receive their dogs about a year and a half after they finish fundraising."
The dogs are trained specifically to meet the needs of the child it's going to, Beddingfield added.
Dogs can turn lights on and off, and can search for a child that has wandered away.
"In those cases, the dog can also be trained to stop the child if it sees the child beginning to stray," he said.
But what McChandless said she's looking for the dog to do is serve as a calming mechanism when Tobin goes through mood swings and begins to act out.
Beddingfield said dogs can also be trained to "calm autistic children who are prone to tantrums and lashing out."
Calming: One of the McChandless family dogs — a 14-year-old dachshund named Belle — helps calm Tobin when he's acting out.
"She likes to lick," he said, holding the pooch on his lap. "She calms me down."
But McChandless said the dog, who isn't trained for the task, can only do so much before she wants to go back to doing doggie things.
Despite the high cost for a trained dog, she said it would be worth it.
"I think $14,000 is well worth every penny," she said. "It (the dog) may not let us have a normal life, but (for) a consistent one, I'd pay double."
For three years now, Alex Paul has had his service dog, Bently, who was trained by 4 Paws for Ability. Alex's father, Wayne Paul, said the dog has proven himself helpful.
Bently helps calm the "profoundly autistic" Alex at times, Paul said.
"They play together. They walk together," Paul said. "Anything you can do to improve my son's life, I'm all for it."
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.