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North Routt 4-year-old smiles through hearing loss and autism

Four-year-old Theo Giattini and his mother Jolene
Tom Ross

Funding Theo’s service dog

The acquisition of a highly trained service dog for Theo Giattini, 4, a North Routt boy who is both deaf and has autism, will cost at least $40,000. Theo’s parents Jolene and Ted are required to contribute or raised $17,000 toward that amount. The balance is covered by the organization, 4 Paws for Ability.

The WZ Giving Circle of the Yampa Valley Community Foundation recently came through with a $5,000 contribution toward the $17,000.

“I can never say thank you enough to WZ Giving Circle,” Theo’s mother Jolene Giattini said.

People can make a contribution through PayPal on the 4 Paws for Ability website. Go to the lower righthand corner of the site and click on “Make a Dream Come True.” Then, scroll down again to find Theo.

Donors who wish to take a tax deduction may make their contribution to Theo at 4 Paws for Ability through the Yampa Valley Autism Program. Be sure to make a note at the top of the donation form noting you want contribute to Theo’s service dog.

— When 4-year-old Theo Giattini gets his new service dog, they’ll both be on a short leash. And that’s a very good thing. Even better is the likelihood they’ll have the closest bond a boy and his pet could have.

Theo, who lives with his mother Jolene, father Ted, and sister Sophia, 2, on Willow Creek Pass and attends the North Routt Preschool and Learning Centers, was born with a 100 percent hearing deficit. But it wasn’t until he was 2 1/2 that his parents learned Theo’s challenges were greater than they first knew.

“Theo had cochlear implant surgery when he was 1 year old,” Jolene Giattini said this week. “Everybody was expecting him to be speaking or hearing words by the time he was 2. But by that time, we knew something else was going on. He was 2 1/2 when he was diagnosed with autism.”

If it sounds like that adds up to a bleak future for a little boy, you haven’t met Theo.

During a visit to the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Theo played noisily, but happily, with his toy cars and plastic fish. He was even willing to share them with a strange adult. Later, he insisted on a tour of the building and beamed when he got to sit in the seat of a forklift. Then, he waved good-bye.

Funding Theo’s service dog

The acquisition of a highly trained service dog for Theo Giattini, 4, a North Routt boy who is both deaf and has autism, will cost at least $40,000. Theo’s parents Jolene and Ted are required to contribute or raised $17,000 toward that amount. The balance is covered by the organization, 4 Paws for Ability.

The WZ Giving Circle of the Yampa Valley Community Foundation recently came through with a $5,000 contribution toward the $17,000.

“I can never say thank you enough to WZ Giving Circle,” Theo’s mother Jolene Giattini said.

People can make a contribution through PayPal on the 4 Paws for Ability website. Go to the lower righthand corner of the site and click on “Make a Dream Come True.” Then, scroll down again to find Theo.

Donors who wish to take a tax deduction may make their contribution to Theo at 4 Paws for Ability through the Yampa Valley Autism Program. Be sure to make a note at the top of the donation form noting you want contribute to Theo’s service dog.

“He’s really just a bright, sunny, happy little 4-year-old,” Yampa Valley Autism Executive Director Lisa Lorenz said. “He’s interested in things, bright eyed and busy. He just has these pretty darn big challenges that have prevented him from being able to communicate. One of the challenges is he doesn’t really have a sense of (personal) danger. The service dog is really critical for keeping Theo safe and providing a sense of companionship.”

And that’s where a new service dog could come bounding into little Theo’s life.

Giattini said her son loves to run, and that’s her biggest fear, since hearing a news report of a little boy with autism who ran from his home and was never seen again. Theo’s inhibited sense of personal danger means he could run himself into a dangerous situation at almost any time.

“For me, as his mother, it’s going to make me feel safer,” she said “The fear he could get lost is … I can’t even put it into words. If he disappeared, that would just be unimaginable.”

Lorenz confirmed that running away, or “elopement” as autism experts refer to it, is not uncommon. Theo’s new service dog will be trained to prevent him from eloping.

Service dogs offer safety, emotional support

“There’s a big difference between a service dog and and a companion dog,” Lorenz said. “Theo has a meltdown, the dog is trained to comfort, get close and give him something to hang onto, as a source of sensory closeness.”

Theo attends North Routt Preschool, where, his mother says, he receives a wide range of special services from the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Education Services through the Steamboat Springs School District and other organizations.

Theo works with both occupational and speech therapists and a teacher who works with children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. Theo also sees a psychologist and a special needs resource teacher. Other organizations provide an audiologist and a behavioral therapist.

Life with Theo isn’t easy, Jolene Giattini concedes.

“He can have tantrums, he throws things, he kicks,” she said. “But he’s learning to play with other kids, and that’s hard for him. And he’s actually very smart — one of his therapists says his play has become much more complicated.”

Both Jolene and her husband are optimistic about their son’s future.

“I want Theo to be able to do things on his own,” she said. “The opportunities this dog is going to give him are wide open. It’s going to give him confidence. And it’s going to give him comfort.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


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