Taylor Lodewegen has truly found her niche, while making a difference in the life of a child.
A 2010 graduate of Iola-Scandinavia High School, Lodewegen is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She is majoring in human services and leadership, with a minor in business.
"My long term goals for my career would be to work with an organization as their developmental director," she said. "In this position I would help to raise money for the organization by fundraising and advocating."
"My dream would be to work with an organization like Special Olympics or one that helps people with disabilities," she continued. "I am a firm believer that everyone should be treated equal and I would love to be a part of any organization that believes that too."
Starting her advanced internship for her last semester of college, Lodewegen began working the Joel and Jaime Stadler family, of Neenah.
"I was approached by our field placement director about an internship that would amplify my business minor skills as well as incorporate my passion for people with disabilities, so I agreed to meet with Jaime," she said. "When talking about my current job at Fox Valley Autism Treatment Program, I learned that her son Cole was also a part of our program; their senior therapist was my boss, who then assigned me to work with the family through my job."
Lodewegen spends 8-10 hours a week working with the family.
Cole, who is 2 years old, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in August 2013.
"Cole and I have been working with each other for about a month now," Lodewegen said. "As his line therapist, we work on communication, redirecting repetitive behaviors like rocking back-and-forth, reinforcing more attentive behaviors, fine and gross motor skills, sensory problems, noise and other stimuli issues, and transitions and routines."
"He is the happiest little boy in the whole wide world," she said. "He is always smiling. He loves Mickey Mouse, jumping on his little trampoline and playing on his Ipad."
"I really try to push Cole to the best of his abilities, which he doesn’t always agree with," she laughed. "He always leaves me with a smile at the end of the day."
According to Cole’s mother Jaime, he was also born with a rare birth defect CDH and outlived the odds.
"On top of that he also has a hole in his heart and has significant developmental delays due to his medical condition," said Jaime. "Now with the new diagnosis of Autism, putting together a care plan is even more complicated."
Lodewegen is now helping the Stadler family in the quest to get a service dog for Cole.
"We love that Taylor is able to help our family, meet an academic requirement for her internship and make a difference in a life of a child," Jaime said.
"Connecting with the 4 Paws for Cole campaign joined my passion for autism and people with disabilities and my career goal of becoming a development director," Lodewegen said. "Having a service dog for Cole will open doors that we as humans cannot open for him. The relationship that he will create with his dog could generate new achievements for his development, socially and emotionally."
"As with all children, safety is a big concern," Jaime added. "For children with autism, safety is paramount. It’s scary as they don’t understand their surroundings or understand how quickly they can endanger themselves. In just a few seconds, Cole can wander into the upper bunk of our bunk beds, to sitting on the patio or holding his head underwater in the bath tub if you take your eye off him for just a few seconds."
The Stadler’s hope is that an autism service dog will serve as a social catalyst and reinforce more attentive behaviors for Cole in additional to the following:
• Assist to engage in communication and increase vocabulary.
• Improve safety and security both inside and outside the home and in public.
• Redirect repetitive behaviors.
• Alert others when Cole is harming himself.
• Impact Cole’s behavior and aid in all therapies.
• Provide companionship.
"This family is very dedicated," said Lodewegen. "They are always open to suggestions and work with our therapy staff to help reach all of their goals."
The Stadlers will receive their dog from the 4 Paw for Ability organization.
According to Whitney Hitt, community/media relations director of 4 Paws for Ability, it is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to place quality service dogs with children with disabilities and veterans who have lost use of limbs or hearing; help with animal rescue, and educate the public regarding use of service dogs in public places.
"Trainers put in over 500 hours training these dogs, and so far have not found a single organization that tailors training to a child’s specific needs like 4 Paws for Ability," Stadler said. "The 4 Paws for Ability organization has so much to offer to families. We are so grateful that they are here."
"Once we have raised our committed funds, a dog that will be trained specifically to meet Cole’s needs will be placed into the training program," she said. "Unlike most service dog organizations, 4 Paws for Ability allows the child to train with the dog, without age restrictions. And the best part, no family has ever fallen short of their fundraising goal. Every family that has committed to 4 Paws for Ability has made it to their training and has received their special dog."
The cost of receiving a service dog is $13,000.
The family has since learned that their older son William, age 5, also has autism. Their dog will now be trained to meet the needs of both boys.
Anyone wishing to help can do so visiting www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/colestadler/4pawsforability.
Donations can be mailed to: 253 Dayton Ave, Xenia, OH 45385; specify "In Honor of Cole Stadler."
Upcoming fund raising events include a volleyball tourney at Game Day in Darboy on April 5, and a bowl-a-thon on April 25 at Saber Lanes in Menasha.
"Cole and his family deserve this," said Lodewegen. "I am so glad that I can help make a difference."