ANDERSON TWP. — After facing a tough start in life, Liam, a fifth-grader at Maddux Elementary, is hoping a furry friend can make the path forward much less steep.
His parents hope the same and are working to tackle the hefty price tag of a service dog they believe would change their son's life.
"Knowing that there's something out there that might make a world of difference for my son," said Kim Winnicki, "I'm going to make it happen. However I need to make it happen."
Liam has faced many obstacles in his young life: He and his twin sister, Aubrey, were born 13 weeks premature.
"Our daughter actually passed away four days after birth," said Kim. "We had many phone calls in the middle of the night warning us that this might be it, like we might actually lose him."
Liam was in the NICU for several months after his birth, and once he came home from the hospital, a new set of challenges began.
"So Liam has done physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy," said Kim.
As he's gotten older, his mother said his confidence has been one of the bigger struggles.
"He notices that he's different," said Kim. "He notices that he's not invited to birthday parties and that he doesn't have friends like his brothers do. And he'll ask sometimes, like, 'Is this because I have autism?'"
After months of research into the possible effects and benefits a four-legged friend could have on Liam's life, Kim said the family has also had visits with service dogs and witnessed firsthand how calming the animal's presence is for their son.
"We've had some visits with some friends' service dogs, seeing the need that it fills in him, just in that sensory aspect has been incredible," said Kim. "He lit up and it's like this calm comes over him. It's something that I can't describe."
A service dog would be able to help with physical stability and safety through tethering and a harness. The Winnickis also hope it could help Liam focus more while filling a sensory need.
Now comes another obstacle for the family to face: the $18,500 price tag of a service dog.
The family is hoping fundraising efforts could help them save enough to get Liam the service dog they believe will help change his life.