It's a couple of years before Allegra Benedetti will go to big school - and that's how long it will take to train an autism assistance dog to be by her side.
That's why her parents, Eleisha and Dorian, are now on a mission to raise the funds they need to train a 'Smart Pup' to be their little girl's friend, and protector.
Allegra, 3, was diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder, global developmental delay and language delay in January last year. She also suffers from anoxic seizures, vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to feeding complications and chronic asthma.
The Horsley parents have used their savings on intensive therapy for Allegra, before getting funds through the NDIS, and she's making good progress. They believe an autism assistance dog will further improve her quality of life, especially as she sets off for school.
"For a child with autism life can be amazing, wonderful and full of happiness but it can also be scary, overwhelming and very unfriendly," Mrs Benedetti said.
"An autism assistance dog can help alleviate some of the stress involved in living with autism spectrum disorder."
An autism assistance dog can help alleviate some of the stress involved in living with autism.Eleisha Benedetti
The Benedetti's application for an autism assistance dog through not-for-profit organisation Smart Pups has been successful, however they have to contribute $20,000 of the $27,000 required for training.
Once placed, the Smart Pup (usually a labrador) becomes an integral part of the family, safeguarding a child's health and well-being.
"Allegra’s autism assistance dog will be trained to comfort her, encourage her to use language, detect when she is overwhelmed and about to have a meltdown and help calm her before the meltdown occurs," Mrs Benedetti said.
"It will be trained to tether Allegra to a spot when she attempts to abscond, search and find her if she does abscond, be a companion and friend.
"The dog will assist her with navigating stairs, act as a pillow during a seizure, alert others when she does have a seizure so she can receive help and medical intervention, and help her sleep through the night."
The couple has set up a fundraiser, Comedy for a Cause, at Fairy Meadow's Fraternity Club on May 25. Details at comedyforacause.net/Allegra