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One dog just right for two girls with autism

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It’s been an emotional year for Bridget Fitzpatrick of Northbrook. Last spring, Fitzpatrick and her husband Michael learned that their identical twin girl toddlers, Norah and Emma, 2, had autism.

Since then, they’ve found great support from friends, neighbors and family. That support showed at Northbrook’s Pinstripes restaurant on Aug. 9, when about 150 supporters came together for the “4 Paws for the Fitz Twins” fundraiser.

The goal on this night: to raise funds toward $13,000 that would pay for a “4 Paws for Ability” service dog. The dog, which offers companionship and some protection, will be aware of signals that can help keep the girls safe, giving greater peace of mind to their parents.

Those attending the fundraiser raised $7,000. Other donations filled out the final total and easily surpassed the $13,000 goal.

Trained 4 Paws for Ability dogs address a range of needs for children and adults, including assistance for veterans who have lost limbs or hearing in combat.

The Fitzpatrick’s dog will help to prevent unsafe situations for Norah and Emma, who have a tendency to wander. “They also have severe peanut/tree nut allergies and the dog will alert us of those,” said Fitzpatrick, a former Glenview resident and Glenbrook South High grad.

Because the twins were born nine weeks early, she recalled, “We just thought there were preemie delays.”

Then, when the twins hit 15 months, the Fitzpatricks, “noticed things that brought some red flags to our attention about their development.”

“The twins stopped talking and the language that they did acquire, stopped,” said Fitzpatrick.“I remember one day, in the bathtub, they always would sing the ABCs, and they weren’t singing and they weren’t doing anything but kind of just staring.”

After that, Fitzpatrick felt, “the autism really took hold of them.”

Michael Fitzpatrick, a Wilmette Loyola Academy graduate, grew up in Northbrook, and his mother Corina Fitzpatrick, a Northbrook resident of 42 years, has been a steady source of support for the young family.

“She stays until 5 p.m. until Michael comes home from work and she helps me with every aspect of these girls,” said Fitzpatrick.

The Fitzpatricks were encouraged to get a service dog by Northbrook neighbors Todd and Colleen Siau whose daughter Evie, 3, benefits from their dog named Teague. “He’s a family member,” said Colleen Siau, of Teague, their golden doodle.

Siau also helped the Fitzpatricks with Pinstripes fundraiser details, because they had held a similar event there in 2011.

Fitzpatrick said she and her family are grateful for all the help they’ve had. “And we just feel so blessed and so surrounded by a wonderful community,” she said.

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