Autism Dog Services prepares their service dogs specifically to fit the different challenges of varying degrees and types of autism. Primarily, the dog’s purpose is to comfort the child and minimise the anxiety the child feels in chaotic settings. The dog is also there to protect the child by preventing him from darting into traffic or from being lead away by a stranger. As a result, service dogs go a long way in fostering independence for autistic children.
Most of the service dogs Autism Dog Services trains are Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers as these breeds are gentle and patient. Even children who have difficulty communicating find that they can communicate easily with the dogs.
Program co-ordinator, Allison Savard says, “It’s amazing the different possibilities.” Allison works with client families to help them concentrate the dog’s assistance in ways that will best allow the child to “reach their best potential with their dog.” The program has placed 30 dogs with children who’s autism crosses the spectrum; mild to severe.
Rebecca Heibein’s son, Colton has Asperger’s syndrome, which makes it difficult for him to socialize. Increasingly, he struggles with anxiety and his parent’s do their best to help him cope. In June, he received approval to be matched with a service dog and should have his companion in a year or so. In the mean time, Colton has been working with some of the dogs in the training program.
According to his mother, the dogs are already having a positive influence, “You can visibly see the anxiety leave his body,” says Rebecca. The dog is helping Colton to regulate his own anxiety, “He’ll sit there and pet the dog. Now he’s calming himself down.”
Rebecca is seeing great changes in her son when he is with the service dogs. Recently, she was even able to venture, with him and one of the dogs, into a busy, noisy, public place; something she would never have done before. “This was not the same child,” Rebecca said.
– Jen R, Staff Writer
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