See: A Helpful Friend: Dogs and autistic children– CTV.ca News Staff : Date: Fri. Feb. 28 2003 4:34 PM ET
1286 Cedar Creek Rd.
519 623 4188
4 Paws For Ability offers Autism Service Assistance Dogs that are specially selected for the family and client’s home.
See: A Helpful Friend: Dogs and autistic children
4 Paws For Ability
253 Dayton Ave. Xenia, Ohio 45385
Training center phone: (937) 376-2781
Cell phone number: 937) 768-9098
Watch Hanson Center Video Rescue dogs at the Hanson Center work with autistic children.The Hanson Center is part of the Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities. Their innovative program integrates the community and those with special needs. They are one of only 26 arts and recreation programs nationwide that provide this opportunity.
Dogs Warm to Children with Autism
Man’s best friend offers safety, companionship
By Anna Colliton | Columbia News Service
February 17, 2008
NEW YORK –
After 8-year-old Danny Gross was sent to his room for snatching his younger sister’s new umbrella, his mother found him sobbing on his bed. But Danny wasn’t upset about being punished for bullying his sister.
Instead, he was distressed because hours earlier, Pennie, the family’s golden retriever, had been left alone in the car for a few minutes. Danny, who is autistic, has a special bond with his 2-year-old pet.
“But what must she have been thinking during those five minutes?” Danny wondered aloud as his mother comforted him.
Like Danny, many children on the autistic spectrum relate better to animals than to people. Autistic children typically have trouble making verbal exchanges and understanding complex social cues, neither of which is necessary to become a dog’s best friend.
“Dogs are like half-steps, because for kids with autism, words get in the way of their relationships,” said Danny’s mother, Paddy Dobbs Gross, who runs North Star Dogs in Storrs, Conn., an organization that breeds, trains and places service dogs for autistic children.
An estimated one out of 150 children has a disorder on the autistic spectrum, according to a 2007 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a growing number of parents are looking to service dogs to provide protection and companionship for their children. Genevieve Athens, president of the Autism Society of Oregon, has noticed a significant increase in demand for these dogs during the last four or five years, though it’s difficult to get an accurate count since the organizations that provide these dogs aren’t regulated.
“A well-trained service dog would be just wonderful,” said James Loomis, a child and family psychologist. The dog would provide autistic children with “a social response, but one they can understand and relate to.” Loomis specializes in autism-spectrum disorders and works with the Center for Children with Special Needs in Glastonbury, Conn.
Practice at conversation
Simple behaviors like making eye contact, engaging in conversation and shaking hands do not come naturally to autistic people. It can take autistic children years to master simple conversations, and answering repetitive questions like “What’s your dog’s name?” provides valuable opportunities for practice.
How much autistic children benefit socially from owning a dog depends on the child, and experts are quick to note that every child on the autistic spectrum is different. It is important to manage parents’ expectations, said Elisa Irlam, director of training at the Western Guide and Assistance Dog Society in Alberta, Canada. Some children are unaffected, and those who are not naturally drawn to dogs are unlikely to show positive results. “The only thing we can guarantee is safety,” she said.
It’s critical, however, that parents investigate both the trainer and the temperament of the dog before buying one. Dave and Kim Gallo, of Lake Oswego, Ore., raised $13,000 to purchase a Labrador retriever named Oscar from Autism Service Dogs of America last summer for their severely autistic 6-year-old son, Michael. But there were quickly signs of trouble.
“I noticed his hackles were up when he was playing with my kids,” Kim said. “I couldn’t believe it.” On the second day, the dog bit Kim on the hand, leaving a deep wound. When the Gallos went to return the dog, the organization wouldn’t refund the full purchase price, keeping $3,000 and telling them they were “difficult,” Kim said.
Autism Service Dogs of America did not respond to e-mails, and the organization’s phone number is unlisted.
Some organizations breed dogs themselves, some get dogs from shelters, and some train dogs that have been rejected from other service-dog programs — for example, dogs that are too sensitive to be wheelchair dogs, a job that requires them to ignore people who approach them.
Gross, for example, breeds 80 percent of her dogs, primarily Labrador and golden retrievers, in her home, and the rest come from carefully selected breeders.
Restraining without touching
Some autistic children are sensitive to noise, lights and smells and may break down when they become overwhelmed. These meltdowns are sometimes characterized by rocking, hand-flapping and screaming. “People will take a look and say, ‘That child is just a brat,’ but this gives them a cue that maybe something else is going on,” said Irlam, who runs the guide-dog firm in Canada. Service dogs can also help parents control uncooperative children and, with specialized training, can help ensure the safety of children who are inclined to run away.
Her group trains a child and dog by clipping a leash from the dog’s vest to the child’s belt. Another leash stretches from the dog to the parent.
If the child tries to bolt, the parent gives the dog a “stay” command, and the child is anchored in place. Parents are able to restrain a child without having to grab a wrist or hand, which can be very upsetting for autistic children, who often don’t like to be touched.
The autistic children “don’t mind the touch and feel of the dog, but to be restrained by their parents — they don’t like that,” Irlam said. “This allows families to go out without worrying about the child darting off.”
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