Service dogs and specially trained dogs for autism and learning disability are becoming a reality. Schools around the USA have implemented programs to include these four legged furry creatures to help children with Dyslexia, ADHD, Aspersers and those in the Autism Spectrum. Anumita tells us about these well behaved gentle dogs that would amaze anyone, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Last year, during the local meet of the Special Olympics summer games, I walked carefully among the bleachers to find a place to sit. The whole area was full of over-enthusiastic parents, instructing coaches and many athletes with special needs.
As soon as the marching band passed through the track field a 16-year-old autistic girl made her way up the stairs between the bleachers let by her service dog. Her father in tow carrying her supplies in a bag. The dog was a Labrador and a pretty large dog. They all scooted on to a row of bleachers and settled down. The dog adjusted its large frame between the father and the daughter. I was few rows up. I watched amazed as the dog sat there without twitching. All around, there were loud voices, screaming, and music. There was a riot of smells, as the athletes came and went all sweaty and many were eating hot dogs, burgers, and other foods. The dog did not react. It kept exceptionally quiet and still. The moment it was the girl’s turn to go to the bullpen for her warmups, the girl touched the dog’s harness. Immediately the dog was alert and carefully guided the girl down steep stairs to the field. I had a special level of respect for service dogs from that day.
Service dogs and specially trained dogs for autism and learning disability are becoming a reality. Schools around the USA have implemented programs to include these four legged furry creatures to help children with Dyslexia, ADHD, Aspersers and those in the Autism Spectrum.
Children with severe autism often hurt themselves. They might wander off and be incoherent about the sense of space and directions. Dogs are trained to tether them. Their presence often helps to calm their overactive firing neurons. A hug or nearness of these genteel creatures often works better than medication.
When my younger son was in elementary school, I volunteered often. I noticed a dog visiting the library once a week. It had a bandana around its neck which said: “Read to me”. I found it interesting and asked the teacher. According to her, that dog was a special trained one. It came once a week for children who had difficulty reading. Children with difficulty in fluency, or diction or even the Dyslexic often find it stressful to read in class amongst their peers or even with an adult. They read to the dog. To them, the dog does not judge and does react to their mistakes. A teacher is usually present, but she sits at a distance. The teacher has often noticed that the children’s confidence grows after reading to the dog.
There are many schools which have dogs come over to their premises and alleviate the stress of the students. Modern society has given us gadgets to make our life easy but it has robbed us of many human interactions. Peer pressure, dysfunctional homes, academic expectancy and athletic competition often have our children stretched out thin. The children with special needs must fight an extra battle. The trained canines are the best stress busters.
There are various institutes which train dogs to help children with autism. Such dogs are for adoption to help children with special needs and autism to improve their life skills. Institute like 4Paws for Ability, Paws with the Cause, Canine for Kids, Kid’s Companion and many others provide dogs to work with children.
During my elder child’s college admission, we had a whole day introduction by the college’s office of disabilities. There was this young lady who was joining the college of nursing. She was technically blind and used a service dog to help her day. Her parents seemed a little worried about her living on her own. But, after a year, I met them at a college function and they told us how the help of her service dog has made her life less stressful in the campus settings.
Dogs are said to be man’s best friend, but I feel they are more than that. They are unique creatures which help without prejudice and often that is the little trait we humans forget or forgo.
Till date, much data has been collected from different schools, homes and caregiving institutes regarding the benefits of dogs for autism and other special needs children. We all hope with the help of these data; we would be helping as many children as possible, in the future.
©Anumita Chatterjee Roy
Photos from the internet.
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