Amazing Things Service Dogs Do For Kids With Autism
Can't Wait to Meet Our Autism Assistance Dog
by: Jen Charron
Many Canadians with disabilities benefit from a service dog. We asked moms whose families have been impacted by the presence of a Dog Guide to share their stories. Here is what Jen had to say about waiting for an Autism Assistance Dog Guide for her son with Asperger syndrome. The family across the street from us got a puppy a few months ago. My son and I have been watching them walking their new dog all winter and we often stop to give her a little pat as we pass by on the sidewalk. Recently we asked them how they have been enjoying their new pet and how things have been going. My kid piped up and said, “I’m getting a dog. It is going to be a life changing dog.” I smiled and explained to our neighbour that we are on the wait list for an Autism Assistance dog. We’ve had to be very patient. It has been a long wait. And we are still waiting. My son is 7 years old and is an only child. He also has Asperger syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. For quite some time I have been thinking that a dog would be a fantastic addition to his life. I imagined a special buddy who would love him unconditionally. However, my son can be loud and unpredictable. He has challenges controlling his impulses, managing transitions, and regulating himself. Which means that he gets over stimulated, overly excited, and worked up pretty easily. The right dog would be an amazing calming presence. The wrong dog would be a disaster. I spent a lot of time learning about different dog breeds to figure out what could be a good fit for our family. We also have the added complication that my kid has dog allergies. So I was looking for a hypoallergenic breed with a low-key temperament. While doing all of this research, I kept having a niggling feeling that we were going to need a special dog and I wasn’t sure how to find it. Around the same time, we went to do a little back to school shopping. While in a kids shoe store, we saw a family of two little boys, a mom, a dad… and a dog—a service dog with a vest that said “Autism Assistance.” My interest was piqued. I waited until they had finished their shoe shopping before I swooped in and started asking questions. That was when I met Stacy. She told me about the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program and about the difference their Dog Guide has made in her son’s life. She suggested we check out the Dog Guides website and attend an open house to learn more about it all. I hadn’t really considered this as an option for us. I thought this kind of service dog was only for children with more severe autism. I also believed that labs were the breed used for this kind of job. But we went to an open house at the facility where they train the Dog Guides in Oakville to check it out. We found out that yes, the main breed that they train for Autism Assistance are labs… but that they also train standard poodles for kids with allergies. We also learned that these dogs can make a huge impact in the lives of kids with Asperger’s/high functioning autism. Studies have shown that when these children have a dog accompanying them during daily routines, they have lowered levels of anxiety and reduced frustration and aggression. The dogs help them navigate transitional times, as the dog can be a constant through transitions. Having a large animal pressing up against them provides a calming pressure sought by many kids with autism, including my son. They help them sleep better. There are also reports of improved ability to focus and increased self-esteem from that unconditional love I’ve been wanting for my son. The even more amazing thing is that the Dog Guides are provided by the Lions Foundation of Canada at no cost to eligible Canadians. We were in disbelief and couldn’t wait to apply. We went through the application process and were absolutely thrilled to be approved. That was about a year ago. We are now sitting near the top of the wait list and we continue to wait. It is usually about a 6-month wait to be matched with a dog after being approved. But because we need a poodle for my son the wait is longer than usual. There are many more labs that meet the criteria and have the right disposition for the Autism Assistance job than poodles. So we attempt to be patient while we know that the special poodle that is the right match for my kid is out there currently being trained and learning how to support him. And we’ll be here with open arms when he or she is ready to come and change our life. Meanwhile, we are doing what we can to help raise awareness for the amazing work that the Lions of Canada do with this program. And to help raise funds too—on May 25th, we’ll be joining our local Purina Walk for Dog Guides. It is the least we can do considering what they are doing for us. If you enjoyed this post about service dogs helping families, see this story of about a boy with a Seizure Response Dog Guide. And if you want to donate or participate, the Purina Walk For Dog Guides is a national fundraising walk happening in 200 communities across Canada on May 25th that supports the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides program.