Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Service Dogs Prove to Be Boon for Children with Autism: When Guiding Eyes for the Blind Realized That Some of Its Trained Dogs Lacked the Self-Assurance to Be Guide Dogs, It Discovered That the Animals Could Be Retrained to Help Children with Autism

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Service Dogs Prove to Be Boon for Children with Autism: When Guiding Eyes for the Blind Realized That Some of Its Trained Dogs Lacked the Self-Assurance to Be Guide Dogs, It Discovered That the Animals Could Be Retrained to Help Children with Autism

Article excerpt

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service dog is any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal, individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, dogs are considered service dogs under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service dogs perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service dogs that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include: alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure; reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications; and calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.

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A NEW ROLE FOR SOME SERVICE DOGS

When Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an internationally accredited, nonprofit guide dog school located in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., realized that some of its trained dogs lacked the self-assurance to be guide dogs, it discovered that the animals could be retrained to help children with autism. This led to the establishment in 2008 of Guiding Eyes' "Heeling Autism" Program.

For purposes of the program, a select number of dogs are chosen from Guiding Eyes' well-established breeding colony of dogs with superlative temperaments and ideal dispositions to become autism service dogs. The selected dogs are then trained in procedures designed keep "their child" safe. These include counter measures a dog is trained to take when a child attempts to run away from his or her parents.

The dog is attached to the child with a tether that is attached to a belt around the child's waist. When the dog feels the tether being pulled, it is trained to stand firmly in place and in this way prevent the child from running away from the child's parent of guardian. Guiding Eyes reports that this method not only prevents the autistic child from bolting, but also over time cuts down on the frequency of the child's break away behavior.

A HEELING AUTISM SUCCESS STORY

The successful application of Guiding Eyes' Heeling Autism Program was highlighted in an August 7, 2014, article written by reporter Susan Bloom for New Jersey's StarLedger. …

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