Parents of autistic children are discovering that their young ones can be greatly helped with assistive dogs, similar to the way that seeing eye dogs work with the blind.
For example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution relates the story of 7-year-old Matthew Plunk, who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at age 3. Plunk's parents say the child has really blossomed working with Ajax, a highly trained Great Pyrenees-boxer mix. Ajax nuzzles Matthew to avoid distressing scenarios, comforts him, and even changes the way other people relate to him in what the parents describe as empathetic ways.
"He's more calm and comfortable in his skin," Matthew's mother told the Journal-Constitution. "He's interested in what's going on around him, more in tuned with people."
Other parents have noticed that time spent with animals seems to calm and help those with autism adjust. Trained dogs can also prove invaluable at preventing autistic children from wandering off and getting lost, something that arguably might have saved the life of the young boy in North Carolina this week.
To qualify for a companion working dog, children must have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act that can be mitigated by a dog, be able to financially care for the animal and guarantee the animal's safety in their home. Plunk's dog was provided by the Ohio nonprofit 4 Paws for Ability. Costs for similarly trained dogs are high, ranging from 13,000 to $26,000. Training can take up to eight months.
Not only do autistic children have renewed opportunities for growth and development, but all of us can learn from assistive animals. We can be reminded of our close connection to other living things, be inspired to care for others around us, and increase our compassion.
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