autism · behavior · children · health · Social

Dogs trained to help disabled kids lead more enriching lives

Your feel good story of the day, brought to you by the New York Times: a nonprofit organization trains dogs to help kids with all kinds of disorders, from autism to muscular dystrophy to seizures.

In October 1998, Shirk assembled a board and founded 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit corporation. She rescued Butler, a German shepherd mix, from a shelter; hired a trainer to prepare him for mobility work with the 12-year-old; and became a pioneer among service-dog agencies. “People started calling from all over to ask, Am I too young? Am I too old? Am I too disabled? Am I disabled enough?” she says. “I said, ‘If your life can be improved by a dog, and if you and your family can take good care of a dog, we’re going to give you a dog.’…” “We place dogs with kids in wheelchairs, kids on ventilators, kids with autism, kids with dwarfism, kids with seizure disorder and cognitive impairments; but if your dog does tricks, other kids want to meet you. Kids will ignore your disability if you’ve got a cool dog.”

Watch the video at the New York Times:

A trainer works with a dog on behavior modification techniques. Click the image to see the video.

It is also an amazing relationship dynamic to see occur between the children and their dogs, how the children with cognitive disabilities in particular are helped to see the world, in a way, through their dog’s eyes:

Alan M. Beck, the director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is among those intrigued by it. “There is a real bond between children and animals,” he told me. “The younger the child, the greater the suspension of disbelief about what an animal understands or doesn’t understand.” According to Beck, more than 70 percent of children confide in their dogs, and 48 percent of adults do. “The absolutely nonjudgmental responses from animals are especially important to children,” he says. “If your child with F.A.S.D. starts to misbehave, your face may show disapproval, but the dog doesn’t show disapproval. The performance anxiety this child may feel all the time is absent when he’s with his dog. Suddenly he’s relaxed, he’s with a peer who doesn’t criticize him.”

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