A service dog is a type of dog that is trained to help an individual and it's family. According to National Service Dogs (2011), the mission of these animals is to increase the safety of the person with autism. For example, such a dog may lower the likelihood of the person bolting or crossing a busy street, because it is physically connected to the person with autism (Autism Service Dogs, 2011). The dogs are trained to follow commands from parents, stop at doorways, and resist the child moving away by using its weight to slow or stop the child (e.g., Burrows, Adams, & Millman, 2008a; Burrows, Adams, & Spiers, 2008b).
I have researched and put a lot of time into studying this area and how it could help Trenton over the past three years. Now, as a single mother, it has become almost a necessity to do what we can to get Trenton a service dog and let me tell you why....
1. Trenton is an eloper and has a tendency to wander off just like many kids on the spectrum. I believe the percentage is roughly around 65% that wander. This affects our lives when I try to take him out in public and even in our own backyard. I can't trust that Trenton won't climb over our fence and take off . I am unable to step into my house and start supper without fear that he will escape the second I take my eyes off of him.
When I try to take Trenton out in public, I have to have my hands on him at all times. Therefore, this makes it impossible to try to get groceries and pay while keeping my hands on him so he doesn't wander off.
The dog would be connected to Trenton while out in public. The dog would be physically connected with ropes or other forms of tethers. AMAZING!!!! The dog would be trained to stop Trenton from wanting to wander away from me in the store. The dog would be trained to keep Trenton right by my side!!!
2. Trenton doesn't know danger which makes the wandering and eloping issue even more scarier. He would run across a busy street or run into a pond or lake without knowing what could happen to him, etc. The dog would be trained to tackle Trenton to the ground and hold him down to the ground until I reached them. WOW!! How amazing is that!
3. I have to sleep with Trenton because he wakes often in the night. As most autism parents are, I am afraid that he will escape the house in the middle of the night when he wakes up. He doesn't know the difference in 2 AM and 2 PM. I fight many tantrums because he wants to go outside at 2 AM. What would happen if he wakes up and I don't hear him from my bedroom and he escapes? I would never be able to live with myself! Therefore, I sleep with him. He has a lot of anxiety and needs someone right there with him. Therefore, a dog would be trained to alert me when he wakes up in the night. The dog would be trained to sleep with him and comfort him in the night.
My guard is up 24/7 and I can't let it down. I do have special locks on my door to prevent Trenton from escaping but he is getting older now and taller. It won't be long until he will be able to reach them.
Autism service dogs also have been known to alert parents of potentially dangerous situations at night (e.g., child waking up unhappy or getting out of bed and walking around). This can result in not only the person with autism remaining safe from harm, but also parents and other family members being calmer, happier, and more relaxed knowing that the safety issue is less of a concern. One difference between autism service dogs and other service dogs is that typically, service dogs are trained to bond primarily with the person whom the dog will be helping. However, autism service dogs are trained to primarily bond with and take instructions from the parent(s), but trained to work with the person with autism (Burrows, et al., 2008a).
Nevertheless, most of the outcome studies support the notion that these dogs do provide increased physical safety and security. For example, Burrows and Adams (2005) and Burrows, Adams, and Millman (2008) reported that parents consistently claimed that the dogs prevented children from bolting and running away. Parents relaxed more during bedtime knowing that the dog would alert them should the child with autism leave the bed or exhibit some other potentially dangerous behavior. Because of the dog’s ability to physically prevent the child with autism from behaving in a dangerous way, parents felt more in control and calmer. Most of the dogs accepted the jackets in which they were placed and followed commands well. Parents reported immediate satisfaction and reduction in concerns about safety issues.
With all of that said, I am starting the process of getting Trenton a service. It is a very lengthy process and takes two years to get your dog. If it wasn't for Alicia Westjohn, a special person from my hometown, then this would be just a dream still. However, she is helping me make this come true!
This is a life changing decision for us. This has the potential to be a real game changer in our lives! I have never been so excited about something in my life until now!
For now, I will pray and let God guide me on this journey. For the next two years I will pray for our "family" member that will be going through training to help my little T-man and my family!
So much more on this but just keep checking in and you will see post from time to time over the next two years until we get our new family member!!