Posted on August 6th, 2008 by Beth Finke
If you read my What do autism assistance dogs do? post, you know I was a little skeptical about tasks dogs might be able to do for people with autism.
But now, I have seen the light!
A well-written newspaper article about Nichelle Drew and her five-year-old son Kaleb, who has autism, helped me understand: autism assistance dogs can be particularly helpful with children who are apt to run away.
So far, none of the locks the Drews have installed has managed to keep him in. Nor have the weighted blankets that are intended to have a calming
effect managed to keep him in bed, Nichelle said.
And there are more potential dangers outside than strangers and traffic: the family lives by railroad tracks and a creek in Villa Grove, Nichelle said. To keep Kaleb safe, she said, she, her husband and a cousin take turns staying awake with him.
A service dog would be not only a companion for Kaleb but a watchdog who would try to stop Kaleb from running away, then alert the family if he did get out of the house and help find him through scent, she said.
Another mom, Casey, commented to my blog outlining her plans to train an autism assistance dog that would help keep her 7-year-old son from running away.
I plan to have 2 leashes on the backpack harness that our dog will wear, one for Josh so he can act as if he is walking his own dog and I will have the other to be in control. There will be a smaller belt that will clip onto a safety belt that Josh will wear on his waist. If he is to run, I can control that darting by telling the dog to curb and stay. This is the ONE task we hope our dog will do to help us keep Josh safe out in public. /blockquote>
While Casey plans to train the dog for Josh on her own, the Drews are investing $13,500 to get a dog for Kaleb from Autism Service Dogs of America.
The cost is so high because the expense of training the dogs is so high, Taylor said. Most of the dogs are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and Golden/Lab mixes, and it takes two years to get them trained … She has placed about 20 dogs so far, but is gradually building up the number each year in hope of placing about 30 per year.
Taylor, by the way, doesn’t earn her living through service dogs. A former special-education teacher-turned-attorney, she covers her own living expenses with a private law practice, she said.
Her organization has had a couple of applications from adults with autism, she said, but she is focusing for now on placing dogs with children with autism who run away.
Okay, so I’m convinced. Autism assistance dogs could help prevent kids from running away. But I still question the training methods. If it really takes two years and $13,500 to train an autism assistance dog, how on earth will Casey have the know-how to do that specialized training on her own? Or might Casey have it right? Is two years of training and a $13,500 fee more than necessary to train a dog to keep a child with autism from running away? Either Casey is taking on too much, or the Drews are paying too much.