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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dog’s for autistic children – a preliminary report

The primary purpose of dog adoption is to assist relationship development for many people, often referred to as RDI. So I thought it would be interesting to share what we have experienced to date.

Prior to Thatcher’s arrival, we spent six months visiting the dog park on a regular basis as my youngest son had a great fear of dogs. This was a more intensive version of the general desensitization programme for the previous two years.

So far we’ve experienced several significant developments. Firstly, both the boys have learned to pronounce ‘th’ in six weeks of daily practice. Secondly, my older son, who has a tendency to speak inaudibly, now manages to speak more loudly on occasions. All of the children have learned that if they do not tidy their toys, the toys are likely to be chewed or eaten, which is a great and fairly natural incentive.

My youngest son’s first response is always to run away from whatever it is that upsets him. He knows that by running, in the dog’s eyes, he turns himself into a plaything or prey. This has helped him to learn to hold his ground and use his naturally commanding voice. Also, that hand flapping and waving is interpreted as a gesture of alarm or play and that he can communicate more effectively by slowing it down.

By pure luck we find that we choose a sweet natured and intelligent hound. He is easy to train and all the children are keen to learn. Interestingly, on a traffic safety note, whilst they both often dive willy nilly into the road, if they are attached to the end of a leash they are both very careful to ensure that Thatcher doesn’t do likewise. Because they are already fond of him they are keen to treat him well. Whilst it might seem a good idea to steal your own favourite chocolate pudding from the fridge and feed it to the dog, once he sees the dog vomit he has a direct visual reminder that kindness comes in many forms.

Although Thatcher is a Labradoodle, he does shed his hair. So far the boys’ asthma has remained the same. Their eczema and allergies have not worsened nor flared. I think we all benefit as a family from regular walks. I know that the children benefit from freely talking to all the many people that we meet along the way. It has given them a new and interesting subject to talk about. It seems that both adults and children are far more easy going and forgiving if the discussion is about dogs. They have both adopted several conversation openers such as ‘what’s your dog’s name?’ This is especially endearing as the question is centred on the other person. They both recognize and enjoy this expansion.

So those would be the main facts to date.

On a practical note it is good to remember that pets are initially expensive to buy.[adopt] Thereafter, especially if you are in America, there are a number of fixed costs apart from food and equipment. Many people out here opt for pet medical insurance and many veterinarian establishments offer payment programmes to cover the pet’s initial and on-going immunizations and medical treatments. If your pet is not already neutered or spayed this is another huge payment. Puppy training is a must unless you already have experience, and even then, to be frank the puppy training is as much a benefit to the junior owners as it is to the dog. Puppy training for autistic children, in a group setting may be a challenge. However, if the focus remains on the dog and the teacher models the behaviour expected, there is a good chance that those children may have one of their first positive experiences in a crowd.

So basically everyone is happy and hunky dory, except me and the carpet cleaner and the accidents!

As an aside, I also note how logic dictates the rules.

It is our habit as a family, to say goodnight to the children when they are in bed. My youngest and more vocal son, has a strict pecking order when it comes to love. Women, girls and cats, even if they are male cats, can be loved. All other creatures, humans or otherwise are ‘liked.’ His father accepts the status quo, even if he might prefer things to be otherwise. One morning he finds his son fawning on the puppy, hugs and licks and “I love you Thatcher.”
“Great! You love the dog! The dog’s a boy, remember?”
“But you don’t love boys and men, remember?”
“Er……I like mens and boyzes…….but I love wimmins and cats and pets, even if dey are dirty old smelly dogs.”
“I’m not that old!”
“Er…….it’s o.k. dad……..you don’t smell as bad as Thatcher.”

I could write more but I’m a bit pushed for time as “Nonna” needs me.

I you have the time “other people” also need a dog for autistic children as you can see over here at “Michelle’s” blog.

Lastly, if you think I’m exaggerating about the ‘th’ pronunciation you can check out the "video" and hear for "yourself."

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