28 December 2010

Service Dog or Pal?

Trained dogs not only help people with sight problems, they are also being trained to help children with autism. Some schools want to keep the animals out and the parents are fighting back. Two autistic elementary school children in Illinois recently won court orders allowing their dogs to accompany them to school. California and Pennsylvania also had lawsuits about schools refusing to allow dogs. Parents say that the dogs help keep the children calm, ease transitions and have even kept them from running out into traffic.

The question that is the issue is whether the dogs are actually "service dogs" that help manage a disability or are they companions that provide comfort. Schools that are fighting over the issue say they are not discriminating but are drawing the line to protect the safety and health of the other children who may be allergic or scared of dogs.

Service dogs to aid the blind have been around for a long time but training dogs to help people with autism (a developmental disorder that involves behavior such as poor eye contact, trouble communicating and repetitive movements) is relatively new. The dogs are trained to have a calming influence by providing a constant between home, school and new places.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice said schools are required to make accommodations for disabled students and one of the ways of doing this is with a service animal.

source: The Associated Press