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WardenWolf
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16 Sep 2009, 4:38 pm

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Schools fight families over autism service dogs


At issue is whether the dogs are true ‘service’ pets or simply companions

Robin Scholz / AP
updated 2:25 p.m. MT, Fri., Aug 21, 2009

CHICAGO - Like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, trained dogs are now being used to help autistic children deal with their disabilities. But some schools want to keep the animals out, and families are fighting back.

Two autistic elementary school students recently won court orders in Illinois allowing their dogs to accompany them to school. Their lawsuits follow others in California and Pennsylvania over schools' refusal to allow dogs that parents say calm their children, ease transitions and even keep the kids from running into traffic.

At issue is whether the dogs are true "service dogs" — essential to managing a disability — or simply companions that provide comfort.

School districts say they are not discriminating, just drawing the line to protect the safety and health of other students who may be allergic or scared of dogs.

"The school district has 650 students, not just one. So we have to balance," said Brandon Wright, attorney for the Villa Grove district in central Illinois, which objected to 6-year-old Kaleb Drew's plan to bring his yellow Labrador retriever, Chewey, to school.

Kaleb's family won a judge's order in July allowing the dog to come to class until a trial, set to start Nov. 10. That means when Kaleb starts his first full day of first grade Monday, Chewey will be by his side.

Service dogs have long been used by the blind, but training them to help those with autism is relatively new. While there's little research on how these animals affect autistic children, families like Kaleb's say they have seen marked improvement. And the support group Autism Speaks includes a list of dog-training groups among resources on its Web site.

Autism is a developmental disorder that involves behaviors such as poor eye contact, trouble communicating and repetitive movements such as rocking or hand-flapping. Those with the disorder are prone to outbursts and may have trouble with changes in their environment.

Calming canine influence
The dogs are trained to be a calming influence, providing a constant between home, school and other new places. Sometimes, as in Kaleb's case, the dogs are tethered to children to prevent them from running off in dangerous situations.

"It's done so much more than we thought it could," said Kaleb's mother, Nichelle Drew. "We want Kaleb to be able to experience more of life," and the dog has helped him do that, she said.

Chewey does not react when Kaleb "throws a fit" during times of transition from one activity to another, which calms him much more quickly, Drew said.

The tether fitted around Kaleb's waist helps the dog stop Kaleb from running into traffic at pickup time, as he is prone to do.

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, "a person with autism would be considered a person with a disability in nearly all cases, and a service animal is any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to someone with a disability," said Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

Miyar declined comment on specific cases but said schools are required to make accommodations for disabled students to use a service animal. Illinois is among several states with similar laws.

Schools, though, can argue that the animals do not provide a functional service. Wright said Kaleb's school already provides him with adequate special services. Officials believe Chewey is more of a companion or comfort dog, not a true service dog.

Elizabeth Emken, vice president of government relations for Autism Speaks, said her 17-year-old autistic son has used a service dog for about two years.

Emken said the dog helps control her son's pacing and circling, but the family opted against allowing the boy to take the dog to school because she did not know if he would be able to manage the dog effectively.

Weighing the pros and cons
"Personally, I can see the pros and cons" of allowing the animals in schools, Emken said, though she believes schools should not ban the assistance.

Families of autistic kids elsewhere have fought similar battles, including recent cases in Manteca, Calif., about 70 miles northeast of San Francisco, and North Franklin Township, Pa., near Pittsburgh.

And cases involving other disabilities, including deafness and diabetes, have cropped up in other states.

On Thursday, a judge sided with a family in Columbia, near St. Louis, that sued over their school district's unwillingness to allow an autism service dog in a special education pre-kindergarten classroom.

Still, 5-year-old Carter Kalbfleisch will not have the dog with him when he starts classes Monday. A hearing is scheduled that day so the school can work out the logistics of accommodating the dog, which his family credits with helping stop the boy from running off and keeping him from eating things like rocks.

The case still could head to trial, though the family's attorney, Clay St. Clair, said Friday the initial ruling is based on the Illinois law allowing service animals in school. The district did not return calls.

"I don't know if it would have been a simpler issue if we were dealing with a guide dog or something the school board was a little more familiar with," St. Clair said.


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DW_a_mom
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16 Sep 2009, 6:10 pm

That one gets tough and will always need to be case by case. My AS son is terrified around dogs so if another AS child brought one into the classroom, the net result to the school would be a loss, ie my son freaking out more even if the other child is freaking out less.


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Tensho
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16 Sep 2009, 6:40 pm

I think kids develop fears at dogs from bad experiences. Having a nice gentle dog around is probably going to help prevent development of phobias.



DW_a_mom
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16 Sep 2009, 6:48 pm

Tensho wrote:
I think kids develop fears at dogs from bad experiences. Having a nice gentle dog around is probably going to help prevent development of phobias.


In my son's case, the phobia developed when he was 1 1/2, and was profoundly disabling for a decade. Dogs he had known and loved, that were gentle, were instantly transferred into the phobia, as well. Phobias do not usually develope during the school years, it is usually before, and we are talking about taking dogs into schools.

It is going to have to be case by case. What the school should not do is say, "there might be ..," it should discover if there IS.


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sgrannel
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16 Sep 2009, 7:30 pm

I can see how another kind of animal might also be helpful for calming and facilitating interaction with other people. However, problems obviously arise if one person has a dog, another has a cat and another has a bird.

When I am meeting a new person, things just go better if I get my bird out and play with her. There's an affectionate aspect in my behavior that comes out, and is not normally expressed when it's just me, and it carries over to how I interact with the other person. This has been quite beneficial to me. However, that doesn't mean I can take my bird to school, to the grocery store, etc. because I don't want my bird to get lost or eaten.

The school might be seeking to limit the potential liability of other students getting bitten or the health/hygiene problems of a dog possibly pooping on the floor or on school grounds.


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16 Sep 2009, 7:37 pm

I like the idea of people on the spectrum being able to have service dogs/animals. The only issue I can think of that hasn't been covered is allergies. It wouldn't be good if someone w/ a service animal ended up being near someone w/ allergies to dogs/said other animal.


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16 Sep 2009, 7:39 pm

I agree with DW Mom. I have a dog phobia, and do not get along well with animals in general. I couldn't be around someone with a service dog. Also, what about people with allergies to dogs or other animals?



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16 Sep 2009, 8:08 pm

Absurdly obvious solution :arrow: get the kid a service human


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Vector
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16 Sep 2009, 8:36 pm

I think the scale has tipped too far in favor of fear of allergens. I worked in a school where a program in which disabled students were raising ducks, and the program was cut off because a single student not in the program was having a severe allergic reaction. I think she should have been given support to transfer to a different school so that one child's allergy did not destroy the progress eight other children were making.

I think it makes sense for school districts to recognize that not all students can be educated in the same physical building. Have one elementary school where service animals are allowed and another where they are not. In districts so small that there is only one middle or high school, partner with a local district or take advantage of whatever flexibility the physical building allows.

No child should be forced to be a room with an animal that terrifies him. No child should be deprived of the support of a service animal. Fortunately, the one-room schoolhouse is a thing of the past. The trick is logistics, equally prioritizing each child's needs.

Districts digging their heels on this have no moral or legal basis for their argument.



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17 Sep 2009, 8:08 am

Well, is it a "service animal" or a "comfort animal"?

From the justifications that many parents of children with service dogs give, I think that it's much closer to the latter.

"Well, he likes dogs". Good. Get a pet.

I just find it kind of funny that you could get a pet, train it not to attack children, house-break it, and call it an "Autism service dog" for the purpose of selling it for $13,000. In many cases (especially when the child has HFA or AS), these parents are getting royally ripped off.



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17 Sep 2009, 10:01 am

The district's justification is that they are concerned about other students with phobias or allergies.

Are they applying this reasoning to forbid the classic "seeing-eye dog" for blind students, as well? Or for that matter to forbid students from wearing real fur on their clothing (which can still contain allergens)? Sauce for the goose, after all...


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18 Sep 2009, 7:27 pm

I should definitely add this to my stand-up act! :lol:

Fleas! Uh, I mean... Please! :lol: I do not see how a service dog would help an autistic child through school. A child that can hear and see adequately enough to be in public school, what can a dog do but make school more of a hassle for everyone else? I didn't have a service dog when I went to school and I didn't try to run into the road or eat any rocks! :lol: This has to be one of the funniest things I have ever read in my life!

I could come up with a list of a million problems bringing a dog to school would prompt, but most of them are obvious. Fleas, for example.



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18 Sep 2009, 9:37 pm

That's a little less funny when my daughter's teacher sends home a note saying that during one of the "inclusive" outdoor activities at school, she was distracted by chewing on rocks.

More to the point, that's a bit like complaining about security measures in modern schools just because when you went to school there were no such measures, and you didn't get shot! So of course the families of the Columbine victims are just crybabies, and children in other schools must not have anything to worry about...


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19 Sep 2009, 1:00 pm

DeaconBlues wrote:
The district's justification is that they are concerned about other students with phobias or allergies.

Are they applying this reasoning to forbid the classic "seeing-eye dog" for blind students, as well? Or for that matter to forbid students from wearing real fur on their clothing (which can still contain allergens)? Sauce for the goose, after all...


If I remember my laws correctly, public health regulations
prohibit the presence of animals in any premises
where food is served or is likely to be served--with the sole
exception of recognized service animals.



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19 Sep 2009, 3:39 pm

Vector wrote:
I think the scale has tipped too far in favor of fear of allergens.

I have a bunch of allergies and chemical sensitivities which are not allergies but do similar things, and :arrow:
I wholeheartedly agree.

Complete elimination of allergens would leave a vacuum.

I've known someone allergic to cotton. My wife is allergic to nylon. There's people allergic to fragrances of detergents and fabric softeners, and what comes off clothes washed in them.
There's allergies to ingredients in cleansers, air fresheners, soaps, furniture polish, chalk dust, inks. There's been a couple cases of reactions to chlorine and fluoride in water.

And, allergies exist to any given food item or ingredient.
Therefore, children should not eat, drink, or even be in the same room as food while at school, right?

:twisted: If I had a child severely allergic to fragrances of detergents; fabric softeners; and dryer sheets; which often do remain on clothes for several days, could I sue to make every parent wash their kids' clothes in hypoallergenic detergent?
And use no fabric softener?
That might be fun to try.


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