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Our Special Dog for Our Special Boy

Michele Arbogast is the senior writer-producer for Autism Speaks. She has three children. Her 9-year-old son Kyle is affected by autism and benefits from the assistance of a service dog. Michele is responding to the recent news story about a family's experience when they were told their daughter Shyanna was unable to attend school because of her teacher's allergies to dander from her service dog. Read more about the story and the deal that was ultimately reached between the family and the school district here.

I don’t even know where to start with this story. Someday soon I am going to mass produce t-shirts that say “REALLY????????”

First let’s state the obvious. Pet dander is on every child in that school who has a cat or dog at home. Every child – oh yes, and the teachers and administrators too. And, there’s pet dander on Shyanna’s clothes and shoes too. It’s mingled in with the t-shirts, pens, glue sticks, paint, and occasional swipe of snot on every kid.

That said – what bothers me most is the teacher and school district’s lack of understanding of autism – or their lack of effort to understand autism. This is a special education teacher who chose special education and all the intricacies of the children she or he will teach? Really?

So who comes first?  The teacher or the child? Clearly the staff is the priority of this district. So much for educating the next generation of children.

My son has an autism service dog and he has changed our lives – not just my son’s life, but all of our lives. But it doesn’t stop there.  He changes the worlds of everyone he meets – every day.

Our number one concern when we applied for Taz was safety. My son is like the Road Runner and he thinks running away is a joke. Good luck catching him unless you train for track.

Do you know what happened the first day he was attached to Taz and walked with him?

It was like watching a child walk on clouds.  He was so happy to have a bit of independence – walking without Mommy’s death grip. My husband and I could breathe for the first time in many years.

Since that first day, Taz has not only been to school, he has helped us take our entire family on planes, trains, subways, buses and boats that might not have been possible. But that’s the easy to quantify advantages of an autism service dog.

Taz absorbs my son’s energy when he’s hyper. He sleeps with him for comfort. I have watched irritability and transition problems melt away as my son and other children pet him, sit next to him, and lie on him.  And what the Morrison-Gordon Elementary School really is missing—goes back to what I said originally about my family.  Taz, and I am sure Shyanna’s dog - helps everyone. Taz helps every kid in school. He even transforms the days of people in Trader Joe’s.

In 2013 with education in America as it is—who wouldn’t want a positive force in their school?

From the bottom of our hearts we are thankful every day for Taz. He is an angel who dutifully walks this often potholed journey with us – many times, making the walk possible at all.

Check out our service dog resources here

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.