How Taylor Swift helped my son with autism get a service dog
July 26, 2018
This guest post is written by Allison Hill. Allison has her Master’s in Special Education and Elementary Education and is passionate about sharing her faith and hope with other autism parents through her blog, 'Jacob's Journey Through Autism'. Allison’s youngest son, Jacob, was diagnosed with autism at 15 months and currently attends ABA full-time. Allison and her husband reside in Houston, TX with their 3 wonderful children.
From a very young age my son has tried to bolt away from safety. Jacob’s elopement had gotten so bad and his awareness of danger was so low that I was desperate to find help. That’s when I ran across Autism Service Dogs of America. I read about how autism service dogs can help children who are prone to elopement. After careful consideration, my husband and I decided to apply for the service dog program. After we were accepted, they urged us to start a fundraising campaign to raise $13,500 for our dog. My daughter and her cousin made a video parody of one of Taylor Swift’s songs to help raise money for the fundraiser. Through some pretty extraordinary circumstances Taylor Swift saw the video and donated $10,000 to complete our fundraising goal! There was a long waiting period after that for the dog to be fully trained and during those 2 years Jacob’s elopement continued. In fact, he became an even smarter escape artist. The dog couldn’t come fast enough!
It’s been about a month since Jacob received his service dog, Reid, and man our lives have changed! Immediately, Jacob’s elopement has stopped in public while he is tethered to the dog. My husband and I are the handlers of Jacobs dog, so we give him commands through his leash to help Jacob maintain a calm walking pace and increase self-control. If Jacob tries to dash away, we signal the dog to halt and we verbally tell Jacob to slow down, grab his handle, and we can all walk over to what he wants. Instead of creating a negative association with the dog by simply anchoring and preventing Jacob from getting what he wants, Reid is now the positive facilitator allowing Jacob to get to where he wants when he shows self-control. He has been able to walk in grocery stores, cross busy streets, and do all kinds of things that he could never do before without us holding him. Jacob is 8 now. I can tell that he is so pleased with his dog and so proud that he finally has independence from us. He enjoys tethering and enjoys telling onlookers “Jacobs dog!”. It’s been amazing to see him walking on his own safely.
A few weeks ago, we were walking out of Costco when the wind started blowing intensely. Jacob let go of his handle threw his hands in the air and took off towards moving cars. Jacob is personally offended by the wind and several times in the past has slipped out of my grip when the wind blew, putting him in very dangerous situations. Thankfully I was able to catch him those times, but he is stronger and faster now. This time, I used the leash to command Reid to stop, which immediately stopped Jacob because he was tethered. I was able to pull Jacob’s tether in before the car passed. Reid saved Jacob from a potentially life-threatening situation. We are very thankful for the support that Reid provides.
Reid has also done things for Jacob that I never imagined. Safety was my top priority, but beyond that I really didn’t know what the possibilities were for Jacob and his pup. Reid sits under Jacob’s desk at the ABA clinic he attends all week. Jacob gets very anxious about loud or unusual noises or new people and he shuts down, sometimes going mute for days. Now, Jacob asks to lay with Reid under his desk when he is stressed. The therapists have said they’ve never seen Jacob so happy. He loves his friend. I love that Reid is giving Jacob a source of peace.
The sweetest thing I’ve noticed, though, is how Reid is connecting Jacob with deep feelings that I have not been able to teach him. Teaching emotions is challenging, especially things like compassion and sympathy. Recently, Reid acquired a sore spot on his leg. After scratching at it for a while, we had to bring him to the vet to get some meds. Jacob watched at the vet very concerned. When we came home he rubbed around the spot very careful not to touch it. When Reid took his medicine and I praised him, Jacob ran to him and gave him a hug as if to say, “Good job!” Jacob is showing compassion and sympathy in a way I’ve never seen. Jacob and Reid are bonding, and he is learning things that have been very difficult to teach. We feel so blessed that we have found an added safety net for Jacob and have gained so much more than that, Jacob’s best friend.
We are so thankful to Taylor Swift, her mom, and all our friends and family for helping us get this life-changing dog for Jacob. He absolutely adores Reid and we can tell they are a perfect match. While it is a huge commitment for the parents, I would definitely recommend autism families research service dogs and look into how they can assist your loved ones. Please visit Autism Service Dogs of America for more information.