The Role of a Therapy Dog in the Life of a Child with Autism

(Photo: Submitted/The Stewart Houston Times)

(Photo: Submitted/The Stewart Houston Times)

For Logan and Jessica McCuiston, their son Isaac didn’t show any signs of developmental abnormality until he turned 1-year-old. They started to notice he was starting to fall behind with his speech progress and that he didn’t always answer to his name when it was being called. Isaac’s parents looked for help and were able to find it at the Tennessee Early Intervention System after visiting Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center. Shortly thereafter, Isaac was diagnosed with autism. 

“We had to change the dreams and goals we had for Isaac because we don’t know where he will be in five or 10 years.”, explains Jessica McCuiston. Even though they were initially disheartened by the diagnosis, Isaac’s parents were relieved to figure out what exactly had been going on with their beloved child. However, the disorder has caused Isaac to put himself in increasingly dangerous situations and there have been instances where he has run away from his parents in public settings. Fortunately, the introduction of a new family member will change things for the better. 

The latest addition to the McCuiston family is a therapy dog who goes by the name of Annie. She’s an Airedale Terrier puppy who will be trained to help Isaac carry out his day to day activities. The family was able to raise the necessary money through a fundraiser at a local restaurant called Dover Grille in order to welcome Annie to their home. Isaac’s mother thought it would be a great idea for Isaac to interact with a dog to help modify his behavior and stop him from running away in public. Isaac wasn’t keen on playing with Annie at first but he has slowly opened up to his new friend. 

 “She rode next to him (in the car) on the whole way to the store and back, and later that evening he was petting her. So it’s already a good thing, because he usually doesn’t interact with dogs at all”, Isaac’s mom says about her son’s progress with dogs. In the future, Jessica McCuiston hopes a service dog like Annie can keep an eye on her son at all times. Annie will also come in handy when the family goes to crowded commercial places in order to reduce Isaac’s social anxiety. Another benefit of having a service dog in Isaac’s life is that it will help him socialize with other children who will take a liking to Annie. Dogs serve as the ideal ice breakers and are wonderful companions that drastically reduce stress and anxiety levels. 

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Written By: Edgar Catasus