Hope for autistic child comes in form of four-legged friend

Erin Madison

When Jacey, 2 1/2, was diagnosed with autism in February, her mother Amy Brooks went through shock and denial. After the acceptance finally sunk in, Brooks dove head first into researching ways to help her daughter.

What she found was an organization in Ohio that trains service dogs. They offer the animals to people with a variety of disabilities, including kids with autism.

Jacey bonds easily with animals. She'll spend hours watching the family's chickens and loves the family dog and cat.

"She really is attracted to animals more than people," Brooks said. "She doesn't say many words, but kitty and doggy are definitely among her vocabulary."

A service dog would help keep Jacey safe, help deter bad behaviors and comfort Jacey during her meltdowns, Brooks said.

Keeping on eye on Jacey takes Brooks' full energy. When Brooks is home with Jacey she barely can sneak in a bathroom break because she has to watch her daughter so closely. And when they're out in public, if Brooks turns her back for a second, Jacey is often gone.

"Almost every door in here has some kind of lock," said Judd Brooks, Jacey's father.

Jacey's an escape artist and will run off at any chance she gets.

"She's getting more and more independent," Judd Brooks said.

Once the family, who lives in Vaughn, gets an autism service dog, Jacey can be tethered to the dog, which will prevent her from running off. If she does get away, the dog will be trained to track her and bring her back to her parents.

Jacey's a climber, and when she tries to climb on cabinets or other objects, the service dog will be trained to distract her.

"They also do comforting," Amy Brooks said. "When she has a meltdown, the dog will lick her face."

As Jacey gets older, the dog will go to school with her.

"The dog will go wherever she goes," Amy Brooks said.

That also will help break down the social and communication issues that come with autism. Children with autism often have a hard time interacting with other kids.

"Who doesn't want to go up to a kid with a dog," Amy Brooks said.

Full article from Great Falls Tribune here

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