Ellie is a sweet little 8 year old girl with special needs due to mosaic Trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome). She is full of life and extremely physically healthy despite this diagnosis, which is both wonderful and potentially dangerous. She has many of the same safety and sensory considerations that are usually associated with autism spectrum disorder: She is a “runner,” and does not fully understand the dangers of streets, parking lots, pools,etc. She is a very strong climber and has recently learned to unlock and open doors. This is not as much of a problem during the day, however Ellie sometimes gets out of bed in the middle of the night and plays for a while before deciding to wake us up. We’re so concerned that she will decide to try to go outside at night that one of us sleeps either with her or on the couch by the double deadbolt and chain locked door! Her sensory needs are profound. One of the therapists at her school said that Ellie is the most sensory-seeking child she had ever met. She loves anything that squishes down, swings, shakes, or spins her. Pressure, rocking on her hands and knees, and fidgeting with things between her fingers is very soothing to her when she’s overstimulated or panicking (at every single medical appointment she goes to).
We have been able to manage her behaviors and sensory needs so far, but she has reached the “No! Ellie do!” stage and has no appreciation for our efforts to ensure her safety. She has even started to sneak around and try to do things on her own without our seeing her! Her special needs may change some over time, but Ellie will always need extra help. She is obsessed with dogs, which makes a service animal the ideal way to give her a sense of independence while allowing us some peace of mind.
We went to Glad Wags, Inc. in Tulsa, OK, a couple of weeks ago to meet Phoenix, an Australian Shepherd who was already trained to be a level 5 service dog. Level 5 dogs are most often paired with people who need assistance with multiple (possibly complex) tasks on a daily basis
Ellie is not the typical recipient of a Level 5 dog, but after we emailed Marj the Dog Trainer our service dog inquiry with a description of Ellie’s safety and sensory needs, we received her reply within hours, “I may have a dog for you right now!” As it turns out, Phoenix had been returned because his desire to be as close as possible to his human was problematic for the original owner. He and Ellie will be like peas in a little tiny pod; she’s a top- notch space invader, too.
Blush is a lovely, gentle dog, an Australian Shepherd and Heeler mix (another one of those awesome farm mutts!) We worked with Haven of the Ozarks, one of the most competently run organizations we’ve found, to get this dog – they assessed her initially, then helped us assess her, pull her, and adopted her to us to use as a service dog for a little boy on the autism spectrum. She has been a joy to work with, and was started by Autumn before she passed away. Her family works very closely with us, and has started a wonderful elementary school education program about service dogs called “See a Vest – Don’t Pet!”.
We really enjoy working with this family, and Blush has been working extremely well – and will only continue to improve!
Our five-year-old son, Leyton, is autistic and also struggles with sensory processing disorder, low muscle tone and a speech delay. Since early intervention has proven to be so successful in other special needs children, we wanted to try every possible therapy—including a service dog. Glad Wags has been a godsend in so many ways! Although Leyton is still too young to be her only handler, Blush is already worth her weight in gold. She provides comfort and deep pressure therapy whenever he is experiencing a meltdown. Episodes that once lasted for 10-30 minutes now last 2-3 minutes before Leyton happily rushes back to his activities after giving her a hug and saying her release command, “Thank you, Blush!” Instead of having to constantly fight to keep his hands occupied so that he doesn’t touch everything he is near, Blush is now his anchor as they walk together or when he needs to sit quietly during church or in a classroom. Sequencing and doing multiple tasks in a row is very difficult for him, so it is quite impressive that he quickly learned all the steps to properly feed her in her crate by himself. Grooming Blush every day is increasing his coordination and fine motor skills, and he can even clearly say all her commands! The friendly smiles they receive in public (instead of awkward stares and open avoidance by strangers) are priceless. His self-esteem is now boosted with each outing! There is no doubt that Blush has been a wonderful addition to our family and that she will provide Leyton with unbounded love and much needed attention in the years ahead. Many, many times each day, we say, “Thank you, Blush!” for more reasons than she will ever know.- Jodie