Cinder, a service dog from the Assistance Dog Network of Bandon, Oregon, recently gave seven-year-old Chandler Cleveland-Cooke a taste of freedom. Holding the dog’s harness, the youngster, diagnosed at three-years-old with autism spectrum disorder, browsed through a local department store without having to hold his mother’s hand.
Chandler is hypersensitive to external stimuli and has limited coping skills. Too many people and sudden noises can send the boy into a tailspin. When overstressed, he is unable to recognize dangerous situations such as speeding traffic or high places.
His family employs a number of strategies to help Chandler navigate his world as calmly and safely as possible. He has a weighted blanket — the heaviness of it is comforting when noises, lights and crowds raise his stress level. If the family is going to run many errands around town, Chandler wears a wet suit and is calmed by its snugness.
Corvallis pediatrician Dr. Patrick Allender has recommended a service dog for Chandler. “The autistic service dog can help an autistic child when they become excited, when they become impulsive,” he wrote in a letter to Chandler’s parents. “It keeps them in line in terms of their overall behaviors. They can exert a very calming influence on a child who is otherwise very excitable.”
Matching service dogs to autistic children is relatively new, but numerous agencies across the country are providing these dogs to children and adults who need them. Dog trainer Rox Ann Kight of the Assistance Dogs Network believes Cinder is a good match for Chandler. The yellow Lab/golden retriever mix loves kids and, after spending just a few hours with the boy, is already focusing keenly on Chandler, she said.
Chandler’s parents are raising money to purchase Cinder to enhance the life of their youngest son and the whole family. Cinder will cost $5,000.
Source: Corvallis Gazette-Times