Autism Assistance Dog in School: A Letter From Cathy Foust
Noah has autism and is in second grade in a large public school. Our school staff was supportive during our fundraising, but administration was very reluctant to have a dog in school. We presented to the school board and met with the superintendent and they finally agreed upon a trial with data.
We had our 30 day review meeting for Harry yesterday and it went extremely well. In August, Noah was averaging escaping from staff 15-20 times per day and since we started to school with Harry in October, the number has dropped to zero – except for the day he learned to take his harness off! In August Noah was also averaging over 100 aggressive acts (pinching, hitting or kicking) per day towards staff and the number is now 10-20.
Harry was the only intervention tried during this period – so there was no arguing that he was the reason for the drastic turnaround. The IEP team kept saying they couldn’t believe how smooth of a transition Harry made into the school day and they are all amazed at how well trained and gentle he is. After the first few weeks the 900+ kids acted like Harry was just another student. The only issue we’ve had is with PE because Harry gets pretty excited when the balls start flying – but we’re working on that.
Our main goal in getting Harry was Noah’s safety and a decrease in behaviors. Everyone during the meeting commented on how much calmer Noah was during the school day when he was with Harry. He has also started to interact more with his peers, initiates and returns greetings spontaneously and is just more willing to participate. Also, since Harry started going to school with Noah he has received his first phone call (not sure what was said??) birthday party invites and lots of drawings and notes sent home from his classmates. This was not something we expected, but it’s definitely icing on the cake.
We have spoken with administration about being a contact point for other districts that have questions about4 Paws dogs at school – we’re hoping they agree. Harry has definitely made a huge difference for Noah in a few short weeks. The school has a Hero Award board for staff members and Harry received the sweetest award for his hard work. Everyone that works with Noah just loves Harry and the peace of mind he brings when he’s tethered to Noah. They are finally able to focus more on academics and less on behaviors.
If you have any questions about Harry and school I’d be happy to let you know what we’ve done so far. We have tried many interventions, therapies, drugs, etc. since we started down this autism road, but Harry has definitely been the best medicine for Noah and our family.
Cathy Foust, St. Peters MO