Canine companions comfort children on autism spectrum

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SALT LAKE -- Children with autism spectrum disorders often struggle to connect with people, but for some reason many of them connect with animals, which is why a group called Canine Companions trains dogs to comfort children with special needs.

12-year-old Kruz Williams has high functioning autism, which in many ways makes him smart and creative. But he also struggles to build social skills, though much of that changed when he got a therapy dog.

“He makes me feel like I actually belong on this planet,” he said about his dog Sprugal.

The nonprofit matches the dogs' personalities with the kids.

And for 14-year-old Nathan Kerr, it's a friend he'll need as things begin to change.

“Nathan loves his family and his siblings, and that's why we were really concerned as they would grow up and move that he would really have a hard time with that adjustment process, so with the dog we are hoping that will ease some of that,” said Jessica Kerr, who is Nathan's mother.

In a short time, both boys have grown in confidence and have far fewer tantrums.

Canine Companions for Independence trains the dogs for an extended period of time before they give them to children, adults, and veterans who need assistance. The families completed a two-week training course to learn how to work with their service dogs.

To learn more about the program, visit their website.

4 comments

  • Dwight

    I wish we could get more people to act like the dogs do when the’re around autistic people. ie, don’t be intimidated by them, accept them as they are, stop trying to “fix” them during their every waking moment, and use a LOT fewer words. Yes, autistic people have a harder time making social connections with other people, but that doesn’t mean we need to spend all of our time reminding them of that fact by trying to fix it. Honestly, if you have two guys on a basketball team and one is 6’11 and the other is 5’10, would you put the 5″10 guy in intensive therapy trying to make him jump high enough to equal what the 6’11” guy can reach?

    If there is an autistic person in your life, seek first to understand before you attempt to change them. We all could use some changing, but if you don’t understand first, then your attempts to change may actually be doing damage.

    In other words, just be like a dog. ie, be a “best friend” on their terms rather than yours.

  • Peter McClung

    Our 16 year old, Cameron was blessed to receive Werin from CCI at age 7. After Werin came home Cameron went from non-verbal to Verbal, frustration meltdowns stopped, and he had no more darting. Cameron travelled the world with Werin and after retiring last year Werin has had a well deserved rest

    • Dwight

      Peter, I’m very glad to hear your story. We regularly hear stories about autistic kids getting dogs, but I’ve never heard about what it’s like when it’s time for the dogs to retire. I know blind people can become attached to their dogs, but autistics are particularly known for having difficulty with changes. Could you share a little about what it was like for Cameron when it was time for Werin to retire? And are you guys considering getting another dog for Cameron?

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