After the therapist’s recommendation we moved forward with taking the first steps into getting a service dog. Glenn had previously heard through parent support groups about a man named Mark Mattis and Ry-Con Service Dogs, a recognized Non-Profit Company based in Apex, North Carolina. Mark and his team focus exclusively on those with mental handicaps like Autism and PTSD. Mark started training Briards when his son was diagnosed with autism nearly a decade ago. Since then, he's placed 80 dogs with families and changed their lives. He is certified as a NC state approved Service Dog Trainer with a specialty in Autism Service Dogs for children. We were thoroughly impressed with Marks knowledge, dedication to helping people like Gigi, and just the overall program. Mark truly believes in these dogs and offers a lifetime of support. Ry-Con Briards has been featured on CNN, ABC News 11, Autism Speaks, Cary Magazine and he even talks regularly to local business about the struggles Autistic people face.
We had the opportunity in October to travel to meet with Mark and Ry-Con Service Dogs and had Gigi evaluated to see if a service dogs would be a good fit for her and if she was a good fit for a service dog. During the time we were there, Gigi was a totally different child. She didn’t have any meltdowns and was very calm throughout the entire trip. She had the biggest smile being around the service dogs and took the training seriously. After the three days, Mark invited us to be part of the Ry-Con Service Dogs program.
We encourage you to go to their website & Facebook page to learn more, see the dogs in training and their amazing program. I really suggest checking out the curbing video on the Facebook page.
Here are a few ways that a service dog would benefit Gigi:
Safety - Service dogs will alert parents to the slightest abnormality of routine or if they perceive any danger. When a child attempts to run off or wander the dog will block or "herd" them back to where they are supposed to be. A service dog will also make the public more aware that this child is a little different. Since Gigi gets easily stressed out, a service dog would help reduce her stress and ours as well. Right now we have to be concerned with whether Gigi will wander off or not understand dangers. I cannot tell you the peace of mind a service dog could give us.
Increased social interaction - Service dogs have been proven to improve social skills and social interaction with children affected by autism. Children will relate to the dog on a higher social level than they have ever experienced before & transfer those accomplishments to humans. The dog will act as a bridge between the child & the rest of the world. Gigi is a bright and cheerful girl, but still has some trouble engaging with others. A service dog will help her understand better appropriate interactions and help her engage better with her peers.
Decreased sensory overload - Service dogs can help ease sensory overload, which is a common challenge for those with autism. They are often unable to filter out sensory input – they hear, feel and smell everything – all at once – and are usually unable to ignore or redirect those stimuli. Having a service dog by their side can help by giving them a focal point, or a way to ground their random, unceasing environmental experiences. Loud, high-pitched sounds or voices are an area that Gigi really has a lot of difficulty. She has a hard time filtering out background noise. This can be very frustrating for her. A service dog would help her focus and ground her in a beneficial way.
Overall calming ability - Service dogs can be a source of comfort & consistency when environments change & anxieties are high. When performing everyday tasks, children feel less pressure working with a dog as opposed to their peers. The tactile experience of having a dog as a companion has also proven to provide calming effects. Autism is like a jacket that you cannot remove. People with Autism have an inability to anticipate changes to their environment and this stimulates large amounts of anxiety. They have trouble controlling the anxiety and their emotions spiral out of control. Autistic children who work with dogs have been documented to feel less anxiety compared to the time before receiving a service dog. Service dogs are also trained to use tactile or deep pressure stimulation, which involves a dog using their weight to apply pressure to the child's body to elicit a calming effect. This helps the child deescalate and focus. Gigi has a difficult time controlling her emotions once anxiety has ratcheted her up. In just the short time we spent with Mark and his Briards, our daughter was able to focus and regulate herself for our entire visit.
So how can you help? We are committed to doing everything we possibly can for our daughter and her quality of life. We are constantly advocating for her and we are the voice that she doesn't have. We know a service dog will be life changing for Gigi. We are reaching out to family, friends, and our community with the hopes of your assistance in making Gigi’s dream come true. Reaching out is difficult for us, all of us have a hard time asking for help, but we have seen already the power of kindness and we are very appreciative of everyone that has helped us so far. Even if you are unable to donate a monetary amount you can still help us tremendously by sharing our story via social media or email. We thank you and Gigi thanks you.
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