You might know a little about guide dogs, but did you know you can get a dog to aid a person with autism? This is National Service Dog Oakley. Also know as Oakley Long Legs, Oakley Doakley and O Dog. Oakley was raised and trained by the good people at National Service Dogs in Ontario, Canada. This Fall, after years of extensive training, he graduated as a fully certified Autism Service Dog. As far as guide dogs go, he is the cream of the crop. He was awarded to our family and the rest is history.
He Keeps Her Safe
Whenever we leave our home, Kate is tethered to Oakley with a small belt that goes around her waist and is hooked to his vest. His vest also has a handle that she holds onto has she walks. Kate is a runner, (read more about that here), and she needs to be constantly monitored when we are out in public. As you can imagine this is near impossible when you throw in distractions such as siblings or life in general. Oakley’s presence has given us the freedom to go out without the constant fear that Kate will run off and be hurt or lost. If she drops the handle and/or Oakley hears the command ‘Halt’ he will stop moving and she will have to stay with her dog. So, you see, he is her anchor both literally and figuratively.
He Keeps Her Calm
Kate is an interesting combination of sensory-seeker and sensory-defender. This is common among children with autism. While she enjoys very rough and tumble play, and deep pressure on her joints she can become very disturbed by certain sights and sounds. Sensory overload is extremely common among children with autism and can result in the dreaded ‘meltdown‘. Oakley provides both the pressure she needs when seeking sensory input and the comfort she needs when defending from sensory input that she cannot manage.
He Keeps Her Connected
Autism affects a triad of areas in a person’s development. There are deficits in social interaction, communication and interests/behavior. The issues surround social interaction and communication can often be the most cruel. Oakley’s presence and the connection he has made with his girl has been overwhelming positive in helping Kate connect with others.
He Keeps Her Happy
Kate struggles to navigate a world she doesn’t quite understand. Simple tasks can be taxing and she is often exhausted after a confusing social interaction such as a visit to a friend’s house. Oakley has given her so much joy and he asks for nothing in return. He is as disinterested in the rules of socialization as she is, and that makes them a perfect pair.
For our family, Oakley has been a gift. As I type, he sits under my feet, near the fireplace, in cozy doggie bliss. Worry not about him, because he gets to do all of those regular things dogs do, too. He plays at the dog park almost daily and he loves to go for long walks. But, please understand this; Oakley is as deeply in love with our little girl as she is with him. Their bond is strong and beautiful and we think we might just be the luckiest family in the world.