The issue raised by these public schools is whether or not the dogs are actually working as “service dogs” for the autistic children, meaning that the dogs are quite essential to the daily management of the child’s autism, or whether the dogs are merely there for emotional support.
Although school districts across America are vehemently stating that they are not discriminating against autistic children, they are stating that they are attempting to protect the other non-autistic children who attend their schools. School officials believe that bringing a service dog onto school property, and into a classroom, will not only disrupt the lessons but may also upset the health and safety of students who might be afraid of dogs or even allergic to them.
However, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, Alejandro Miyar, explained that under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, “a person with autism would be considered a person with a disability in nearly all cases, and a service animal is any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to someone with a disability.”
Dogs have been trained as service dogs to help those people and children who are blind, deaf, epileptic, and diabetic for many years. However, two relatively new forms of training have emerged over recent years: helping adult and children who have peanut allergies and those who are autistic.
Because this type of training is still fairly new, hardly any research has been conducted to prove the affects that these service dogs have on autistic children and their families. But just ask any parent whose child suffers from autism, and they will tell you that having a service dog by their child’s side at all times is the best thing for their child! Even the website for the autism support group called Autism Speaks has a list of dog trainers who specialize in training service dogs to work with autistic children.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects many American children. These children usually have trouble communicating effectively, and are prone to emotional outbursts. They are not able to handle changes in the environment.
Dogs that will hopefully spend the rest of their life side-by-side with an autistic child, are usually trained from the start to act as a very calming influence on the child. These autism service dogs create a stable link between the child’s home, school and other places that are new to the child. Most of the time the service dogs are even tethered to the children that they care for, in an attempt to prevent them from running into danger.
The School Districts
So far, two elementary school students who are autistic have won their case in court in Illinois that allows them to bring their dogs with them school each day. Both California and Pennsylvania have also had their fair share of such court cases brought on by the parents of autistic schoolchildren against their respective school districts.
The parents are saying that the service dogs allow their young children to enjoy life like any child but that the dogs are there to provide a sense of calm and safety to their autistic children. The service dogs help the children deal with changes when transitioning from one activity to another, all the while being tethered to each other so that the service dog can prevent the child from running into traffic, especially during pick up time at school in the afternoons.
The state attorney general’s office in Illinois recently asked to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of the Kalbfleisch family who is suing their 5 year old son’s school district in an effort to allow him to bring his service dog into his classroom.
In August, a judge in Illinois’s Monroe County entered a preliminary injunction that allowed Carter’s service to dog to accompany him to his pre-kindergarten class.
However, Attorney General Madigan is adamant that the appeal’s outcome “has the potential to set precedent that will impact other Illinois students with disabilities who use service animals.”
The school district is arguing that by allowing Carter’s dog into the classroom, it would be endangering another child who is severely allergic to animal fur and that “the dog served no necessary educational purpose”.
The Kalbfleisch’s are arguing that Carter’s development has benefited greatly since his service dog entered his life and the two boys have become inseparable.
Photo Credit: merfam