Schools Fight Families Over Autism Service Dogs

Discussion in 'American with Disabilities Act' started by rockin'robin, Aug 23, 2009.

  1. rockin'robin

    rockin'robin Well-Known Member

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    CHICAGO – Like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, trained dogs are now being used to help autistic children deal with their disabilities. But some schools want to keep the animals out, and families are fighting back.

    Two autistic elementary school students recently won court orders in Illinois allowing their dogs to accompany them to school. Their lawsuits follow others in California and Pennsylvania over schools' refusal to allow dogs that parents say calm their children, ease transitions and even keep the kids from running into traffic.

    At issue is whether the dogs are true "service dogs" — essential to managing a disability — or simply companions that provide comfort.

    At issue is whether the dogs are true "service dogs" — essential to managing a disability — or simply companions that provide comfort.

    School districts say they are not discriminating, just drawing the line to protect the safety and health of other students who may be allergic or scared of dogs.

    "The school district has 650 students, not just one. So we have to balance," said Brandon Wright, attorney for the Villa Grove district in central Illinois, which objected to 6-year-old Kaleb Drew's plan to bring his yellow Labrador retriever, Chewey, to school.

    Kaleb's family won a judge's order in July allowing the dog to come to class until a trial, set to start Nov. 10. That means when Kaleb starts his first full day of first grade Monday, Chewey will be by his side.

    Service dogs have long been used by the blind, but training them to help those with autism is relatively new. While there's little research on how these animals affect autistic children, families like Kaleb's say they have seen marked improvement. And the support group Autism Speaks includes a list of dog-training groups among resources on its Web site.

    Autism is a developmental disorder that involves behaviors such as poor eye contact, trouble communicating and repetitive movements such as rocking or hand-flapping. Those with the disorder are prone to outbursts and may have trouble with changes in their environment.

    The dogs are trained to be a calming influence, providing a constant between home, school and other new places. Sometimes, as in Kaleb's case, the dogs are tethered to children to prevent them from running off in dangerous situations.

    "It's done so much more than we thought it could," said Kaleb's mother, Nichelle Drew. "We want Kaleb to be able to experience more of life," and the dog has helped him do that, she said.

    Chewey does not react when Kaleb "throws a fit" during times of transition from one activity to another, which calms him much more quickly, Drew said.

    The tether fitted around Kaleb's waist helps the dog stop Kaleb from running into traffic at pickup time, as he is prone to do.

    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," said Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the Department of Justice.

    Miyar declined comment on specific cases but said schools are required to make accommodations for disabled students to use a service animal. Illinois is among several states with similar laws.

    Schools, though, can argue that the animals do not provide a functional service. Wright said Kaleb's school already provides him with adequate special services. Officials believe Chewey is more of a companion or comfort dog, not a true service dog.

    Elizabeth Emken, vice president of government relations for Autism Speaks, said her 17-year-old autistic son has used a service dog for about two years.

    Emken said the dog helps control her son's pacing and circling, but the family opted against allowing the boy to take the dog to school because she did not know if he would be able to manage the dog effectively.

    "Personally, I can see the pros and cons" of allowing the animals in schools, Emken said, though she believes schools should not ban the assistance.

    Families of autistic kids elsewhere have fought similar battles, including recent cases in Manteca, Calif., about 70 miles northeast of San Francisco, and North Franklin Township, Pa., near Pittsburgh.

    And cases involving other disabilities, including deafness and diabetes, have cropped up in other states.

    On Thursday, a judge sided with a family in Columbia, near St. Louis, that sued over their school district's unwillingness to allow an autism service dog in a special education pre-kindergarten classroom.

    Still, 5-year-old Carter Kalbfleisch will not have the dog with him when he starts classes Monday. A hearing is scheduled that day so the school can work out the logistics of accommodating the dog, which his family credits with helping stop the boy from running off and keeping him from eating things like rocks.

    The case still could head to trial, though the family's attorney, Clay St. Clair, said Friday the initial ruling is based on the Illinois law allowing service animals in school. The district did not return calls.

    "I don't know if it would have been a simpler issue if we were dealing with a guide dog or something the school board was a little more familiar with," St. Clair said.

    Schools fight families over autism service dogs - Yahoo! News
     
  2. deafdyke

    deafdyke Well-Known Member

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    I'm sorry but autism service dogs aren't like seeing eye or seizure dogs or even hearing ear dogs. They simply use the dogs as comfort. Maybe find an alternative way to help the autistic kids.
     
  3. Jolie77

    Jolie77 New Member Premium Member

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    While it may be a good idea to have a dog to be a service dog for autistic kids at school but, I don't see how that is necessary in a school setting where it can also be distracting for other children.

    Yes, it is true that animals have a tendency to relieve the over-sensations of autistic children but it is no where as close as to being important as a service dog for blind children. They can also set a time for the autistic child to be with the service dog in an appropriate setting rather than being around with other children. In most, it is a reason to provide comfort for autistic children, it is not for the necessity as compared as to other that really needs it more than far none.
     
  4. OpheliaSpeaks

    OpheliaSpeaks New Member

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    I really wish the media would stop comparing autism service dogs to dogs for the blind. Especially for children. NO guide dog school or program is going to pair a child with a dog. The "tasks" these dogs are supposedly trained for are weak, at best, and tethering a child to a dog is dangerous - I don't care HOW well-trained the dog is. Emotional support animals and therapy animals are great, especially for children with developmental disabilities, but tying a 5 year old to a dog so the parents can have a "more normal" life and go to the mall or grocery store is not something I condone.

    I really feel that a lot of the programs training these dogs are preying on families desperate for some semblance of normalcy. These dogs cost up to $10,000 a piece.
     
  5. CJB

    CJB New Member

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    Are autism dogs like guide dogs? Yes, they very well may be. I'm not one to tell autistic people what they need or don't need. But a guide dog in school? I think that's way too distracting to other students and also poses a health risk.
     
  6. OpheliaSpeaks

    OpheliaSpeaks New Member

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    There's a difference between a person with autism using a service dog to mitigate their disability so they can live more independently and a child being tied to a dog all day.

    What health risks? Allergies? It is very rare for someone to have a life-threatening allergy to dogs. If the school decides the dog is a service dog and the accommodation to have one in the classroom is necessary and reasonable, they would have to also accommodate the allergy.
     
  7. CJB

    CJB New Member

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    Well that and more than any actual risk, if any child became sick, there would probably be some parent blaming it on the service animal. The main thing is that a service animal would be a huge distraction to most students.
     
  8. Lighthouse77

    Lighthouse77 New Member

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    Allergies is a disability too.. My son gets asthma, hives, eczema, etc from pets.YES ASTHMA IS DEATHLY for some kids. They need to think people like them. The kids have teachers and peers that can help them in school. They don't need a dog to get by.

    plus, some dogs can just snap and lose their temper especially around children... Sometimes this happen when dogs are not feeling too well, so they bite to tell people to leave them alone.

    btw, Some autism children have severe allergies anyway, well the one I know does.
     
  9. Lighthouse77

    Lighthouse77 New Member

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    btw, my son get frequently lung infection due to asthma. He can't concentrate in school with his allergies acting up either. It is not fair for him to miss too many days of school because someone brought in a dog for dog service.
     
  10. shel90

    shel90 Audist are not welcome Premium Member

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    Since I am not austistic, I cant say what's right or wrong for the the children. No opinion on this one.
     
  11. OpheliaSpeaks

    OpheliaSpeaks New Member

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    Allergies in and of themselves are not a disability. It is uncommon for an allergy to be disabling. Several people in my family, including me, have life-threatening allergies. They are not disabling. Depends on the individual, so allergies CAN be disabling, but just because a kid is allergic to dogs, doesn't mean he's disabled.
     
  12. Lighthouse77

    Lighthouse77 New Member

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    so you think they should allow dogs in the school?

    allergy related asthma is disabling... you really can't function without breathing


    They are banning peanuts from school (because it is sticky and deathly for some kids)

    people did fine without dogs in schools, no need to start it now.

    If a blind person need help around the school, then the school should should accommodate him without dogs.. if a deaf person need a help, then the school should accommodate him without dogs as well. leave the dog for outside of school. 8 hours in the same classroom with a dog will make my son really sick. he is often loaded with steroid and antibodies anyhow.
     
  13. CJB

    CJB New Member

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    Exactly. A Deaf person doesn't need a dog in a school environment because there will be plenty of hearing people who would react to any sounds. The Deaf person would be able to tell something was wrong right away.

    A blind person can use a long white cane at school. In fact this is probably more favorable since a cane doesn't need to go to the bathroom or need to be fed.

    Accommodations for people with disabilities can be made without bringing service animals into the picture.

    I just don't think service animals are a good idea in a school environment, especially in grade school when a certain portion of the class will most likely lack the maturity level to deal with an animal in the classroom.
     
  14. OpheliaSpeaks

    OpheliaSpeaks New Member

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    I support the use of service dogs that are task-trained and there to mitigate the handler's disability IF and ONLY if the handler is capable of making the decisions and exercising the judgment necessary to handle the dog independently - withOUT a trainer or parent present. Typically a child under the age of 16 really doesn't have these skills.

    The laws are written to protect those with disabilities and to give them more equal access to services. It gives them the opportunity to go about daily life more independently. Using a service dog is a choice that the law supports.

    Regarding allergy-related asthma. Determining whether or not a condition is disabling is done on a case-by-case basis. If the condition is successfully managed with the use of medication or other means so that the person can function withOUT limitations, it is not disabling.
     
  15. Lighthouse77

    Lighthouse77 New Member

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    well it is bad enough that children HAVE go to school no matter what (mandatory that they have to go all day for 5 days a week, so it is not like we have a choice)...They can't have pet allergies on top of that.

    You have NO idea how hard it is get asthma under control even with medication and most of the time allergy medicine do not work with eczema and asthma.. it is a totally different issue from allergy. They have to depend on steroid on those things and hope for the best that it will settle down.. but the inflammatory will not settle down until whatever it is triggering it is removed.

    I hope they don't force dogs in school
     
  16. OpheliaSpeaks

    OpheliaSpeaks New Member

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    Please don't pass judgment on me. You do not know what type of medical conditions I struggle with. Yes, I do know, unfortunately.
     
  17. Lighthouse77

    Lighthouse77 New Member

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    then why you want to expose my son around dogs? his asthma is allergic asthma? I want him to go to school to learn, not to suffer. (btw, there are deaf people at his school so there is a high chance they will bring dogs to school if the court decide it is ok)
     
  18. Jiro

    Jiro If You Know What I Mean Premium Member

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    and life-threatening too
     
  19. OpheliaSpeaks

    OpheliaSpeaks New Member

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    Is your son's school considering allowing a dog inside? If not, then the issue is moot. The school would have to accommodate your son and the child who needs the dog.
     
  20. Lighthouse77

    Lighthouse77 New Member

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    no, but it could.. you know how poeple love dogs :) btw, if you think a dog should not be in the classroom, then what the point of bring it in the first place.
     

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