The Ability Center of Greater Toledo has been a blessing to many local families of children with special needs. From facilitating advocacy and education to providing transition services and medical equipment, the organization has helped individuals with disabilities grow in independence; one of the most important ways they’ve managed to do so is with their therapy dog program.
Making it possible
Johey Crawford is a first-hand witness to the benefits a therapy dog from The Ability Center can have on a family. Her granddaughter, Adeline, is a sweet nine-year-old girl who has fetal alcohol syndrome. Johey explained that FASD affects people in different ways, but it is similar to a type of brain damage that affects the frontal cortex. Adeline struggles with regulating her emotions, anxiety, and thrill-seeking behaviors. Additionally, her social age is not always equivalent to her chronological age— despite being nine-years-old, sometimes her social skills can make her seem a bit younger. To help Adeline, her therapist at Double Arc (a center that specializes in helping those with FASD) suggested getting a therapy dog.
Johey did some research online and found that the cost to obtain a therapy dog did not seem possible for her family. Some places had therapy dogs starting at $16,000, none of which would be covered by insurance. “This was beyond what was affordable for our family, so we thought we would have to give up on that idea and just try to get a dog to train by ourselves,” Johey said.
But then they learned through Adeline’s therapist that another family from Double Arc had recently gotten a therapy dog through The Ability Center. The Ability Center has sponsors to help lessen the cost for families. With a maximum possible cost of just $2,000, Johey sent in the application, went through an interview process, and set up an appointment during which Adeline could interact with the dog. After that interaction, they learned that Adeline had been approved for a therapy dog. With the sponsor Auxiliary at the Ability Center and training by Tina Calhoun, a therapy dog named Rider joined Adeline and her family this past spring.
The impact of having Rider
“I cannot begin to put into words the difference Rider has made for our family,” exclaimed Johey. Rider came to live with the family on April 20 this year, so he and Adeline are still learning and growing in their relationship, but Rider can tell when Adeline is anxious or upset. He responds with a calming technique that involves applying gentle pressure to help her regulate her emotions.
Adeline is also responsible for helping to take care of Rider by feeding him, cleaning his teeth and ears when needed, and taking him outside to use the bathroom. This helps Adeline develop a sense of responsibility and self-confidence.
Johey went on to explain that prior to having Rider, Adeline would have up to ten meltdowns a week. A meltdown can happen without a recognizable cause and can last from 20 minutes to seven hours. Typically they are caused by sensory and emotional overload. With Rider, Adeline now only has two or three shorter meltdowns a week.
Additionally, before Rider, Adeline typically couldn’t sleep through the night and wasn’t able to sleep in her own room. Now Rider sleeps with her in her room and keeps a paw on her throughout the night. He also has an LED collar that helps Adeline when she wakes up.
Adeline also has trouble interacting with her peers due to her social skills struggles, but having Rider by her side provides a bridge to socially connect with other kids, and has given her more confidence to slowly build and improve her relationships with her peers.
Johey ended the interview with some pieces of advice for families of children with special needs. “A therapy dog is not the answer for every child,” she said. “But if you have a child with special needs, it’s important to figure out what best supports your child and go for it. Early intervention can be life changing. As a community, we are fortunate to have organizations like The Ability Center and Double Arc serving both children and adults. Rider has indeed been a blessing for Adeline and our family, but the best gift of all is the possibilities he opened for our child!”