Parents and School Adminstrators Clash Over Autism Service Dogs

Filed under: Medical Conditions, In The News, Special Needs, Education: Big Kids

service dog

Do autistic kids need service dogs in school? Credit: Robin Scholz, AP

Parents of autistic children find themselves in another battle for their kids' well being as they trying to convince school administrators that service dogs, most commonly used to aid the blind, are beneficial to autistic children and should be allowed in schools.

According to the Associated Press (AP), proponents of the dogs believe they help children calm down, transition and stay out of traffic. School administrators question if the dogs are essential to the management of a disability and worry that other students who fear dogs or have allergies will be adversely affected.

Although autistic children's protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act gives them the right to have service dogs, the AP reports that schools are entitled to challenge the necessity of the animals.

The debate is escalating around the country. Two cases went to court in Illinois recently and in one, six-year-old Kaleb Drew won a judge's order permitting him to take his yellow Labrador retriever to school until the case goes to trial on November 10, reports the AP.

In Missouri, a judge ruled last week in favor of a five-year-old boy bringing his service dog to pre-kindergarten, according to the story.

"It's done so much more than we thought it could," Kaleb's mother, Nichelle Drew, told the AP. Kaleb is tethered to his dog so he does not run into traffic at pick-up time and the dog calms Kaleb when he has a fit, reports the AP.

But the school district thinks differently: "The school district has 650 students, not just one. So we have to balance," Brandon Wright, the school district's attorney told the AP.

Elizabeth Emken is the vice president of government relations for Autism Speaks and the mother of a 17-year-old autistic boy with a service dog. She told the AP that she believes schools should allow autistic children to have service dogs, but she made a different decision as a mom. Emken wasn't sure her son could handle the service dog at school and decided against sending the dog with him.

"Personally, I can see the pros and cons," she said.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.