Guide dogs for Autistic children are specifically trained for them.
How does one decide if an animal is a service animal who is performing a needed duty for a child or a pet that makes them happy?
According to the Illinois Attorney General:
"The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service animal as any guide, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability. An animal fitting this description is considered a service animal under the ADA regardless of whether the animal is licensed or certified by state or local government."
This is the information used by a judge to order a school to temporarily allow an Autistic child, six-year-old Kaleb, to bring his service dog to the school while awaiting a trial in November.
The Illinois school district of Villa Grove originally said no to the family based on the safety of other students (those with allergies or fear of dogs) and saying that the dog is not necessary for educational purposes, but to comfort the child during the day, which is not an educational need. The school is also concerned that the dog will become a disruption in a class of first graders.
The parents disagree. They say that the dog has been a calming influence on their son, provides a constant from home to school that makes their son feel safe, and is actually tethered to the boy to keep him from running away or walking out into the street.
While it is easy to understand the school's side of this argument, there are many ways to accommodate the other children in the school that do not include banning the dog. For instance, the school likely has more than one classroom for each grade. Making sure that none of the children with allergies are placed in the same room with the dog would be key. Also, making sure the dog is well-trained would be important. Nobody is advocating that a child's pet be brought to class to make them feel comfortable. This is a trained dog that would not only help the Autistic student, but would in fact be helping the other students learn also since the Autistic student wouldn't be as likely to melt down or act out.
This case goes to court in November. Until then, the courts have ruled that the dog can accompany the child to school. A similar case in Mt Vernon Illinois is also under appeal.
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