Oakley, The Autism Service Dog, Goes to School

Kate and Oakley playing at school.
Kate and Oakley playing at school.

They did it! Little Miss Kate, who’d sooner carry a ball than a backpack, brandish a sword rather than scissors, and her handsome autism service dog, Oakley, went to school and it turned out okay. Sure, she likely didn’t sit still for a moment, and she may have even neglected to share but she went with her dog by her side and she came home happy.

While all parents are anxious about sending their children to school for the first time, there is something a little extra anxiety-inducing about sending your child with autism to school. The disorder itself revolves around some serious deficits in communication, sensory regulation and the ability to socialize and play. So when we imagine our children attending school, where they will be asked to effectively communicate their needs, sit and listen for any period of time and make friends on the playground, we panic. Those are some seriously difficult tasks for anyone on the spectrumn.

This is where that gorgeous dog comes in. Many of you will wonder what he exactly does to help Kate during the school day. Well, here are just a few things Oakley can do for Kate at school:

Oakley is Kate’s ‘Intelligent Anchor’:

I think my husband may have coined this term. Oakley is literally and figuratively anchored to Kate. She wears a tether when she is in public or unfamiliar areas because children with autism often “wander” or run away from safety without realizing it. Many do not fear things that they should. Kate, for example, is especially social and would happily go with anyone who asked. You can understand how this can be terrifying.

Oakley Provides Pressure:

One of Kate’s sensory needs is to feel deep pressure on her joints. She gets this by pressing her body against furniture and people. Clearly, this is not always ideal. Oakley provides 90lbs of solid muscle to help Kate get the pressure she needs. It might look like an extended hug. Trust me, when I say, that both Kate and Oakley, love this part.

Oakley Encourages Socialization:

Making friends is tough. It is especially hard when reading social cues and following playground rules does not come naturally. Kate comes on strong and this can often be a turn off to other children. They are, however, so drawn to her furry friend that they forgive her some of her misdeeds and prefer to spend time in her company, anyway. Kate can learn so much from spending time with her peers.

Oakley Gives Kate Comfort:

Oakley and Kate have bonded. She is calmer, happier and less likely to get upset with her buddy by her side. There is a drastic difference between Kate with Oakley and Kate without. Can you imagine how much better your work day would be if you could bring your dog?

There you have it. A few of the ways Oakley can help Kate out in the classroom and beyond. After a successful first day, I think we can rest a little easier because Kate and Oakley are going to be just fine at school as long as they have each other.

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Shanell Mouland

Shanell Mouland is a writer based in the Martimes of Canada. She has been published on The Huffington Post, People.com, BuzzFeed, Oprah Magazine, South Africa and dozens of other publications. Her wit and candor have endeared her to her blog followers at www.goteamkate.com. She is currently writing a book detailing her family's trek through the autism odyssey with her daughters Grace and Kate.

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