The Handler: While the service dog may be for your child, you must remember that we train parents. It is important for us to know what parents are in the home and what your current and past relationships with dogs have been like. How comfortable you are with dogs and how extensive your knowledge is of them and their behavior or on the other end of the spectrum, if you are not familiar with dogs, are nervous about handling a dog, or if you feel that you may not be able manage maintenance of the dog’s training. Be assured we have worked with families who have little to no knowledge of dogs and those who have worked with them extensively. We just need to know in choosing a dog that the dog is one you can handle, and how we can best facilitate the placement of this dog. Again, our goal is to make the most successful placement possible for your child.
So, take a few minutes on tape to talk to us about your experience with dogs. Did you grow up with dogs? Have you had dogs in your adult family? Are there dogs in the home now? How did you relate to any of these dogs? Did you train with them at all? Were the dogs inside or outside? Are there dogs that make you nervous? If so, what behavior is it that does this? What do you like in a dog? What do you dislike in dogs? Do you have a size preference? How do you feel about handling the dog in public? Just tell us anything else you think will help us keeping in mind the two goals addressed above.
The Child and Pets First talk to us a little. How does your child do with animals? What good experiences have they had? Has there ever been a bad experience? If so, explain. What type (personality wise) does your child seem to like best? Any dogs that the child is afraid of? Now, start to show us a little. If you have pets in the home let us meet them and tell us about them. Show how your child interacts with them. Do your friends have dogs? Okay, time to invite yourself for a visit or ask them to bring the dog over for dinner! Show us your child interacting with their dog (s). We talk about dogs a lot but show us all pets in the home and show how the child interacts with them. If you have a dog and can show the dog interacting with another dog(s) that would be best. Remember the dog we place has to get along with your dogs.
Your family Okay, let’s see the other kids. If they are old enough to introduce themselves and talk a little please let them. How do they feel about the dog? What do they hope for? What interactions would they like to have with the dog? Show us their interactions with family pets, or if there are none, borrow a friends. We would also like to know a little of their personality and things they like to do. Remember the dog will live with your family and family dynamics and interaction will affect the placement.
Your House Time to take a tour of the house. Start with the front yard and show us that and the outside of the front of the home before you enter the house. Take us on a tour through the house. Show each and every room. Talk to us. Where does your family spend most of their time? Where does the child getting the dog spend their time? Show us their room in particular. Where do they sleep? Will the dog sleep in bed with them? What does the room look like; what things does the child like to do while in this room? Once we have seen the whole house (include spaces you would not allow the dog and talk about furniture – will the dog be allowed on them?) we will now head out the back of the house to see the yard. Show us your fence or if you don’t have fence tell us how the dog will get exercise. Show us around the outside of the house and yard. The neighbors: What dogs live in the homes beside and behind you. Are their dogs through the fence that may interact with your new service dog? Do the neighbors dogs or cats ever enter your yard? What type of dogs (breed specific), live by you and what other neighbor pets might your dog encounter.
Family Activity We need to know how your family interacts during the normal course of the day so spend a day or so videotaping your daily routine. Show the kids playing together, arguing, any normal interactions. Start in the morning and go through say one weekday and one weekend.
Does your family have activities outside the house the dog may attend? Get these regular activities on tape. Sports events? (not the whole thing but a general idea of things like noise level, confusion, numbers of people), Church? Therapy? Routines – such as a daily walk? Any other activities you do that the dog will attend with you.
The Child Getting The Dog Okay, now we are ready to really get to know your child! Let’s start with a day in the life of your child. Show us the highlights of the day. Morning! How does he/she wake up and what is the morning routine. Show us how much of the morning routine the child can do for themselves. As you go through the day show what your child can do and what they need help with from physical assistance to emotional support, direction, and behavioral assistance.
Okay, what is next? Does the child stay home? What is the day at home like? Show us any therapies that happen during the day. Do you have people who come in and work with your child? Show us what that looks like. How does your child spend their day and what is the typical routine.
Now show us a routine that happens but maybe not daily such as a trip to the store. How is that? Does the child enter the car easily? How do they ride in the car? What is your typical routine in public? Does the child use a stroller or wheelchair? Put them in the basket? Keeping a death grip o the child while walking around? We need to see how your child acts in a public place such as a store or mall.
Does your child go to school? Get permission from the school to tape one day. Make sure they know why we need the tape, that you will try not to get the other kids, that no one but our staff will see it, and that we discard them after your placement has been made. Show a typical day and include time in more loud or crowded areas such as the halls, gym, and lunch.
Meltdowns: This may be tricky. Some parents find the child stops the meltdown when they see the video. You may need to make the video a part of your routine for a few weeks so the child is used to seeing it. Here, more than anywhere, we are asking you to be somewhat vulnerable. We understand meltdowns and need to see them at their worst. We understand the child may strike out or kick, or otherwise try to harm you or themselves and that they can’t help what they are doing. It is a part of the frustration of Autism. Please let us see the entire meltdown, bad language, screaming, physical aggression, slamming, breaking things, fighting, whatever your child does, it is okay, we understand ~you live with Autism everyday. We want to make sure that the dog who enters your house is ready to live with Autism as it affects your child.
Behaviors: Let us see any of the behaviors your child has as a result of Autism. For example: repetitive behaviors, self-stimulation, OCD, preservations, noises, physical activities. Anything the child does that are not things a typical peer would also be doing. What are the behaviors you hope the dog will help control?
Interaction: Show us how your child typically interacts with others. Does he like deep pressure and hug tightly? Do they prefer not to be touched? Are there things they hate to touch them? Are there things they love to touch and play with? Favorite toys? If they are around animals: Do you think they would want to hug them tightly? Lay or sit on them? Grab their hair, tail, ears, mouth? Can you show any of this interaction?
What calms your child? Can you show this? What interactions or occurrences create frustration and meltdowns?
Limitations While many of our children have Autism and like issues, some do not and some children with Autism also have other disabilities. Here we want to see your child’s limitations. Any adaptive equipment used? What can’t they do that kids their age should be doing? What physical things can the dog help with? Can your child pick thing up from the floor? Get up from the floor if they fall? Need help with balance? Using a Wheelchair? Hearing impairment? Visual issues? What other physical problems does the child have? Does the child have any medical equipment as a part of their body – such as a trach, g-tube, hearing aide? Please show us anything you think the dog may be able to help with.
Therapy and regular medical visits: If your child attends therapy, (speech, physical, occupational, vocational, ABA, other) Please tape record a session of each therapy and ask the therapist to talk about where they thing the dog can help. If the child has daily or weekly medical procedures, appointments please video tape them if the dog will attend.
Other: Is there anything else we should see? Anything else you want to tell us, leave us with? Now is the time. Remember we would rather have too much information on your tape then not enough.