When my son was 14 1/2 we received a call from NEADS telling us a dog had been found that would be perfect for Evan. Evan suffers from regressive autism and at the time that he regressed (age 2 1/2) he developed a dog phobia. Indeed, at our first meeting with NEADS Evan tried to climb into a closet for fear a dog would enter the room. The phobia worsened over time and by the time he was larger than I was, I knew we had to deal with it and hoped that NEADS was the answer. NEADS was the answer, I am happy to say! Although there were not too many people that first day sitting around the intake interview table who thought this had a prayer of working out well, one trainer thought otherwise and proceeded to prove to the rest of us that this child was capable of overcoming his fears, and wanted to overcome them.
By the end of two hours, Dan had Evan walking his black lab around the conference table on a leash, followed by him lying down next to the dog on the carpet, petting him. This would work; it would take just the right dog.
So the gamble was, was Willie that dog? Skipping past training, which went well, to home, within a month Evan, was no longer over reactive to Willies movements towards him. Evan is in charge of feeding Willie, plays with him outside and inside, and is always in charge of the lead in public. Evan has taken to the role in public beautifully and keeps Willie in line, in fact, Willie behaves beautifully when walking with Evan, but if one of the other family members takes him for a walk he tends to try to get away with more.
Evan has proven to be a tough taskmaster!
Willie has been with us for 1.5 years now. Not only does Evan now feel empowered around dogs (yes, by now it has generalized to other dogs as well), he gained quite a bit of self-confidence overall. We can go to friends’ homes now and not have to deal with Evan closing himself into their bathroom to escape their animals. THIS is a huge social benefit! He really looks out for Willie too. If Willie is outside in the back yard, it’s Evan who is keenly aware of where he is and gets a little worried if he disappears from sight. He will go out and call Willie with a loud voice which we had trouble getting him to use (assert himself) prior to this. He has built a bit of vocabulary around the experiences with Willie which seems very natural. Willie makes him (and us) laugh often which is nice in a family where laughter seemed lost for several years.
The only part that bothers him still is Willie’s shedding. For this reason he does not like Willie to come into his bedroom and we respect that. He complains about Willies hair all over and asks to get another dog that won’t shed. So, that’s progress. It will be perfect as soon as we find a way to glue Willies fur on!