How Would Education Be Affected By Service Dogs In The Classroom?

Published February 28, 2014
Credit: Flickr/cc

Credit: Flickr/cc

In the last fifty years, service dogs brought new value meaning to the term “man’s best friend”, providing disabled people with new opportunities. While federal law in Canada has long protected the rights of physically disabled students to bring service dogs into schools, the law is unclear for other types of therapy canines.

Recently, behavioral therapists working with autistic-spectrum individuals found dogs improved afflicted students’ ability to succeed in the classroom. Though service dogs for autistic students are still often barred from classrooms, with a few considerations they may soon become a more commonly accepted classroom intervention.

In the past few years, therapists realized dogs offered autistic children a bridge to the rest of the world. Marguerite Colston, president of constituent relations at the Canadian Autism Society, claims the presence of service dogs

…has eased their [autistic children’s] anxiety and has even helped some to open up to others, as individuals with autism are typically more withdrawn and less likely to socialize.

Many families see their children display greater social confidence and verbalization skills while around service dogs.

Currently, the rights of children afflicted with autism to bring service animals to class aren’t protected by federal Canadian law. According to the Toronto Star, over 1,500 students are paired with animals across the country; this number may only grow as understanding increases about the value of service animals for behavioral health treatment. Unfortunately, many districts, wary of liability, take years to process parents’ requests for permission.

Since the process is current done district by district, parents are constantly working uphill to figure out the regulations that apply to their area. Dave Lepofsky, a representative for a non profit disability group, says ““Parents of children with disabilities should not have to fight one school at a time, and one barrier at a time, to ensure that their kids can fully participate in and benefit from school.”

However, bringing dogs into the classroom presents challenges that school administrators aren’t always sure how to deal with. Breeds that take up a lot of space like a Great Dane, may get in the way in small spaces; additionally, their size may be triggering for children with fears of animals.

Allergies are another concern: dogs that shed less and have less affect on children with allergies may be an elegant solution to avoiding triggering health problems in other students. Once these issues are better addressed by federal regulation, families dealing with autism could potentially avoid the obstacles currently posed by the lack of clear policy on behavioral health service dogs.

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