Service dogs join the fight against autism

Although, service dogs for families dealing with autism is relatively a new therapeutic tool, it is making a difference for a preschooler who attends Benson Primary School in Itasca.

Five-year-old Zachary Woosley and Gemini, a two-year-old chocolate lab, have been together over year.

Zachary's parents, Brandon and Christine Woosley, got Gemini from "4 Paws Ability"--one of the only places that trains autism assistance dogs with scent tracking abilities.

"If Zachary does run away or gets lost in some way, Gemini's able to track him and she can do scent tracking to find him," said Christine Woosley.

The parents claim that Gemini has the ability to keep Zachary calm.

"There's a strap that goes from her harness to his back and Gemini also seems to give him comfort, make him calmer so when she's with him he's not so eager to escape or run off," said Brandon Woosley.

Despite their son's very limited verbal skills, Zachary responds well to Gemini, so much, in fact, they wanted to keep them together all the time.

"We began to realize that he was just attending to what we were doing so much better when she was around or when he was tethered to her. So, as that started happening more and more we went to school and said hey, this is helping, you guys think this will help him at school," said Christine Woosley.

"The biggest challenge was that it had never been done before as far we knew we had to start from ground zero. There was no previous model for us to use. So we developed a brief research or analysis model to really figure out is there benefit to having the dog in school. Was it more than just a nice new novelty or really something that would benefit Zachary," said Vic Morris, the Director of Programs and Services for Northern DuPage Special Ed.

Because of Zachary's age, Woosley says he has to have somebody else handle the dog with him.

"As we began to look at taking him into the school we had to make sure that the aid that worked with Zachary would be able to work with Gemini," said Christine Woosley.

This fall Zachary and Gemini will be attending kindergarten.

"I think the difference next fall is that we're gonna go in right off the bat. He's gonna know Gemini is there with him. She's gonna know that she gets on the bus with him. She's gonna know that they go to school. There's not gonna be any real like newness to next year," Christine Woosley said.

"This is the only student that we have a service dog with so we have not had that situation before but it was important to us when we were working with the Woosley's to develop a model that would work for future students," said Morris.

This summer however, Zachary and Gemini will spend more time playing than in the classroom.

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