Lending a paw
Dogs help the autistic come out of their shell
October 30, 1997
Web posted at: 10:58 a.m. EST (1558 GMT)
From Correspondent Melissa Sanders
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- A friendly dog named Grizzly
may be just the thing to help Justin take a small step out of
his private world.
Justin is afflicted with autism, a widely misunderstood
neurological disorder that affects brain function and
typically appears during the first three years of life. An
autistic person appears to be daydreaming or acting
irrationally, with little or no recognition of those around
That's where Grizzly comes in. The German shepherd is part
of an experiment to see if "animal-assisted therapy" can
bridge the communication gap with Justin and other clients
at TURN Community Services in Salt Lake City.
Because of their developmental disabilities, including mental
retardation and autism, Justin and the others don't
understand why they need to communicate, explains behavioral
specialist Sherrie Lewis-Parkin.
( 97K/9 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
In one-on-one human contact, talking gets in the way, says
Grizzly's owner, Lana Davis. Animals, on the other hand, "can just be there."
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Breakthroughs can happen but take time, Davis says.
( 682K/17 sec./160x120 QuickTime movie)
In his first therapy session with Grizzly, Justin stepped on
the dog's paw. By the eighth session, weeks later, Justin
appeared far less agitated, even allowing Grizzly to eat food
out of his hand.
Animals make it easier for behavioral change to occur, says
project assistant Judy Scheer.
(79K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
National agencies, such as the Delta Society, will evaluate
animals like Grizzly, then help train and certify them, and
their handlers, for this sort of work.
"Animals play an important part in our lives," Davis says.
They "help people connect with other people."
As far as Justin and the others are concerned, the behavioral
changes may be subtle, but they are also profound.