Tuesday, November 30, 2010

California program gives autistic boy in Georgia the service dog he needs

From Inland Local:

A boy and his dog is an enduring American theme, but for 7-year-old Aaron Cramtton, the canine is his lifeline.

Aaron (pictured) was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of 2, after his mother Amy Cramtton noticed that he wasn't developing normally. Aaron couldn't speak, nor could he tolerate being touched.

His symptoms progressed into half-hour long tantrums that seemed to have no cause. Digestive problems followed, regularly forcing Cramtton, her husband and her other two young children to the hospital on a regular basis.

In Kennesaw, Ga., Cramtton struggled to find ways to deal with her son's disorder in a small town lacking the resources to assist her. After browsing the Internet for resources that could help with autism, she found Canine Support Teams in Temecula.

Founded in 1989, the team's mission is to provide specially trained dogs to people with disabilities to support their personal, social, and occupational independence.

Though the group doesn't specialize in dogs trained to assist children with autism, Cramtton was told that the organization would do its best to train a dog to suit Aaron's needs.

Cramtton didn't have the money to pay for the flight to California for her and Aaron. But thanks to the financial support of Autism in Georgia, Inc., a nonprofit that assists families grappling with the disorder, mother and son were on a Nov. 7 flight to California to meet Aaron's new dog in Temecula.

"The flight was grueling because Aaron does not do well in new surroundings, but we were so excited to meet his new dog," Cramtton said.

The training process for support dogs is exhaustive and takes about a year to a year and a half, depending on the severity of the disorder of the person the dog will assist, according to Jennifer Cuff, a Wildomar resident and puppy raiser for Canine Support Teams.

Before Aaron could meet his dog, the dog had to be socialized and tested in public.

When Aaron and his mother met his dog, a golden retriever named Cricket, Aaron instantly bonded. It was an unusual occurrence for a child with autism, who typically are adverse to touch.

Aaron spent two weeks in Temecula getting used to Cricket. When they first appeared in public together at The Promenade mall in Temecula as a final test, Cricket passed with flying colors.

Now back home in Georgia, Cricket assists Aaron in getting dressed, and is trained to help him turn off light switches and close doors, which Aaron doesn't remember to do. His mother said Cricket has cut down tantrum times from a half hour to six minutes.

"Now, when Aaron is having a fit, Cricket will just nudge him with her nose and the touch gets his attention so fast he gets up and just looks at her in amazement," Cramtton said.

Cricket has also helped Aaron become more social. People are now drawn to him, and often ask if they can pet Cricket.

"What Cricket has done for Aaron, in getting people to come to him when before they were afraid because he acted differently, is something I can't describe," Cramtton said. "It just makes me so happy for him not to see him so afraid."