It takes a very special dog to see someone who is upset and calmly enter their space of distress to comfort them. Children with autism, like Jackson, need these dogs to help them handle the overabundance of stimulation that surrounds them.
In 2014, Jackson was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder after his parents and doctors became concerned that he wasn’t exhibiting the same behaviors as other toddlers. As he spent more time in social settings, it became apparent he would require specialized support to keep him safe and happy. Jackson would often run away from people or act impulsively, not realizing the potential dangers of his surroundings. He would frequently become overwhelmed without being able to express what he was experiencing or needed. Jackson’s parents worked ceaselessly to get their son the tools he needed, hoping he would be able to manage the amount of stimulation around him and regulate the things that caused him stress.
Even with a barrage of coping resources and a constant flow of therapies and healthcare providers, Jackson would still become overwhelmed and have outbursts or run. His parents reached out to Can Do Canines with a call for help and an application for a service dog. After being accepted, Jackson met his new therapist in the form of a large, lovable Labrador Retriever named Zing.
Zing, who was also our recent front-desk ambassador, has spent his two years of life as a calming presence, cuddling as much as possible with people who helped raise him. This made him an ideal match for Jackson.
Before Zing, Jackson would isolate himself in his own quiet world, though he craved friendships. Zing has since helped him manage more social situations than was possible before. Having Zing with him gives Jackson an icebreaker and the confidence during hard interactions. When Jackson becomes agitated, Zing applies pressure therapy by leaning against Jackson. That familiar sensation helps Jackson relax.
Also, Jackson wears a belted tether and holds a handle that is connected to Zing’s special cape. When they are walking in public, Jackson’s urge to run or wander is stopped by Zing anchoring himself in response. This keeps Jackson safe and gives his parents time to react. Checking the handle, along with other caregiving tasks, gives Jackson something to focus on, a responsibility to fulfill. And an incredible bonus is the accomplishment Jackson feels by teaching Zing new things. As his mother shares, “When Jackson starts feeling agitated or overwhelmed, he sits on the floor and opens his arms and says ‘Zing hug.’ Zing immediately walks over to Jackson and lets Jackson hug him.”
Angels Among Us
The whole family is amazed by the difference Zing has made already, and they are ecstatic at the possibility of doing more together. Jackson’s brother watched Zing interrupt a meltdown by resting his head on his lap, then told their mother, “That dog is amazing.” She emphatically says to everyone involved with Zing’s upbringing, “Thank you so much for taking the time to make Zing the amazing dog he is . . . We feel safe in the Can Do Canines family as the organization takes a non-judgmental approach to Jackson and his diagnosis. You all are angels sent to our family and we promise to take the best care of Zing.”