The Bergen family has a new member named Nico, a beautiful black autism service dog. Their son Judah is eight-years-old with moderate to severe autism. In a personal interview with Mya Bergen, Judah’s mother, she described him as low functioning, non-verbal and epileptic. One serious issue the family has with him is that he has no sense of danger and is a flight risk. Judah sometimes tries to run off when the family is on outings. Nico has saved the day for this family in many ways.
For one, he has allowed the family the freedom to leave the house without fear that Judah will run away. Judah is tethered to Nico who walks with him wherever he goes.
The family is very thankful for Nico’s part in their lives. The Bergens feel more at ease going out with Judah. Suddenly, the world has opened up to them. Previously they did not feel comfortable leaving the house because they feared their son may run away and be injured.
Nico has also saved the day for Judah because he has more of a choice of where he will go and how fast. The hope is that the bond between the two will grow and that Nico will become a good friend to Judah, helping him when he becomes overstimulated.
Judah has trouble making friends, as do many children with autism. Nico provides unconditional love. He is also an oasis from over-stimulation. The family is training Judah to go to Nico when he feels overstimulated for a calming influence. Judah loves Nico’s mouth and the hope is that Judah will focus on the dog and calm himself down.
Mya is very grateful for the support of National Service Dogs out of Ontario, a wonderful organization that breeds and trains service dogs for autistic children. Mya describes them as unique, with a great staff and trainers. Judah was put on a waiting list when they first applied two and half years ago (it takes a few years to train the dogs). The puppies are bred and start being trained at eight to nine weeks of age.
Parents must be trained to handle the animals as well. Mya spent one week in Ontario in intensive training from morning to night. At the end of the training program, there was a public access test to ensure the dog listened to commands. When this was done, Nico was flown to BC to be with the Bergen family. Soon, a trainer came to finish off the training and there was one more test.
It will take some time for the bond between Nico and Judah to develop but there is much hope that Nico will help Judah become more independent and much happier. Already the two like each other a lot and as time passes, the bond will surely develop.
Mya is very happy with the family’s decision to get a service dog and likely feels that Nico has saved the day. Judah is more independent, he is safe and the family feels better equipped to go out in public. Mya recommends National Service Dogs and hopes that more families of children with autism will be liberated through this fantastic service.
Opinion By Nicole Drawc
National Service Dogs
Personal Interview M. Bergen, 06/10/2014