“It’s done so much more than we thought it could,” said Kaleb’s mother, Nichelle Drew. “We want Kaleb to be able to experience more of life,” and the dog has helped him do that, she said.
Chewey does not react when Kaleb “throws a fit” during times of transition from one activity to another, which calms him much more quickly, Drew said.
The tether fitted around Kaleb’s waist helps the dog stop Kaleb from running into traffic at pickup time, as he is prone to do.
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, “a person with autism would be considered a person with a disability in nearly all cases, and a service animal is any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to someone with a disability,” said Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Miyar declined comment on specific cases but said schools are required to make accommodations for disabled students to use a service animal. Illinois is among several states with similar laws.
Schools, though, can argue that the animals do not provide a functional service. Wright said Kaleb’s school already provides him with adequate special services. Officials believe Chewey is more of a companion or comfort dog, not a true service dog.
Elizabeth Emken, vice president of government relations for Autism Speaks, said her 17-year-old autistic son has used a service dog for about two years.
Emken said the dog helps control her son’s pacing and circling, but the family opted against allowing the boy to take the dog to school because she did not know if he would be able to manage the dog effectively.
“Personally, I can see the pros and cons” of allowing the animals in schools, Emken said, though she believes schools should not ban the assistance.
Families of autistic kids elsewhere have fought similar battles, including recent cases in Manteca, Calif., about 70 miles northeast of San Francisco, and North Franklin Township, Pa., near Pittsburgh.
On Aug. 20, a judge sided with a family in Columbia, Ill., near St. Louis, that sued over their school district’s unwillingness to allow an autism service dog in a special-education pre-kindergarten classroom.
A hearing was scheduled so the school could work out the logistics of accommodating the dog, which reportedly helps stop 5-year-old Carter Kalbfleisch from running off and keeps him from eating things like rocks.
The case still could head to trial, though the family’s attorney, Clay St. Clair, said the initial ruling is based on the Illinois law allowing service animals in school. The district did not return calls.