Fredericksburg Parent

April 2016

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18 Fredericksburg Parent and Family • April 2016 What is a Special Needs Child? To be protected by the ADA, a person must have a disability, defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Most issues that fall under the umbrella of special needs would also be classified as disabilities under the ADA. Many parents of special needs chil- dren have found that a service dog can greatly improve the quality of life for their child, as well as decrease their own anxiety and frus- tration (see photo below). What is a Service Dog? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a service dog as a dog that is trained to perform specific tasks for a person with a disability. The public often confuses service dogs with therapy dogs and emotional support dogs. When seeking help for your child, it is important to under- stand the difference. A service dog is individually trained to provide specific assistance to an individual with a disability. Under the ADA, service dogs have equal access to all areas where the public is normally allowed, including schools, hospitals, governmental offices, businesses, restaurants, parks and non-profit organizations. Therapy dogs and emotional support dogs do not have equal access under the ADA. • THERAPY DOGS are individually trained to work with a specific handler in a facility that voluntarily allows therapy dog programs. Examples include reading programs in libraries and schools, visitation programs in hospitals, nursing homes, and retirement facilities, animal assisted therapy programs in psychology or rehabilitation facilities, and emotional support programs in law offices and courtrooms. Your special needs child may benefit greatly from these programs, but the dogs are not considered service dogs under the ADA. • EMOTIONAL SUPPORT DOGS provide emotional support to individuals diagnosed with a disability. However, the dog is not individually trained to perform a specific task for the disabled person. Although not covered under the ADA, The Virginia Fair Housing Act grants equal access to housing for disabled people with emotional support dogs. Therefore, a landlord who does not normally allow pets is required to rent to a disabled person who has an emotional support dog. WRITTEN BY CARYN SELF-SULLIVAN, PH.D. SERVICE DOGS and Special Needs Children Our son is pictured here at the dentist, with his service dog, Sherlock, on his lap. We were exhausted. Our son couldn't sleep, so no one did. We had many tools, resources, and therapies, but our son needed something more. Enter Sherlock, from Service Dogs of Virginia. Now, on outings, our son casually holds onto Sherlock's vest, stopping often for petting breaks and smooches, chitchatting happily with anyone who asks about his dog. We go for long hikes; we visit museums and go to movies, waiting patiently in long lines with Sherlock. Our son now has neater handwrit- ing. He's shown improvements in his speech, he's made reading gains, and is now sleeping through the night. The sounds of crying and anxiety have been replaced completely by the sound of a dog snoring. Our son comes home after school and plays wildly with Sherlock. Instead of having a tantrum, I hear laughter bubbling up from the backyard. SERVICE D

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