Service Dogs Help IN Children Thrive at School
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Some Indiana elementary students are getting an extra dose of emotional support in the classroom from service dogs.
Trained by the Indiana Canine Assistant Network, the dogs offer a social link to kids who may intentionally isolate themselves.
Jill Schipp, principal at West Clay Elementary School in Carmel, said kids feel an immediate bond with her dog, "Palmer," and want to pet him or read him a story. She explained service dogs are helpful for children who have trouble with fear or uncertainty, or difficulty communicating.
"I've had kids that come down that are experiencing grief or anxiety, or changes in their life, maybe kids that have made a move to a new home, and they're just upset," Schipp observed. "They're carrying big worries. Being with him, and petting him and getting dog kisses, and getting their mind off of it really, really helps."
She pointed out teachers also request visits with the service dogs during trying times, like state scholastic testing. Schipp noted she has received inquiries from other districts about the benefits of having a service dog on school grounds.
Service dogs receive special instruction and certification to address distinct needs. The dog may sense a child with a physical disability is unsteady, and let the child lean on them. Schipp added her dog is keenly aware of nonverbal communication, which is common in children on the autism spectrum.
"If they are upset, I have learned to ask the child what they need," Schipp recounted. "Some kids will say, 'I need him to sit on me.' So, I have a little mat and the child sits down, puts their legs straight out in front of them, and he sits on their lap. And they just talk to him, and he just lays there until they're calm."
Schipp thought the dogs' presence would ease students' transition back to a classroom setting after the pandemic. She began the process with questionnaires to hundreds of parents, and the majority supported the plan. She emphasized care is taken with allergic reactions or fear of dogs.
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