November 15, 2018

CC BY-NC-ND by Tabbymom Jen

Atlas Anderson is the youngest autistic person in Canada to receive the company of a specially trained service dog.

Harris, a Labrador cross is the newest member of the Anderson household, having been bred and then trained specifically and extensively to support an autistic individual with communication, comparative to a canine life jacket for the little boy.

Harris joined the family from Orangeville, Ontario  in October, having been reared by National Service Dogs at a cost of around $30,000. Their jobs are to keep their wards safe and to stop them from running away, or wandering. The 70 lb dog is “tethered” to Atlas using a nylon belt which is wrapped around the boy’s waist to the dog’s harness.

Atlas was diagnosed with severe autism at age 2. He loves hugs, and has SPD, or sensory processing disorder, which explains his desire for hugs, and weighted blankets.

His mother Kat Anderson, 34, talking to the Toronto Star said:

“It’s that feeling of resistance. It’s almost like the universe isn’t providing enough physical input for him. “

Atlas can match 20 cards in a memory game on his iPad with ease and recite episodes of Blue’s Clues word for word. But yell “Danger, stop!” and he won’t.

Watch this video from Toronto Star, broadcast Jan. 4, 2014.

Atlas is showing vast improvement with socialisation skills, namely he is able to maintain eye contact for a longer period of time, and he’s also making huge leaps in his speech therapy sessions. His mother notes that he is more confident in his own ability than he was previously. He is also making improvement with foods, and has moved on to more complicated textures which made him gag before Harris arrived.

His parents don’t know how much of this positive new attitude is attributed to Harris the dog, but previous studies into the benefit of pets and support animals for children with autism, show they are a positive reinforcement and company in what can be a very insular world.


About the author 

Shân Ellis

Shân Ellis, is a qualified journalist with five years experience of writing features, blogging and working on a regional newspaper. Prior to working as a journalist, she was a ghost writer for top publishers and was closely involved in the editing and development of book series. Shân has a degree in the sciences, and 5 A levels. She lives in the UK and is the mother of an autistic child.

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