For Student With Autism, Having Service Animal in School Is ‘Lifesaver’

Kaleb Drew, a first-grader with autism with severe speech and developmental delays in central Illinois, recently received some good news from a county judge: His best friend, Chewey, a 70-pound yellow Labrador retriever, who has been his constant companion in school since August, would be allowed to continue to accompany him to school every day.

Chewey is an autism service dog trained by Autism Service Dogs of America, an organization outside of Portland, Ore., that prepares dogs to live with children who have autism. The dogs are trained to increase the child’s mobility and socialization and to provide a calming influence that allows the child to make greater academic progress in school.

For Kaleb, Chewey is his lifeline and his guardian angel, says his mom, Nichelle. After receiving the dog last spring, Kaleb has had fewer emotional outbursts, he is better able to focus and transition from one activity to another during class, and he does not try to run away from people—which has in the past resulted in dangerous situations in the school parking lot—since Chewey is tethered to him and acts as a physical restraint. However, if the Villa Grove school district had its way, Kaleb would have to do without Chewey at school. District officials argued in court earlier this month that the dog is not a true service animal and does not perform tasks that benefit Kaleb academically.

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