I am an elementary educational assistant and the student I work with is a 9 year old boy, Ryland who has Down Syndrome and is non-verbal.
When he first arrived at our school we learned quickly that he was a very curious, impulsive boy who was an extreme flight risk. He needed constant hands-on supervision just to be safe. He refused to hold a teachers or peers hand making travelling within the school very challenging and school trips required 2 full time E.A’s.
Lilly, the black Labrador retriever arrived at our school almost a year ago, and has impacted Ryland so positively that I am amazed daily at how fortunate our school, and more significantly the student is. Lilly has opened up endless possibilities for Ryland to have a future that is safe, independent and personally rewarding.
He has become more confident and more self-assured. He is fiercely independent and now can explore his environment safely with his dog, and E.A support following closely behind.(but not directly impacting his experience). His vocalizations have significantly increased as he directs Lilly to “stay, down and forward.” The school population has embraced Lilly our service dog, and have quickly adapted to her presence in the halls, library, mass and on school trips. I have even observed a J.K student forcefully tell an adult visitor. “Oh, please don’t talk to her, she is working for Ryland”.
How I truly notice what a service this dog is providing is when she is sick and unable to attend school. Ryland becomes once again the student that I worry will run out of the room, that must hold my hand in the hall to prevent him running, and sadly far less verbal. We all have come to enjoy the gifts that this beautiful dog has brought to our school and to our dear friend and student.
-Suzanne Soars, Educational Assistant to Ryland