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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Alternative Health Channel
Reported May 13, 2008

Autism Dog

NEW ORLEANS (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- How do you help a child with autism? With about one in 150 eight-year-old children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders each year, parents and doctors are looking for new ways to help these kids have a brighter future. For some, help is now coming from an unlikely place -- a four-legged friend.


From early on, Matthew's mom Jennifer Plunk knew he was special. "He knew his alphabet and colors like before he was one," Jennifer told Ivanhoe. "Just odd things. We're like, 'Man, he is a child prodigy.'" But there was more… "We just noticed that noises and certain things that were pretty common just sent him through the roof."


At three, Matthew was diagnosed with asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. His mom has worked hard to get him all the help she can -- that includes homeschooling and now, a dog named Ajax. "Never would have expected to have help from a four-legged furry creature and the impact that he has had and what he can do," Jennifer says. Ajax is trained as an autism assistance dog. When Matthew gets anxious, sometimes a nuzzle from Ajax is all it takes. Ajax keeps Matthew from wandering off and keeps him calm. "And we've noticed though that the intensity of the meltdowns has decreased," Jennifer says.


Autism specialist Maria Blanco says dogs like Ajax can be helpful. "Some anecdotal evidence does exist that indicates that families feel it really does improve quality of life and provides a social bond for their child with the dog," Blanco of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, told Ivanhoe. "I feel happy about him in my heart," Matthew says. "I love him. I kiss him." Together, Matthew and Ajax take on asperger's.


Assistance dogs are expensive. Matthew's family had to raise $13,000 to get Ajax and many more families are on waiting lists, hoping for assistance dogs of their own. More information is available at


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