Dog Helps 9 Year Old With Autism

Meghan Mongillo, FOX19 News
Meghan Mongillo, FOX19 News

(CINCINNATI) -- No doctor can say what causes autism or knows a cure. Research now shows one in 150 children have it. And families are learning to cope, sometimes in a unique way.

FOX19's Meghan Mongillo introduces us to a Montgomery family who's enlisted the help of a different breed.

We introduced you to 9-year-old Sam Leach last August.

A computer device helps him communicate and an alarm system makes sure he doesn't slip away. But now his mom Carol is trying something new.

"Excuse us.."

John Boy is Sam's service dog.

The black lab is trained to follow the direction of his front collar which Carol controls and ignore the leash on his back which Sam grabs onto.

"I've never known anything to work as well for Sam to be as happy about it," says carol. He really likes walking with the dog it seems to calm him down

The family's had the dog for a month now and Carol, Sam and John Boy are all learning how to work together.

"Get a hold of John we go.."

Carol says the occasional wrong move is nothing compared to her grocery store trips before.

"Once we'd go past the cereal aisle he'd make a mad dash back to it 2 or 3 times it was like being an octopus."

"So why does it work. Why does sam react so well to John Boy? To get some answers we came here to Cincinnati Children's Hospital."

Dr. Patricia Manning specializes in developmental pediatrics. She gave us some insight on what a child like Sam may be thinking.

"The dog's not talking or giving me a directive it's just moving and I'm moving with the dog verses I have to interpret verbal directives and decide if I want to comply. It's an innate response some kids react to animals presence and pressure vs. Our human voice and communication."

Dr. Manning warns that not every child with autism will benefit from a service dog.

Getting one is expensive - with training it costs 15 to 26 thousand dollars - and there's no guarantee it'll work.

But for the Leach was worth it - John Boy can even track Sam's scent if he ever wanders off.  Meghan Mongillo