Dog is autis­tic boy’s ‘bridge’

Matthew Colombo and autism as­sis­tance dog Cash work as a team

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY VA­LERIE HILL


Launched in 1983, Dog Guides pro­vides as­sis­tance dogs in five pro­grams: ca­nine vi­sion, hear­ing ear, spe­cial skills, seizure re­sponse and now autism as­sis­tance. All dogs are pro­vided free of charge. Ev­ery year, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s breed­ing pro­gram re­sults in 200 pup­pies, which are raised in foster homes. When they’re old enough to be­gin train­ing, they’re re­turned to the fa­cil­ity. Tur­ney said “ev­ery dog is as­sessed to see which pro­gram it’s best suited for.”

Chris has al­ready com­pleted two train­ing ses­sions and has placed 11 dogs with fam­i­lies across Canada, in­clud­ing the Colom­bos. Hav­ing an as­sis­tance dog can make a huge dif­fer­ence in the life of a child with autism.

“ The No. 1 thing is to help Matthew progress through his life,” said his mother, Lisa Colombo. Lisa and her hus­band, Rus­sell Colombo, fos­tered Matthew as an in­fant through Fam­ily and Chil­dren’s Ser­vices of Water­loo Re­gion. They knew im­me­di­ately they would adopt him.

“ We knew he’d never leave us,” she said.

They also knew by the time he was nine months old that Matthew was hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, which were even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed as autism, a sleep­ing dis­or­der and res­pi­ra­tory dif­fi­cul­ties. The fam­ily lives in a spa­cious bun­ga­low shared with their 11-year-old daugh­ter, a pet Labrador and a guinea pig. Lisa said Matthew is “mo­ti­vated by an­i­mals,” which made the de­ci­sion to get an as­sis­tance dog an easy one.

Deal­ing with tran­si­tions is a ma­jor is­sue for chil­dren deal­ing with autism. It could be as sim­ple as walk­ing from one en­vi­ron­ment to an­other such as in­doors to out­doors, or as highly stim­u­lat­ing as Christ­mas, with all its dec­o­ra­tions and mu­sic. For a child with autism, tran­si­tions can be sen­sory over­load, which leads to con­fu­sion and even fear. Cash, a Labrador/re­triever cross, pro­vides a calm­ing and re­as­sur­ing pres­ence.

Some chil­dren with autism will also dart off un­ex­pect­edly, which is why the dogs are teth­ered to the chil­dren by a leash around their waist. This isn’t a prob­lem with Matthew.

“ When I come and do a match, it’s based on per­son­al­ity,” Chris said. “Matthew and Cash are sim­i­lar — they’re both calm. They will rely on each other.”

The Colom­bos had to com­plete a one-week train­ing ses­sion last month, liv­ing in res­i­dence at the Lions Foun­da­tions’ Oakville fa­cil­ity, where they learned how Cash could help their son. When they left, they brought Cash home and, us­ing their new-found skills, in­tro­duced the dog to Matthew. Al­most im­me­di­ately they no­ticed there was less stress go­ing to bed as Cash curled up on Matthew’s bed, al­ways the re­as­sur­ing pres­ence.

His mother also no­ticed other pos­i­tive changes in her son. Matthew is now aware of a par­tic­u­lar teacher in school whose usual morn­ing greet­ings were never ac­knowl­edged. “Now he says, ‘Hi, Mrs. Martin, would you like to say hi to Cash?’” Lisa said. She views the dog as “a bridge, a tool” in so­cial sit­u­a­tions.

Chris said he has worked with 250 autis­tic chil­dren over the years, match­ing them with the just the right dog. For some kids like Matthew, the bond is im­me­di­ate.

“Other kids it can take six months to a year,” he said.

The trainer comes to the Colom­bos’ home to work with Matthew and Cash four or five times, tak­ing them to pub­lic ar­eas such as shop­ping cen­tres or just on the street, en­sur­ing the pair is work­ing as a team. The dogs be­come an ex­ten­sion of the child, a bridge to the out­side world which, for a child with autism, can be un­nerv­ing.

“ The dog helps reg­u­late this emo­tion,” Chris added. WIN­NIPEG — The worst weeks of Man­i­toba MP James Bezan’s life ended with good news last spring when he found out his wife’s skin can­cer hadn’t spread to her lungs as doc­tors had feared.

But when he got back to Ottawa af­ter Kelly re­cov­ered from a dif­fi­cult surgery, the Con­ser­va­tive MP for Selkirk-In­ter­lake felt the need to do some­thing proac­tive in the wake of the “dev­as­tat­ing strain” skin can­cer placed on his fam­ily.

So he got to work de­vel­op­ing a pri­vate mem­ber’s bill de­signed to en­sure Cana­di­ans are made aware of the dan­gers of us­ing tanning beds by promi­nently putting larger and more spe­cific warn­ing la­bels on the beds them­selves.

“The best thing we can do is con­sumer aware­ness,” Bezan told the Win­nipeg Free Press on Thurs­day in a re­port out of Ottawa.

His bill, to be in­tro­duced in March, would re­quire la­bels to be more eas­ily seen, make a clear link be­tween ul­tra­vi­o­let rays and skin can­cer and rec­om­mend any­one un­der 18 not use a tanning bed.

In a news con­fer­ence on Par­lia­ment Hill called to co­in­cide with World Can­cer Day, Bezan laid bare his wife Kelly’s sun-wor­ship­ping habits and her two bouts with malig­nant melanoma.

“A fair-skinned sun wor­ship­per dur­ing her teens and in her 20s, the cu­mu­la­tive UV ex­po­sure even­tu­ally caught up with her,” Bezan said. “In the sum­mer, she tanned out­side. Dur­ing the win­ter, she was in the tanning beds.”

Skin can­cer is the most com­mon can­cer di­ag­nosed in Canada, with more than 80,000 peo­ple newly di­ag­nosed with one of three types in 2009, in­clud­ing 5,000 with malig­nant melanoma, which poses the high­est risk.

The Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety TORONTO — Ex­perts at an on­line sem­i­nar ex­plor­ing the in­flu­ence of me­dia im­ages on fe­male self­es­teem said it’s im­por­tant to help young peo­ple sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion by teach­ing them how to de­con­struct what they see in ads and pro­gram­ming.

“It’s use­ful for them just to un­der­stand that me­dia are there to en­gage and en­ter­tain and sell but not nec­es­sar­ily to dis­sem­i­nate mes­sages that are in their best in­ter­est,” said au­thor and me­dia ed­u­ca­tor Shari Graydon dur­ing the we­bi­nar Thurs­day. The event was organized by the Na­tional Eat­ing Dis­or­der In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre and the Cana­dian Women’s Health Net­work.

Janet Kestin was one of the creative direc­tors be­hind the award­win­ning Dove “Evo­lu­tion” ad, which filmed the process of a woman’s im­age be­ing dig­i­tally al­tered and posted on a bill­board. Kestin said the ad, which won the 2007 Grand Prix for vi­ral mar­ket­ing at the Cannes Lions In­ter­na­tional Ad­ver­tis­ing Fes­ti­val, was de­signed to both de­con­struct the process and to ed­u­cate and in­form.

“I think ed­u­ca­tion ul­ti­mately is the an­swer to all of this stuff and a level of trans­parency that nei­ther ad­ver­tis­ers nor mag­a­zine folks nor de­sign­ers nor tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials are gen­er­ally in the busi­ness

The Cana­dian Press

Matthew Columbo walks with his autism ser­vice dog, Cash, his mother Lisa and his trainer Chris Fowler in Water­loo, Ont.

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