Dog is autistic boy’s ‘bridge’
Matthew Colombo and autism assistance dog Cash work as a team
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
Matthew Columbo walks with his autism service dog, Cash, his mother Lisa and his trainer Chris Fowler in Waterloo, Ont.