Jackson Wallrath & Autism Assistance Dog Valor
When Jackson (Jack) Wallrath was two years old he suddenly started reacting differently towards things that weren’t usually a big deal to him. His language development also plateaued. Shortly after that, Jack was diagnosed with autism. Luckily, Jack’s family lives just down the road from St. David’s Children’s Center in Minnetonka where he attended for over a year.
While at the Children’s Center, Jack’s mother, Sarah, noticed that he wasn’t doing well with change or chaotic situations. He was also less verbal than his classmates, and had a hard time making friends in school. Sarah started chatting with the other moms there, one of which had just gotten on the Can Do Canines wait list. Jack’s family started the application process to Can Do Canines for an Autism Assist Dog when Jack was three.
Three and a half years later, the Wallraths got a call that changed it all! Can Do Canines matched Valor, a sweet, cuddly, gentle, kid-loving black Labrador, with Jack. Valor is specially-trained to do many things for Jack such as provide safety for Jack by being tethered together while out in public so that Jack doesn’t bolt away from his family, offers comfort for him during stressful and overly stimulating situations and Valor acts as a social buffer between Jack and his peers so that they can interact together. Jack would seek out contact when he was feeling overwhelmed, as specifically-trained skills allow Valor to provide the contact needed to suppress Jack’s anxiety.
Sarah knew their first meeting might be shaky. She arranged for them meet outside of their home so that those stressful feelings weren’t connected to Valor being home with them. After the first, somewhat nervous meeting, Jack was excited to have Valor with him all of the time. Sarah explains, “While in the house, unless Jack wants something, like someone to read to him or push him on the swing, he finds things to do on his own and doesn’t usually ask me to join him, but he asks Valor to join him. It’ll occur to him – ‘I’m doing this thing, where’s Valor?’ It’s fun to see him remember, ‘Oh, I have a friend in this house. Where is he? How can I bring him closer to what I’m doing?’”
Sarah talks about how wonderful it was, after just two weeks, to see Jack recognize that Valor was his source of comfort in stressful, chaotic times. She says, “About four or five times a year, our church has a special needs night out where you drop your child off and then [parents] leave. It’s a really chaotic environment – 25 kids with special needs in a gym – so that’s not a place for Valor to be. I left Valor home, and took Jack to the night out. He loves going to that, but it’s very hard for the first five minutes. Valor had only been at our home for two weeks at that point, but when I dropped Jack off, he looked right at me and said, “I want Valor.”
Jack, Sarah, and the rest of their family is excited for their future together. As Sarah tells us, “Jack is a very routine kid. We don’t go to many places, even locally. Having Valor there during difficult situations makes it easier for Jack, which opens up a lot of doors for us as a family. A lot of people hear what autism is, but they don’t really know. They see this happy, somewhat easygoing kid, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for him. He works really hard and tries really hard. Having this fun-loving dog help him is so awesome, so he doesn’t have to work so hard.”
Thanks to you, our wonderful supporters, Jack and Valor are a hardworking team. We can’t wait to see how they grow together, and learn from each other!
Thank you to all those who made this partnership possible:
Puppy Raiser – Elaine Krob
Special Thanks – The Inmate Handlers at the Federal Correctional Institution, Faribault