Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Help this Woman: The Guide Dog


I got this message on Facebook asking for our advice and OF COURSE I had to share it with you...

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Hi and (shyly, perhaps awkwardly) waving!

A while back the mommies helped out an awesomesauce little girl with a few witty snippets to use in reply to the tiresome asshats that pointed out her eyepatch. I'm wondering if you might help out my little boy as he is awesomesauce as well. You see, we are lucky enough to be in the process of obtaining a service dog for my son. A psychiatric service dog. 

(Shudder)

(Avert eyes. Quickly gather purse and keys as you hug precious, sane children and run away). Oh yes. Throwing out "psychiatric" will shut down a conversation faster than you can say DSM-5! 

As you can imagine, it might be difficult for a second grader who doesn't LOOK disabled (insert eye roll here) to explain to 5,000 people at school why he is accompanied by an amazing, furry, sturdy, walking vessel of calm. He just needs this dog so badly. My son struggles to hold it together at school and handle bone-crushing anxiety while trying desperately to fit in with his classmates. Oh, and learn. 

We are not ashamed. Bipolar disorder does not own us; WE own IT! In our time and by our choice, both my son and I talk about our shared illness. We raise money, read books, take classes and nearly singlehandedly support Big Pharma. 

I just want some ideas for how my son (my precious, mostly sane child) might cleverly respond to questions about the Fur when he starts bringing him to school. Nothing mean, as I'm sure nearly all the inquiries will come from a place of curiosity and they are just kids. Just a funny, lighthearted response. If you can help, I would be so grateful. 

(c)Herding Turtles 2009 - 2013

69 comments:

  1. You have an imaginary friend. I have a dog. Deal.

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  2. "Fur helps me keep my marbles together"

    "Dog is God spelled backwards"

    "He's my guard dog; he guards ME from going all ninja"

    "Crazy I am not, if near Fur I am" (for the Star Wars fan)

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  3. *hugs* to you both! You ROCK for taking such proactive stance!!

    Could he say something like "Sometimes I get really scared and can't pay attention. My doctor told me the dog can help...so I bring him with me everywhere I go."

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    1. I like this a lot. It's true but gentle.

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    2. I love this to ...but I would end the explanation with something like "It's pretty cool!" Because kids will think it is pretty awesome!

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  4. What dog? I don't see a dog.... or if he were older and people were just being jerks, 'my personality that slaps stupid people is blind' (since everyone thinks that any mental disorder means you are multiple personality and at least one of those is a homicidal maniac)

    Deb D

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  5. Oh, I'd say it's a seizure dog. It is giving him something to seize onto to calm down, right?!

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  6. "Oh, this dog? Well, you see, I'm a superhero, and he's my sidekick and later tonight we'll be fighting crime all over town while you're sleeping."

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    1. Great minds think alike!

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    2. I like this one, too!!!

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    3. I was also going to suggest "Every superhero needs a sidekick."

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    4. This is my favorite

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  7. Reply 1: Oh him, that's my little brother. There is a reason your not supposed to eat dog food.

    Reply 2: Act confused when people ask about the dog. "Geez kid, There is no dog here. I don't know what your talking about. Crazy"

    Reply 3: Q: "Why do you have a dog at school"
    A: "because my pet dragon wouldn't fit in the door."

    Reply 4: If I leave him at home he'll get lonely.

    Reply 5: He's not a dog he's an actor. He's researching a new role.

    Reply 6: Shhhh, he's secretly here from another planet. He's really an alien.

    And it's too early in the morning for me to be really funny.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. This is my puppy-brother. (From that AT&T commercial)

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    1. I was thinking the exact same thing!

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  10. I have no good suggestions as I generally suck at these things but I wanted to say how awesome it is that he is able to get the dog to help him. It is also awesome he has a mom as wonderful as you to help him through the tough times. Good luck!

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  11. Honestly? Before the first time he brings the pup to school, I'd see if the principal would call an assembly, where you can introduce the dog, explain that your son needs help that the dog gives in the simplest, most general terms you are comfortable with, and give the kids a chance to ask questions then. Give a FAQ to each teacher and staff member of the salient points (the dog is working, and shouldn't be touched or distracted, not given food, etc). Straitforward, simple, and once they all know it won't be a constant barrage of questions for your little boy.

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    1. I would skip the assembly. Have the teachers explain the situation to the kids in his grade and distribute the FAQ to the other teachers so they can answer questions that come up. A whole school assembly would put a laser focus on the kid.

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    2. I like the idea of letting teachers know so they can share the need-to-know info with their classes.

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  12. I have a first grader who suffers with anxiety, as do I. I have found that young kids will surprise you with their kindness, as well as how easy it is to appease their curious minds. I would tell him to simply say, "I need my dog to make me feel safe." I go the lunch at my children's school every day for the same reason - to help my son feel secure. My son only had to tell one or two kids that his mom makes him feel safe at recess. The kids not only accepted the answer, but they accepted me as a playmate. I am fortunate enough that as the year comes to an end, I am now more of a background figure at lunch/recess as he needs me less and less. I praise you for being such a proactive & brave parent!

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  13. Have you read My Sister's Keeper? There are some fabulous excuses in there as to why one of the characters has a guide dog that you could easily share.

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    1. My Favorite book ever! Be warned- great dog-having excuses, but also probably one of the best cries you'll have this year.

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  14. How about, "he helps me feel safe."

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  15. I would talk with the teacher before bringing the dog into the class (if possible) and have the teacher talk with the students about how your son will have a service dog, and the basic rules (no petting, etc). That way the rules have come from a place of authority and not your son.

    For the kids asking him questions, probably just answer the question asked as simply as possible. Practice at home with him with a few set answers to questions like "why do you need a service dog, you don't *look* sick?" Maybe something like "Thanks, but I have an illness that Fur helps me with so I can come to school and have fun"

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    1. I like this too. I like the idea of generally answering the question without exposing your sons privacy.

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  16. I don't have suggestions because I suck at witty comebacks. I wanted to tell you how awesome you are for getting a dog to help him. I know a boy with autism that has a dog and it's a huge help for him. The dog calms him down in a world of sensory overload. Good luck!!

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  17. Way to go, proactive Mom!!! I am so excited to read your story, and so happy that you both will be helped by your son's service dog. I know you will rest easier in your shared condition, knowing that your son as a way to keep his cool at school. I agree with the person above who said "sometimes I get really scared and can't pay attention. My doctor said this dog will help, so I bring him with me everywhere." Then maybe a class lesson on how to treat your boy, and any person, they see with their service dog. No petting, no distracting, etc. Way to go mom and boy! :)

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  18. So many great suggestions...I especially liked Emily's encouragement for you (at 8:39am) and echo it myself. I like the one right under it too about the assembly if that wouldn't be too troubling for your beloved sweet guy.

    My first thought was that he could say that HE was chosen to be that dog's trainer--which he is! He is training that blessing to do his job well. Or he could say "It's a symbiotic relationship. You wouldn't understand." Although that may be a wee tad condescending.

    God bless you both/all on this educational journey! I hope you have your own blog, shy-waver. You have a lot to share.

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  19. Lotsa great suggestions so far...I hope you have a blog of your own for this. You have a lot of wisdom to share, no doubt, Shy-Waver!

    My first thought was "I was chosen to help train this dog to help other people like me." Or maybe "It's a symbiotic relationship. You wouldn't understand." Some people won't understand and it is not your responsibility to make them. WELL DONE to you and your family. I applaud you both/all and everyone who supports him at school!

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  20. I love the idea of being simple and honest with the kids. I think it is a great idea to tell his classmates all at once. Maybe you can have the teacher introduce him to the class like a new student with the service dog rules. With the littler ones, just explain "he helps me handle things" or "he makes me less scared."

    Rude adults on the other hand get responses like: I might not look like I need a service dog just like you don't look like you're a jerk. Things don't often look like they are.

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  21. My doctor prescribed him.

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  22. I think it's fantastic that the dog helps your son. As an adult, we try to be witty with our responses and I think that's great when you're responding to an adult asking you a question, but I don't necessarily think it's a good idea for a child to respond to another child because I don't think they pick up on the subtlety of that humor. (how old is your son?) I think the previous poster said it well - "Fur comes to school with me so I feel safe." Maybe the teacher could read a story about service dogs so the other kids understand that Fur isn't a pet.

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  23. These are awesome responses and not hateful, for the most part! I have a friend whose daughter has a DAD (diabetic alert dog). Even adults don't filter their questions when inquiring why she has an assistance dog yet isn't blind. Illness isn't typically seen on the outside. This experience will help him tremendously when he is moving in the outside world outside of home and his classroom. Heads up and know you aren't off-balance. Those who ask silly questions are, IMHO!

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  24. You know, he's not going to hear "Why do you have a dog?" He's going to hear, "Why do YOU get to bring a dog to school?" from faces green with envy. He will be a rock star. The harder part will be training classmates not to try to play with the dog.

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    1. I have a service dog, and that's what I get from adults at work! :-)

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  25. My service dog is also a psychiatric service dog, and helps me immensely with my anxiety. I've actually found children to be the most accepting type of people when it comes to Mac being by my side, and they generally do best with the simplest answer possible. Someone above my comment said to tell kids "he helps me feel safe," and I like that, but I think if it can be amended that makes it clear your son NEEDS him to feel safe and that it's not just about him wanting the family puppy wherever he goes.

    Start at basic: This is my service dog.
    Then go up if needed: He performs tasks for me that I cannot do myself to let me live like everyone else.
    If they ask for more, you can say: he helps with panic attacks/ avoiding panic attacks and keeps me safe.

    Many have suggested an informational assembly, and maybe that's doable? But I know my anxiety stems from crowds (among other things), so gathering an entire school together to talk about me would about do me in, whether I was there or not.
    I would, however, talk to his teacher and the training agency you're getting the dog from - to see if you can arrange time for there to be a presentation for questions, answers, and basics on how to act around a service dog. That class will spread the information just by word of mouth. Kids like to talk. :)

    Good luck, and if I can offer any other insights to psych. service dogs please let me know! (kristin @ kpquepasa.com)

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  26. Well I am not really quick or whitty, so I don't have any suggestions but it looks like you have a few good ones here. The first fer made me laugh so hard!!

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  27. I definitely agree with you addressing his class as a whole and giving them the opportunity to ask all the questions they want. Then, as far as on a one on one basis outside of class, maybe he could say something like "Everyone has something different about them, and my difference is my brain sometimes goes turbo. I'm super lucky because my difference means I get to come to school with this awesome dog who is trained special for when I go turbo." If they have any more questions he can talk about what the dog is trained to do/ when. Capitalize on the fact that they kids are probably going to be more interested in a dog being in school than your son being different. The kids are going to think this service dog is the greatest thing since sliced bread and they're both going to be the hit of the school.

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  28. "Fur's a Helper Dog (or service dog?), and he helps me when I need it."

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  29. Way to go! What a fabulous idea & good for you both to be so proactive! Training service dogs for people who "don't look like they need it" is my absolute dream job & I'm hoping to start with a puppy soon for my autistic daughter.

    Maybe something as simple as "He's my blankie (security item, whichever is said/chosen) & helps me be able to be here with everyone." I'm not sure. I agree with another commentor about how he might run into jealousy issues from classmates (why do YOU get a dog & I don't?) - teacher training & guidance would hopefully help that. Good luck! You'll LOVE having the dog! You'll feel more relaxed with him around, too :-)

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  30. I have three special needs children (Autism and Epilepsy) and our family goes through this, though more with adults than kids.

    There are two types of situations we deal with nosy and/or rude people in: public places and in school. Even though the law does not require it in most states, we have a vest and patch on our dog. That helped. I also carry laminated copies of the law for those especially insistent adults in public. (Reminding store owners and employees that the ADA takes discrimination VERY seriously helps, too. Someone being uncomfortable with a dog in their facility does NOT trump the law. I have been known to say things like, "Well, I would NEVER sue, but I know there are other people who would, so you might need to hold a training on this!" *Big smile*)

    As for the school, it is not your child's job to educate his classmates. As a teacher myself, I can assure you that educating the classmates is the school's responsibility. Your son can simply say, "ask the teacher." IF he wants to say more, he can. Best of luck!

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  31. Shh! He doesn't realise he's a dog.

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  32. My 18 year old who is graduating from high school in a week, could really have used an anxiety dog. This is awesomesauce! In fact, she is sitting here asking if we can look into getting her one for college. Good luck! you have some great answers here. I remember watching an episode of a show about conjoined twins that were student teaching. When they introduced them to their student teaching class they gave the kids a chance to ask any question they had. After that the kids were like, Ok, fine let's go. So some frun one liners are good but the class introduction sounds like a good choice as well.

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  33. I don't want to scare you but in all honesty your son's classmates will probably accept whatever you tell them, but their parents will be who you have to worry about. I did not have a psychiatric disorder, but lived with my grandparents because my mother did and struggled to care for herself let alone me. My friends accepted that I lived with my grandparents as that was just the way it was but many parents DEMANDED to know why if they were going to allow their child to come over for a play date. So with that being said I would recommend a few things:
    1. Use the simplest answers possible. "Some people have difficulties that dogs can help with and he helps me feel and stay safe" type of thing. I can tell you from experience as the child who answered these kinds of questions and a teacher by profession that very few CHILDREN will push farther than that.
    2. I would tell him that if an adult asks for more, it is okay to tell them to ask you for more information. My grandparents did that for me and as a child that took a great pressure off of me.
    3. I like the idea of teachers talking to children to give them the rules, BUT I would give only the information that is necessary and I would try to be present for the talk even.
    4. If possible meet with the administration and teachers to explain what you want them to know and to establish that they are not to share information about your child without your consent.

    Number 4 may sound like pointing out the obvious, but in my experience it is necessary. I hope that helps, but honestly in my experience even through high school my friends accepted any answer I gave them and moved on. Adults on the other hand were often a different story, so if you do nothing else make sure that your son knows that it is okay to point nosy adults in your direction instead of answering them (he is not rude doing that, they are rude for prying!)

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  34. I have a son with a Spina Bifida, and one day I went to his class and he and I told the class all about SB (in really simplified terms) and about what he is good at and what challenges he has. By the end of it, everyone thought he was so cool for having SB! :) I wrote a blog post about it:
    http://whatnatesaidtoday.blogspot.com/2013/02/talking-to-nates-class-about-spina.html

    I don't know how old your son is, but I think you could make this a really special thing, where the first day you could bring the dog to school for a special time with his class, where you OR you and your son could talk about the dog and how he helps. Just to the class. Allow all the children to pet the dog and get it out of their system. Explain the rules and how they need to help your son teach other kids in the school about how to treat the dog. Then when your son brings the dog to school himself, they will all feel a part of it. One other suggestion is to write a letter to send home to the parents of the other kids explaining the situation in case their children have questions at home because they will no doubt go home talking about this and asking their parents questions that they have no idea how to answer. In general, both of these things normalize the experience for all of the kids and make them more accepting.

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  35. "I need someone with more intelligence than you to help me get through school"

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  36. Easy. "Sometimes I get nervous, and he makes me feel better."

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    Stop by my homepage - Arpa unu

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  38. I would say "He keeps me from needing a T-box," but as he is a kid in school, I would simply say that "He keeps me calm, just like any good friend does." I also have an anxiety disorder and was recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Luckily, I switched from my local high school *with over two and a half students* to a school with a max of 120 that usually has about 80 otherwise I might have needed a furry friend as well.

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  39. Ackward hug to you! I read this early this morning and have been thinking about you all day wishing I could say something helpful or kind. Thia just came to me right before I fell asleep. I think the letter home from school, intro to class is best for the majority but but strangers make a comment about HIPPA rules preventing your son from talking about Fur's special needs...

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  40. I think the long and the short of it is that people are inherently curious and are going to ask questions. As long as the dog is wearing a vest that states he is a working dog, that should be a sufficient answer. I've never heard of a state where is isn't necessary to have that vest on (one reader mentioned this), and if a dog is being brought into a place where other dogs aren't usually allowed, he should definitely have one on.

    My kids are still young, and if they see a dog, they want to pet it. Just yesterday we were in a fast food rest and a lady came in with a guide dog. I explained that she needs the dog to help her so she doesn't get hurt and she can do the same things as other people. She over heard our convo (I was trying to be discreet, but my 3 and 5 YOs don't know the meaning of the word), and said that she would make an exception and they could pet him. They were thrilled, but I was a little pissed because I was trying to teach them they had to leave that dog to his work! LOL! Oh well, her dog, her rules! LOL!

    So, I wouldn't sweat it. Make sure the teachers are informed and the parents as well. If they have a kid who is allergic, they should have the opportunity to switch to another class. Don't forget kids who might be REALLY scared of dogs, either. They have just as much right to a comfortable learning environment. (My cousin has a child who is severely, like will get an asthma attack severely, allergic to dogs.)

    Good luck! I foresee a wonderful school year ahead of you!

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    1. Just for clarification - there is no requirement for a dog to wear anything that identifies him or her as a service animal. There are many different jobs for working dogs, and some of them are best and most efficient when they do not wear a vest, collar, patch, etc. (some need to be off lead even.) This is a regulation outlined by the ADA nationally, not state by state.

      That all being said, it is WAY easier and causes less confusion for a dog who can to wear a vest while it's working. (I would venture a guess that a psych dog trained for anxiety can sport a vest) I've also found it super helpful to carry information with me on what rights a service dog has by the ADA (access to any public space their handler has access to) and what rights the establishment has (they may ask 2 questions - is he a service dog and what service does he provide, and if, god forbid, the dog is not properly groomed or is behaviorally disruptive to the business they can ask him to leave... though most people put too much work into their dog for this to be an issue).

      As far as the petting goes - I totally understand your frustrations with the guide dog, but sometimes it just makes me feel WAY less awkward/ un-normal (and then less anxious) to let a little kid pet my puppy if I can. As long as you ask first. Hopefully she explained a little bit about making sure asking is a requirement... I try to put that in when I talk to curious kids.

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  41. Definitely be open with the staff :) My daughter has Asperger's, and having open conversations about that with the staff have made her school life so great! The school is not allowed to talk about any kind of condition or disability to anyone unless YOU give consent.

    A service dog is a big deal, though...all the kids are going to be super excited at first, and then they will adjust. Kids are easy. The parents will almost all just accept whatever the kids say. Like, "Taco has a Fur because the dog is his helper." The End.

    And how about: Meet Fur, my new sidekick.

    Mommy fist bump for being proactive!!!

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  42. http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/psychiatric-service-dogs

    This post just came across my newsfeed about psychiatric dogs. Have a read!

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  43. We are currently raising a service dog-in-training and get ask all the time about it. It is mostly by the kind, curious people and I like to explain how much these dogs help and love their people. A lot of people ask which one of us she is helping (me or one of my three children) and I normally just say she is in training, but, at the same time, try to explain how inappropriate that question is.

    To answer the original question, I don't really have anything witty to say, but you may find that your son is now the coolest kid in school because he gets to have a dog! I like the open session in front of his class idea. Our organization actually has people who will come in and do a short program and show off some of the dogs skills to prepare the other kids so that your child isn't left trying to explain at the same time he is adjusting to the dog.

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  44. Nice put up here, Thanks for share this post with us...

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