The Fox family has a new dog however the addition to the family is no pet. Electra is an autism support dog.
Kim and Ken Fox have five children, all daughters and Kyra is the youngest.
At a very young age Kyra’s parents realized that there was something different about her. At 18 months old, Kyra, who is now 10, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Kim said that there were many diagnosis made but autism fits. Kyra has also been diagnosed as having dyspraxia meaning she has sensory processing difficulties and she is non-verbal. She has learned to use a set of signs, similar to sign language, to communicate with friends, family and her aides.
The Fox family has recently welcomed a new aide for Kyra into their family, a two-year-old golden lab named Electra. Electra is a fully certified autism support dog trained specifically to work with children like Kyra.
It was through the Autism Society and Aspire Special Needs Resource Centre in Red Deer, formerly known as Children’s Services Centre, that the Foxes came to learn about autism support dogs. There was one coming available in Alberta and the centres were searching for a family in need.
Kim used to be the president of the Autism Society and she was approached to see if she knew of a family that would qualify for this specially trained animal.
Kyra’s family had recently started to look for such an animal for her. They were looking for a dog that would help with socialization, behaviour, to help identify when Kyra is going to have a seizure and stop her when she wants to run away as she often does in stressful situations.
“The dog is all about the safety aspect,” said Kim.
Before Electra came into the picture the Foxes would often have to avoid public places because they could not predict Kyra’s behaviour when it came to sensory overload.
Having Electra helps to ground Kyra and keeps her safe.
“That is one of the biggest things we have seen different with her and the dog, Electra seems to be able to regulate Kyra and help her manage herself,” said Kim. “That is just unheard of in our world.”
When it came to training it was not just Electra who needed to learn the ins and outs of being a support dog. The family members and aides needed just as much education as the dog did. The training is not complete even after the graduation because the dogs must get re-tested every year to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
After the Foxes and Electra graduated from the training process, the family got to take Kyra’s newest aide to her new home. Electra now lives with the Fox family and is with Kyra full-time. The two even share the same bed.
Kim explains that even going to bed can be difficult for Kyra as her senses are overloaded from sounds in an out of the home. Having Electra in the bed providing physical comfort makes it easier for Kyra to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Outside of the house Electra will not only be a friend for Kyra but will help her create social bridges for other children to stay in touch and involved with Kyra as she grows older.
This is opening a whole new world for their family and for Kyra’s aides. She will be going into Grade 4 at Joseph Welsh Elementary School and Electra will be going to school with her by January after Kyra’s school aide has been trained to work with the dog.
Kyra loves school. She loves to socialize and she loves structure. School provides both for her, said her mother.
“Our goal is for Kyra is to be as independent as she possibly can be and Electra is going to help her do that,” said Ken.
For more information, visit www.albertaguidedog.com.