Ben Nickell, 12, wasn't always able to go on long car rides, attend football games, talk, and have some what of a social life.
In fact, before Betty, Ben's 60-pound Labrador Boxer mix service dog, came into his life, he didn't do much at all.
Instead of playing outside, Ben, who is a child with autism, would rock in a chair, didn't like going outside and never really showed any affection towards his parents. And when Ben's parents did try to take him out in public it was never before long when he would have a meltdown.
In return, Ben's parents didn't have much of a social life either. They spent their days inside trying to make their autistic son as comfortable as possible. And when they tried to attend their oldest son's football games with Ben, he would go into a rage.
However, a lot of that changed two years ago when Ben was about 9 years old and his parents decided to get him a service dog. After they adopted Betty from Assistance Dogs of America their lives were never the same.
"Betty has been a real blessing with us. Having her has made it so we can go to ball games and go out in public," said Walt Nickell, Ben's dad. "With Betty we have been able to broaden Ben's world so much."
In two years not only has Betty been able to keep Ben from drifting off while playing outside, but he also goes to football games, out to dinner, has started to speak and can handle long car rides as long as Betty is by his side.
Experts believe the reason service dogs have been able to help children with autism so much is because it allows the child with the dog to take the focus off them.
"They (dogs) give the kids a sense of responsibility so they can be aware of other things outside its self," said Jenny Barlos, client services director for Assistance Dogs of America, which is located in Ohio. "With the over stimulation of the sensory like hearing and sight, having a dog to just hold onto the ear or head allows the child to focus on something outside of them."
Before Betty came into Ben's life his parents didn't believe Ben would make it through high school or into college. But now with Betty, they can see Ben turning into a young man one day.
"I can see him staying in school. I can see him utilizing a service dog for sign language so he can cross streets, go into a restaurant and get food," said Nickell. "Having Betty has opened up the possibility of him opening up and doing things on his own where before he couldn't do."
By Monique Mattiace
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