Meet Amanda Bryson - the inspiring, mighty force who serves as Good Dog's Family Services Director. When she's not busy supporting Good Dog! Families, she is a fierce autism advocate putting her teacher's license to good use by working as a middle school paraeducator. A long-time active-duty military spouse with 20 years under her belt (and quite a few moves!), Amanda and her husband are now based in Nebraska along with their two sons, Brett (14) and Cade(16). She is a true believer that service canines change lives because she's seen it firsthand as a Good Dog! mom to Charlie, who helps Cade mitigate autism, epilepsy, intellectual disability, and other complex medical issues.
Amanda's passion for helping other Good Dog! families is fueled by the memory of what life was like before Charlie ...
Cade, Amanda’s son, is very attached to her, and separating from her was extremely challenging when he was younger and before he got his service dog, Charlie. This made going to school incredibly difficult. Cade would have meltdowns every morning. Amanda and her family’s life were about to change forever when her husband was at the airport in 2015 and saw a service dog and an individual with autism’s interaction. At this time, their family needed something to support Cade in the challenges that he experienced. After Amanda’s husband's experience at the airport, Amanda and her family sought to obtain an autism service dog. They contacted two potential organizations to get Cade’s new best friend. Good Dog Service Canines! was chosen after a conversation with Laura, and the family feels that she provided. Amanda also was amazed by the extraordinary matching process that Good Dog Service Canines implements.
The matching process involves considering multiple factors including the primary dog handler and the future service dog’s personality. See the post linked here regarding the matching process. Amanda’s personality matched Charlie’s. It took an extra 6 months to obtain the right dog for Amanda’s family, but this was worth it. Amanda quickly bonded with Charlie, and this transitioned to Cade’s bond with Charlie. Once Amanda’s family obtained Charlie, Cade’s transitions to school and participation in school changed drastically.
Not only does Charlie help Cade at school but she helps him socially in many ways. Amanda believes that having Charlie’s friendship also changed the way that Cade felt about himself. Their family used to avoid going to many places. They missed out on many social interaction opportunities that required being in stimulating environments like going to happy hours or birthday parties because of the likelihood of a stimulating environment resulting in Cade having a meltdown.
Amanda has specific memories of meltdowns in public where people would stare at Cade in a rude and unaccepting way when he was in distress. However, Charlie now serves as a social indicator that something is going on with Cade, and they no longer experience the looks of strangers that they once had. Charlie is also trained to provide deep pressure with lay-on command. This technique has been successful in improving Cade’s regulation when environments become overstimulating. This has made it easier for the family to participate in outings that they once avoided.
Charlie was the first service dog in the school district in which Cade goes to school. She was even in the newspaper. Having Charlie at school provided a bridge to many social interaction opportunities for Cade. This helped him create relationships with peers. Kids are excited to see dogs at school which allowed opportunities for Cade to meet other students who have similar interests as him. Because students were excited to learn about Charlie, they were also excited to get to know Cade.
Cade is a sweet, caring, and empathetic individual. Unlike some individuals on the spectrum, Cade is very social. He really likes being social and being a part of things. Oftentimes, individuals on the spectrum have a particular focus. Cade has a strong interest in many types of sports and has a unique talent for remembering facts related to sports. This contributes to social interactions because many kids his age also have this interest. While Cade is unable to participate in sports physically, he helps with Junior Varsity football and baseball and has also helped with Freshman basketball.
While Charlie has helped Case socially in many ways, Charlie also provides a way for Cade to self-regulate. This assists with him being able to fall asleep. The deep pressure input applied by Charlie laying on Cade helps him fall asleep. In the community or at school, Charlie can also apply this technique to help Cade feel calmer. Additionally, petting Charlie’s ears and neck also has a similar regulating effect.
Amanda has a thorough understanding of how much a service dog can help individuals with autism. Having a specially trained service dog can enhance participation in school, provide opportunities for social interaction, assist with sleep, and can help with self-regulation, all of which can improve quality of life. Amanda urges families seeking a dog to not shy away because of the weight and cost of obtaining a dog. With any reputable organization, it can take two years or more to obtain a dog. The fundraising guidance provided by Good Dog! makes obtaining funds within this timeframe feasible.