Jennifer Anderson lives in South Charleston, West Virginia with her two sons, Porter and Preston. She also has a dog named Rudy. In her spare time, Jennifer enjoys church, spending time with friends, and traveling. Jennifer is an autism advocate, educator, and community supporter. She previously worked as a special education teacher for students with autism. She now is the Autism Coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education. In this role, Jennifer creates professional development training and provides guidance for teachers and other school staff working with children with autism.
As an Autism Coordinator, Jennifer is very knowledgeable about how to support students with autism. With her experiences, she has gained valuable insight into the challenges that students with autism face. These challenges include difficulties with sensory integration, communication challenges, deficits in social skills, and behavioral issues all of which can be exacerbated by a shortage of trained staff, limited funding for resources and support, and limited understanding and acceptance of autism. As an autism advocate, Jennifer strives to address these issues. Jennifer is seeking a facility dog to partner with her in her position as the Autism Coordinator. She knows that a facility dog from Good Dog! Service Canines will be a great contribution to the team.
Jennifer has experienced firsthand the important role that a specially trained dog can play in a school setting for students with autism. From 2017-2018, Jennifer worked with a facility dog, Sully, who is a Good Dog!
Jennifer describes the impact of Sully on a classroom setting as “magical.” Jennifer reported that “dogs are intuitive”, Sully knew what the children needed and when they needed it. For example, Sully remained calm when a child needed a calm being in their environment. Sully could also help with transitions from one activity to the other. Sully provided deep pressure input through the “lay” command which is a technique used to calm the nervous system. Because Sully understood what a student needed and when he contributed to decreased unsafe behaviors in the classroom.
There are so many ways that a dog like Sully can help the school environment. Sully could sit at children’s feet who had difficulty sitting for lunch in the cafeteria. Sully also provided opportunities for students to learn about animals. Students could talk about the color of Sully, the feeling of Sully, and stories about Sully were used for educational purposes. Sully also provided unique opportunities for physical activity. For example, Sully engaged in yoga with students. Jennifer reported that she noticed a significant difference in a student's ability to stay on a mat and attend to a task for a yoga activity when Sully was present. Jennifer also reports that Sully provided a natural bridge to socialization for the children that she worked with.
Difficulties in social interaction and communication are key challenges associated with autism. However, there is a significant amount of research confirming the beneficial effects of dogs on social interaction for children with autism (O’Haire, 2017). Jennifer’s future dog will have a large impact on a major challenge experienced by students with autism. Jennifer and her future dog will also raise more awareness of the important role of facility dogs for students with autism.
Jennifer is currently in the fundraising phase to get a facility dog from Good Dog! She plans to bring along her dog to do training for schools in West Virginia. One way that having a Good Dog along for training would be to provide education on how a facility dog could positively impact a school. A facility dog could also help demonstrate the many ways that a specially trained dog can help children with special needs.
Partnering with her future Good Dog!, Jennifer will provide training regarding techniques and strategies that teachers can use when interacting with students with autism. Jennifer explained that teachers may learn a lot about dogs' interactions with students that they could then apply to the way they interact with students. A dog has a natural sense of when a child may need space compared to when they may need sensory input applied through deep pressure input. Teachers need to be calm when interacting with a child in distress. Dogs understand this and can model this interaction.
Having a facility dog from Good Dog! will provide many benefits to schools throughout West Virginia. Follow the link below to help make a difference for the students, families, and teachers in West Virginia.
O’Haire, M. O. (2017). Research on animal-assisted intervention and autism spectrum disorder, 2012-2015. Applied Developmental Science, 21(3), 200-216.