Assistance dog a godsend for local Grade 1 student

Levi the autism assistance service dog and Grade 1 student Emily Ainsworth are ready to show people what they can accomplish together.

Emily Ainsworth

Emily Ainsworth

Levi the autism assistance service dog and Grade 1 student Emily Ainsworth are ready to show people what they can accomplish together.

Monday was their first day of class at Joseph Welsh Elementary School, but the pair was introduced at a school assembly two weeks ago where students learned Levi is a working dog so they can only interact with him under special circumstances. They can’t pet him, call him or whistle at him. But they can wave.

That’s all the young audience needed to hear.

“The entire gym started waving. It was so cute. And when I left, 350 little hands waved — Bye Levi,” said Emily’s mother Alison Ainsworth on Monday.

Levi, a Labradoodle, has been at Emily’s side for 1.5 years.

Autism assistance dogs are helping out in unique ways, the same as diabetic alert dogs and epileptic response dogs. Internationally, dogs for autism are popular, but there still aren’t many in Canada, Ainsworth said.

Emily’s service dog helps her to interpret safety and danger, and differentiate between cause and effect.

In public, she is tethered to him by a belt around her waist to prevent her from bolting out into traffic.

Levi will protect Emily, who is seven but looks like she is four, from predators and can track her if she gets lost.

“He has alerting capabilities too. His body movements, his mannerisms will tell you if she’s feeling stressed or anxious or if she’s going to have a meltdown,” the mom said.

“He has a calming influence on her by touching her or rubbing up against her to provide soothing sensory.”

The family recently moved from Medicine Hat. Last year, Levi and Emily were featured on The Larry King Live show on World Autism Awareness Day.

Ainsworth said called Levi a bridge to the world for both Emily and her family due to the limits autism puts on a family.

“He’s given her the opportunity to experience things that she can grow and benefit from so she can one day become a productive member of society.

“What he’s done is opened doors for us and given us access not just to the community, but to our life.”

Thursday April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com