Boy diagnosed as autistic set to receive service dog

Slater Gibson already has two small dogs, a very large cat, three older siblings and two parents to keep him company.

Slater Gibson

BSlater Gibson already has two small dogs, a very large cat, three older siblings and two parents to keep him company.

Sometime next year, his family will grow by four more paws.

The 11-year-old boy, described as profoundly autistic, will receive an around-the-clock service dog — thanks to Ontario-based National Service Dogs and widespread community support.

Tracy and Mike Gibson of Penhold can’t wait to welcome the specially trained pet after being on a waiting list for about three years.

“It’s going to change Slater’s life because it will offer him companionship, security,” said Tracy.

At 18 months old, Slater was diagnosed with autism, a brain disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour.

Slater says a few single words, but otherwise doesn’t talk. He communicates through various ways, including the use of small picture cards. He understands simple language.

He loves Barney, the animated dinosaur, and “all things that spin.”

With the help of a speech therapist, a community and behavioural aide, and homeschooling, Slater is making strides.

“Our whole goal is to pull him out of his world and into ours,” said Tracy.

Three years ago, the Gibsons learned about National Service Dogs which trains labrador and golden retrievers to care for children with autism and special needs. The dog gets accustomed to wearing a vest with a handle that the child holds onto. The child will have a lead around their waist, while an adult can hold a leash to control the dog.

“A lot of autistic children will bolt when they leave a car or a home,” said Tracy. “A dog will prevent this from happening.”

Dogs used in therapy often decrease an individual’s stress and increases overall well-being.

“Slater has extreme anxiety and is afraid of anything new, so this dog will help ease that transition,” said Tracy, a stay-at-home mom. “And right now I am that transition. . . and sometimes I get a little sleep-deprived.”

Mike travels back and forth from Russia where he works. They are busy raising an 18-year-old son, and two daughters aged 12 and 18.

The trained dog should increase everyone’s freedom.

“We’re a supportive unit and come together for Slater’s needs,” said Tracy.

Once training is near done, Tracy will fly to Ontario where she will work with the dog for a week. A trainer will spend some time with the family, too.

The Gibsons have been raising cash at the charity’s request.

“If you don’t (raise the money), you still get a dog,” said Tracy. “We raised $30,000 and then some, so the extra money will go to the next child in line.”

Family and friends collected money.

Mike’s employer, Trican Well Service, along with Nestle Purina Petcare in Innisfail, each donated $5,000. Red Deer’s Petland store has raised several thousand dollars through its annual Paws for Autism campaign.

Milkbone and Walmart teamed up in Edmonton to donate $18,000. The family will receive the cheque on Oct. 22, with National Service Dogs executive director Danielle Forbes in attendance.

“The community support has been great,” said Tracy. “We are eternally grateful.”

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