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Service dogs can help autistic children: study

MONTREAL – A new study released by the MIRA Foundation shows that pairing assistance dogs with autistic children could reduce stress for the entire family.

Eric Beaudoin has two boys with autism. He was among 120 families who participated in the study, and says their lives have changed drastically since they brought Morgan, a black Labrador, into their home.

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“She’s like a super hero to us, super Morgan,” he told Global News.

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He and his wife remember the exact date, October 29, 2012, when their son Olivier slept through the whole night for the first time. Morgan stayed in bed with him and unlike every other night of his life, Olivier did not suffer a night terror.

His younger brother, Matthew, has become a better communicator since being introduced to his new furry friend.

Those are just a few of the results Quebec researchers found throughout the study. It involved measuring the levels of cortisol, the hormone released in response to stress, before a dog was introduced to the family and after.

“The families that didn’t have a dog, their stress levels went up on a 10 month period,” said psycho-educator Stephanie Fecteau. “Families with a dog—their stress levels went down.”

She adds that the dog would serve as a calming presence in the home. Not only did they find parents were less stressed, they noticed the child’s tantrums were less frequent and less intense.

“When the parent uses the dog to deal with tantrums, the parent will say, ‘va voir’ and they ask the dog to go see the child…and sometimes they’ll lick their face because the tears are salty so the child isn’t screaming anymore, but starts laughing,” Facteau explained.

Some researchers say the findings are groundbreaking.

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“I never saw such a very large decrease. I never thought a human body could have such a decrease in stress hormones,” said Sonia Lupien, a Neuropsychologist who has been studying stress levels for more than 20 years.

MIRA announced on Monday that because of the results, they plan on training 60 more dogs over the next two years to help families with autistic children.

“We have the feeling we’re a bit of a normal family because we have time for us. To do something before was impossible,” said Eric Beaudoin.

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