Program helps autistic children turn skill with canines into jobs

A new program in North Austin aims to turn autistic children’s talent with canines into careers.

Austin Dog Alliance Executive Director Debi Krakar and others already run a program that uses dogs to calm autistic children and teach them social skills.

During the program they saw advantages that students could bring to a job.

“Kids on the (autism) spectrum a lot of times are very, very particular with details — and they don’t miss anything,” Krakar said.

In the social skills class, students would notice subtle signals between dogs, often before two would fight.

“They’re not going to miss it,” Krakar said. “They see the details people typically won’t see.”

Over the past two years, about 60 students with autism have graduated from the Austin Dog Alliance social skills program, but many needed a next step to get them into the workforce, Krakar said.

With that in mind, the alliance has started a program to teach the students what they need to know to land — and keep — a job.

The program starts Sept. 20 and is currently accepting applications.

The program still uses dogs to calm the students, but participants will also learn interviewing skills and more about dogs, including body language, breeds and diseases.

This will be the first session for the program, but the alliance has already landed one student a job at an Austin veterinary clinic after she spent two years assisting with dog care and observing teeth cleanings, surgeries and other vet duties.

The alliance will work with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services to get program funding, Krakar said.

Job counselors across the state will have information about the program to point individuals with autism in their direction.

Krakar said part of the program’s goal will also be to educate employers about the benefits of hiring those on the autism spectrum.

“They’re very rule-based, which makes them very reliable,” Krakar said. “Sometimes they’re fun to have around, too, because they see the world in a different way.”

Program helps autistic children turn skill with canines into jobs.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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