By Tara Parker-Pope
A legal battle in New York City highlights the healing power of dogs for children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Manhattan federal prosecutors have accused the owners of an Upper East Side residence of discriminating against 11-year-old Aaron Schein by preventing him from having a dog, The New York Daily News reports. Aaron has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, often considered a high-functioning form of autism, and his doctors believe a service dog will relieve anxiety and help him cope with the disorder. People with Asperger’s usually have average or above-average intelligence, but they lack the intuitive ability to read social cues and find it difficult to make friends and form relationships.
According to the newspaper, a lawsuit claims the building owners violated the Fair Housing Act by imposing unreasonable demands on Aaron’s parents before allowing a dog. “It is not right or legal for landlords to dictate the unreasonable terms and conditions by which persons with disabilities should live their lives,” said Kim Kendrick, an assistant secretary for the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, to the newspaper. After Aaron’s parents asked the co-op board to make an exception to the building’s strict no-pets rule, the building placed stringent conditions on the family. Among the restrictions reportedly imposed by the building: the dog couldn’t be left alone for more than two hours, it would have to be taken in and out of the building on a service elevator, monitoring of dog walkers who might take it for a stroll, and $1 million in liability insurance for any injury or property damage caused by the dog. A company-hired doctor reportedly agreed the dog was medically necessary. The family is asking a judge to allow them to bring the dog home and award monetary damages because Aaron was discriminated against under the Americans With Disabilities Act, The Daily News reports.
To learn more about the role dogs can play in helping children with autism and Asperger’s, go to the Web sites of 4 Paws for Ability and Autism Service Dogs of America. This YouTube video highlights the story of one family who opted for a service dog for their child with autism.