Aiko helps Aiden tackle barriers of autism
Eleven-year-old Aiden is a typical boy when it comes to the things he loves: science (especially dinosaurs and fossils), animals, backyard campouts, making TikTok videos, and spending time playing fetch and exploring new places with his golden retriever, Aiko.
Aiko is not a typical dog, however. She is a custom-trained service dog who graduated with Aiden from Freedom Service Dogs in December 2018. Since that time, Aiko has made it possible for Aiden to tackle many barriers associated with his autism, helping the young boy not only accomplish his goals, but also accept and take pride in his uniqueness.
Aiden and his mother, Marcelle, attended FSD’s Disco’s Dogs program, which is designed for families of individuals age 5 and older with autism and other neurocognitive disabilities. During the six-month program, the family worked alongside FSD trainers to teach Aiko cues that would allow her to assist Aiden with mood regulation, social-emotional skills, sensory processing, and independent living skills.
During the past two years, Aiden has worked extremely hard with Aiko on very specific goals to make them an even stronger team. He helps train Aiko in new tasks, plans their week together with regard to physical exercise, feeding, mental games, prioritizing and practicing skills, and setting routines, and prepares carefully for their public outings.
In March, Aiden and Aiko achieved an important goal that was six years in the making when Aiden crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. Says Marcelle, “I can honestly say that Aiko has been a treasure throughout this process! She has assisted Aiden in accomplishing his goals and pushing through. Together they have made Aiden’s aspirations come true and are continuing to do so daily. Our family worked hard on this endeavor, and we are grateful Aiko is part of our family and this achievement. I’m so proud of them both!”
Marcelle says that Aiko has positively impacted Aiden’s life in many other ways as well. “She has helped make lasting friendships possible for Aiden, helped him tackle barriers head on and celebrate his accomplishments, and is building his self-confidence daily. She has even helped Aiden accept and be proud of his uniqueness—autism! He is proud of this, and I know I would not have been able to say this just a few years ago, as he is learning more about himself and the great things he has to offer those around him and our community. Above all else, Aiden enjoys having his best friend and partner in life.”