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Ethan & Pika

A boy and his service dog
“She helps me calm down”

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, we bring you the story of Ethan, a 9-year-old boy who loves to play Minecraft video games and has been diagnosed with autism. Ethan was matched with an FSD service dog named Pika through our Disco’s Dogs program, which provides service dogs at no charge for children and young adults with autism and other neurocognitive disabilities.

Ethan’s father and mother, Bryce and Emily, had seen service dogs in action before but hadn’t realized they could be trained to help children with autism like their son. Says Bryce, “It really gave us a lot of hope for Ethan’s future, that she can help him overcome a lot of the difficulties and awkwardness that he faces because of autism. We’re hoping she will help him when he gets upset and frustrated, and she’ll be able to nudge him and help him change his thought process so he can calm down a little bit and redirect his focus onto her instead of what’s upsetting him.”

When Ethan graduated with Pika in late 2020, Bryce said, “I think Pika will change our lives, because I’ve already started to see small pieces of change. She can help him get out of the downward spirals, which really allows him to focus on other aspects. He’s learning a lot of different coping skills through all the other therapies that he’s going through, and she’s going to be another tool to help him before he gets too worked up.”

Now that Ethan and Pika have been a team for four months, Bryce sees other positive changes as well. “Pika really helps Ethan open up to his peers, which is a struggle for him. When I took Pika to pick him up from school one day, he was excited to introduce his classmates to her, and it was a good chance for Ethan to explain that she helps him. Ethan has also seen marked growth in his individualized education plan (IEP) goals, and it’s been great to hear his school talk about how they can see the difference in his progress since getting Pika.”

And what does Ethan have to say about his new “little buddy”? “Pika helps me calm down, and she comforts me and makes me laugh, and I love her so much.”

This team was sponsored by Dr. Marty Pets.

Learn more about our Disco’s Dogs program for individuals age 5 and older with autism and other neurocognitive disabilities.

Contact Erin Conley at [email protected]freedomservicedogs.org for all media inquiries.