GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It's a diagnosis no parent wants to hear. Your child has autism.

The reality is one 59 children will be diagnosed this year, according 2018 CDC numbers. And while there are many therapies for children with autism, one of the best may come with four paws.

“Since we've had Indy the gains that he's made are unbelievable," said Jamie Ritcher, whose 12-year-old Max has autism. "He understands like when Max is struggling and he'll even come and put his head on his knee or rest his head on his foot."

For five years their Paws With A Cause service dog Indy has been by Max's side helping him share experiences his family thought would never be possible. 

"We recently went away for spring break and we were out of state and it was all new environment. Even going from like a different Meijer is a big deal for us so he was really helpful navigating through our vacation and being able to help the family experience new experiences," Ritcher said.

Indy is a specially trained service dog for children with Autism through Paws With A Cause.

Jamie was surprised at the effort that goes into making sure each child gets a perfectly matched service dog. 

“I thought they just matched like kid No. 37 to dog No. 37 and they were good to go, and I didn't really realize how much they personalized that bond."

Paws also personalizes the training, and it begins with making sure a Paws puppy has the right behavior. 

“We want the dogs that are very playful, that are interactively playful," said Ann Post, a Paws With a Cause trainer. "They want to reengage with you they want to keep coming back so that kids can do fetch with them and play with them in different ways."

Post has screened dozens of Paws service dogs for autism. 

"We want dogs that don't startle if a door slams or if a child screams."

Post put 13 on Your Side Paws With A Cause Puppy Rae through some of the screening techniques used for potential service dogs with autism.

"She's very comfortable in my space. This isn't good or bad in what we're looking for. We want to see how the dogs do when we hug them. Do they tolerate it, do they freak out? What's their reaction? Thank you. I'm going to pull her tail. What did she do? She turned around and she put her mouth on her tail, but she didn't grab my hand. That's very nice. We want to see what the dogs will do. Will they come back for more? Will they leave and stay in the perimeter. Will they not re-engage at all because they really were offended by that? Yeah good girl. So, she comes back. She actually tested pretty good for that I liked a lot of the things that I saw with her. So, these are some of the things that we take into consideration when we look at an SDA dog.", says Post.

Rae is only 9 months old, and her full evaluation won't happen until she is almost two years old. But if she passes, she would be trained to get matched with a child who needs her, just like Max needs Indy.

Right now Paws With A Cause is holding its open enrollment for service dogs with Autism. If you have a child with autism you think would benefit from a service dog now is your time to sign up. The just must be 7 years old or younger.

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