Cedar Falls family learns value of autism therapy dog - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Cedar Falls family learns value of autism therapy dog


One in 88 kids now falls somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Each child has unique needs, but typically autism includes social challenges, which can be hard to treat.  One eastern Iowa family is now working with a new kind of therapy for their autistic son.

Five-year-old Tristan Kuhn looks like a regular kid enjoying his dog, but his special dog helps  with the special needs of his autism

"We are constantly in survival mode, worried about his every move.  The few times we've taken our eyes off of him, a door was unlocked.  He's running.  So we're always on guard and on edge," said Tristan's mother, Lori Kuhn.

But Lori and her husband Mason are able to be a bit more at ease now, thanks to their son's new service dog, a black lab named Tu.

"He's just calmer.  I don't even know how to describe it.  You'd have to know Tristan before Tu's been here.  It's like he's a completely different child," said Lori Kuhn.

The Kuhns first thought about getting a pet for Tristan after seeing how well he did with a relative's dog.  But after doing some research, they discovered Retrieving Freedom, based in Waverly.  The non-profit organization specializes in training autism therapy dogs like Tu, along with dogs for veterans suffering post traumatic stress.

For the Kuhns, Tu's given them a whole new lease on life.  Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store used to be almost unmanageable for the family.  But with Tristan's new service dog, it's a part of their regular routine.

"Now if he ever does run away from the dog, we just tell him, 'Go back to Tu.'  And it's almost just, 'Oh.  I'm going back to my friend.  This is no big deal.'  He's not as upset and doesn't get worked up, and that helps our stress level quite a bit as well," said Mason Kuhn, Tristan's father.

Being harnessed to Tu in public also helps Tristan with his social skills, which are challenging with autism.

"People will say, 'Hey is that your dog?'  'Yeah!'  He lights up and gets to say, 'Yeah!  This is Tu.  This is my dog.'  That's a huge thing for a child like that because next thing you know they're talking to somebody else, and you're building this communication skill set that before you might not have," said Scott Dewey, Retrieving Freedom trainer.

Now this family hopes their success story will help educate other families about a kind of autism therapy that's changed their lives, and helped their son in ways they never thought possible

Families receiving dogs typically fundraiser about $5800 dollars before getting them.  Retrieving Freedom uses grants, its own fundraising, and donations to cover the rest of the more than $20,000 needed to train each animal. 

Learn more about Retrieving Freedom here.

Learn more about autism here.

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