Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), especially those on the severe end of the spectrum, experience heightened levels of anxiety due to sensory overload and challenges with social interaction. Dylan Gordon, a 10-year-old from Pennsylvania with severe, non-verbal autism, often experiences anxiety, but thankfully has a strong source of comfort: his best friend and service dog, Rader.
According to a report this month by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rader was trained and placed with Dylan by UDS Service Dogs, a Lancaster-based organization. Kristina Conrad, UDS’s program coordinator, said Dylan’s inability to communicate verbally and other autism symptoms “kept him kind of independent from his family.” With Rader, Dylan now has an outlet for friendship and social bonding. In addition to feeding and brushing Rader, Dylan is now learning to use an adaptive speech device to give the dog commands.
After Dylan’s autism diagnosis at 18 months old, his mother, Jamie Gordon, immediately began ensuring he received therapies, such as speech and physical treatments. Gordon also quit her office job to care for Dylan, and now does freelance legal work from home. When Dylan turned 6 and became eligible for a service dog, his mother placed him on a waiting list. According to Philadelphia Inquirer, 85% of UDS’s dogs are (like Rader) Labrador Retrievers, though Labradoodles and poodles are also trained. Training one dog costs about $25,000, and families are generally expected to raise about $5,000 of the cost. Rader and Dylan were connected through a partnership between the Pennsylvania chapter of the Porsche Club of America and the nonprofit Eyal’s Flowers, founded in honor of Eyal Sherman, who spent most of his life as a quadriplegic and passed away in 2017 at age 36.
Eyal’s father, Rabbi Charles Sherman, acknowledged that, while Rader “doesn’t erase all of [Dylan’s] challenges,” the dog has allowed his mother to relax and created normalcy in the household.
“It seems now that there are moments when she can sit back,” Sherman was quoted as saying. “This dog helps create some normalcy. It takes the extraordinary and makes it more ordinary.”
Jamie Gordon said the name Rader, which the dog came with and which means “wheels” in German, is a fitting one, given the service he provides.
“It’s so appropriate because I think of Rader as Dylan’s wheels,” Gordon was quoted as saying. “He helps him go.”