Special needs students get help from therapy dog

First-of-its-kind program in Central Florida schools

ORLANDO, Fla. - For special needs students, things like reading, writing, math, and even just moving around can all be a challenge.

But now, a unique new program in Central Florida is getting them up, and giving them a chance to grow. Teachers say is showing big results.

The secret is a therapy dog named Newton, who helps these kids stay active.

Newton is a four-year-old Golden Retriever-Lab mix that comes from Canine Companions -- the same group that provides therapy dogs to senior citizens and people with disabilities.

At Sadler Elementary School in Orlando, Newton is the star of Adapted Physical Education, a gym class that's designed specifically for special needs students.

"We slow the process down a little bit, we make it a little easier," says Steve Miller, the Adapted P.E. teacher here, and Newton's handler. "They can do many things, but following directions is usually a little more challenging than the regular ed kids."

This class is a mix of exercise and mental stimulation, like brain games and life lessons.

Miller runs the show, while Newton mostly just hangs out while the kids work out. Still, these students count on him for an extra layer of support.

"Newton is like a very special treat for them," says Miller. "Their behavior, their attention, their comfort all goes up and increases."

This is the first year that Sadler Elementary has used a therapy dog. Someone who's seen a big change in these students is Dr. Millie Rivera, the principal at the school.

"They love it, the kids have become more verbal, they've become more active," says Dr. Rivera. "Some children don't have pets at home, and they see this and they're like, wow it's a pet, it's a dog, there's a relationship with this animal."

Right now, this free service is only being used in Orange County schools. But Canine Companions says it hopes to expand to other local counties in the near future.

If you want to learn more about getting a therapy dog in your child's school, visit the website for Canine Companions by clicking here.

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