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Feel-good story: Colorado prison-trained dog turned autistic boy’s life around

Susy Tucker marks the time her autistic son, Zach, began hugging her again — after a lapse of four years — by the arrival of Clyde, a chocolate Labrador trained behind bars by a convicted killer.

Within three weeks of Clyde’s arrival at the Tuckers’ home in Colorado Springs, Zach went from petting his dog to wrapping his arms around his mother. It was a stunning moment, one of many to follow. The boy who once grimaced and whined at any skin-to-skin contact had learned the warmth of touching from a dog.

Zach and Clyde’s story is one of redemption — of how a rescue dog, a prisoner and a boy learned empathy and understanding from one another.

Zach’s parents had run out of ideas and were skeptical when they stepped into the visiting room at the high-security Sterling prison in June 2011. They were just desperate enough to explore inmate Christopher Vogt’s hunch that he could help their son emerge from his shell.

In prison, Vogt learned to train service dogs for disabled people, and over the course of a decade he has trained scores of dogs that have lived, one at a time, in a cage in his cell.

He later read books about autism and eventually won permission from prison officials to try to train dogs for kids.

The experiment has been a shining success, said Debi Stevens, director of the Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program.

Since Tucker took Clyde home,

Read more: Colorado prison-trained dog turned autistic boy’s life around – The Denver Post  Kirk Mitchell.

Help for autistic kids

The lives of thousands of Colorado’s autistic children and their parents just got a little easier — and it’s about time. On July 1, Colorado became the 12th state in the nation to reform insurance coverage for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It is now state law that private group health insurance providers cover a range of treatments — including speech and physical therapy — for patients with ASD.

The law, known as HIMAT (Health Insurance Mandated Autism Treatment), prescribes applied behavioral analysis (ABA) as the legally mandated treatment approach.

ABA aims to teach socially acceptable behaviors, such as appropriate eye contact, to give autistic kids a better shot at developing into higher-functioning adults. These pragmatic therapies must be delivered by certified specialists, and parents can now appeal to the Division of Insurance if a company denies treatment.

“This is a tremendous step in the right direction for families who have been devastated by this diagnosis,” said Dr. David Hatfield, director of the Colorado Coalition of Autism Professionals, which helped design the law.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says autism affects one in 110 children. Hatfield estimates at least 10,000 autistic kids are covered by group health insurance plans in Colorado. Unfortunately, HIMAT will not benefit autistic children who don’t have health care coverage, or who have coverage through certain private non-group plans.

Implementing this law will not be cheap for insurance companies, costing up to