Ben Flores

Friday, March 17, 2017

In Focus episode 1: Service dog helps woman navigate life with autism

In the first episode of In Focus, producer Ben Flores talks with 25-year-old Lynsie Andreasky about living with autism. Lynsie was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when she was 16. Since then, she has faced a lot of challenges, including depression and overwhelming anxiety. Lynsie shares her personal story and how she has overcome challenges thanks to a service dog named Kaycee. We learn how even the smallest dogs are trained to help reduce anxiety and facilitate social interaction.

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Autism is a condition that occurs in one in every 64 people born in Arizona , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is often called an “invisible disability.” At a quick glance, it may be hard to identify someone who has autism.

On the inside, however, anxiety, social processing issues and other symptoms can make life for someone with autism extremely challenging.

These are challenges 25-year-old Lynsie Andreasky knows well. She was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when she was 16.

During an interview with Lynsie’s mother, Trish Andreasky, a special education teacher in Chino Valley, Lynsie sits at a table in her mother’s classroom. (Photo by Johana Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Lynsie has struggled with anxiety, social processing disorder and depression. Going out in public places was too overwhelming. She rarely left home without a parent with her.

But two years ago everything changed.

A six-year-old service dog named Kaycee came into Andreasky’s life. Through a service dog program called “Dandy Dawgs ,” Lynsie trained Kaycee to help reduce anxiety and improve social interaction.

Kaycee, a poodle-schnauzer mix, has enabled Lynsie to do things that she otherwise wouldn’t have thought about doing alone. She now has aspirations of going to school out of state after Yavapai College, and she can go to places like Target, the mall and her doctor’s office without her parents.

Lynsie gives Kaycee the “grounding” command, a technique that helps calm Lynsie down when her anxiety reaches a high level. Kaycee sits on Lynsie’s feet and may lick her face to ease her anxiety. (Photo by Johana Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Kaycee is trained to start and stop licking Lynsie’s face on command to reduce Lynsie’s anxiety levels, further Kaycee’s training, and deepen their bond. (Photo by Johanna Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Once the pair reached Lynsie’s car, Lynsie straps Kaycee into a special car seat meant just for dogs. (Photo by Johana Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Lynsie Andreasky and her six-year-old Poodle-Schnauzer service dog Kaycee walks through Target in Prescott on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017. Outings to places like Target were once a major source of anxiety for Lynsie, but having her service dog makes them much more manageable. (Photo by Johana Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Lynsie’s mother, Trish Andreasky, is a special education teacher at Heritage Middle School in Chino Valley. She said Kaycee has made Lynsie much more in control of her condition.

Lynsie demonstrates Kaycee’s training progression to her former teacher Andy Lloyd, the founder of “Dandy Dawgs”, the program through which Lynsie trained Kaycee. (Photo by Johana Huckeba/Cronkite News)

Andy hugs Lynsie after discussing the personal growth she has seen Lynsie overcome since adopting and training her own service dog. (Photo by Johanna Huckeba/Cronkite News)

After Lynsie took off Kaycee’s service dog vest, Kaycee was free to be a normal dog, and she started playing with Trish. (Photo by Johana Huckeba/Cronkite News)