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Trussville boy’s autism service dog to be first used in school system

By Nathan Prewett

For the Tribune

TRUSSVILLE – As it happens, April is Autism Awareness Month. And the timing is just right for Nate Gravitt, 10, whose autism service dog will be the first to be used in the Trussville City Schools System.

Nate Gravitt. Photo provided by Lisa Gravitt.

He was recently assigned the dog from Service Dogs Alabama after his family started a fundraising campaign to pay the fees for it.

So far, they have about $1,900 left to raise before Nate can receive the dog. He, his brother, Martin, and his parents are residents of Trussville who have been helped by people both in the community and outside with donations.

“Some of the donations have come from people that I know that if they gave that $50 or $100 that was a lot of money for them and so that was real emotional,” said his mother, Lisa Gravitt. “Some of those people are complete strangers and they donate $100 or $200 and I don’t know who they are and I don’t know who they know.”

Diagnosed with high-functioning autism in October of 2017, Nate faces various challenges as many kids with the same condition do. One of those challenges is social interaction, according to his father, Loyd Gravitt.

“I would say one thing about the challenges that people with high functioning autism face is missing a lot of the social cues that they need to make friends and interact,” he said. “Things that we just take for granted: body language and tone of voice – it just doesn’t register with him and it makes it difficult to make friends and to get along.”

Registering emotions can be difficult for a boy with autism. Oftentimes emotions run high and can be overwhelming for some.

“That happens a great deal – that there’s more of a reaction than you would expect,” Lisa Gravitt said.

“He has regulating emotions,” Loyd Gravitt said. “We can put a brake on them but he doesn’t have that brake he can put on when he’s feeling something.”

The Gravitts put emphasis on the help that they received from Ady’s Army that focuses on families with special needs children. Gravitt said that one of the programs that the family has participated in is Ady’s Barracks, which helps provide fences to keep special needs children safe in.

A fence is actually a requirement for the service dog, Gravitt said. Though they didn’t have a fence, friends from their Sunday School offered to help build it while they would only have to pay for supplies, which they’re raising funds for through Ady’s Barracks. She said that the experience had taught her to reach out to others.

“I had decided that my lesson is how to ask for help,” she said. “And so I had a friend that had recommended them because they had knew them personally. I had chose not to contact them because I thought,’We got this. It’s going to be fine. All we have to do is pay for the actual materials.’ But then we decided that we need to ask them. And they jumped in.”

Therapy dogs have been in use for some time to assist in different problems, particularly for those with traumatic experiences such as veterans returning from combat. Dogs are trained to provide things like pressure therapy where they lie down on their owner to calm them down, something that can be beneficial to someone with emotional stress.

“The weight has a very calming effect on people,” Lisa Gravitt said. “Not just for people with autism or anxiety.”

Service dogs can also nudge their owners to get them to pet them, which can decrease anxiety. They can also help with sleep patterns for those having trouble sleeping. Loyd Gravitt added that the dogs are trained to follow their owners and help find them if they lose sight of them.

The dog is named Rugby and Nate will be able to take him with him when he attends middle school in the summer.

“It’s been nice to know that it’s finally going to happen,” Lisa Gravitt said. “It’s been a waiting game for a long time.”

The Gravitt family continues to raise funds to pay for the dog. Those who want to donate may go to https://m.gofund.me/paws-for-nate-a-service-dog-fund.

Those who are interested in supporting the family’s fencing needs can go to the Ady’s Army website at www.adysarmy.org.

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