Arlington School's Most Popular “Students” Making a Difference for Classmates With Autism

At Dunn Elementary School in Arlington, there's no question who the top dogs are.

"I mean, we have them in the yearbook," said Sarah Butts, a special education teacher at Dunn Elementary. "It's amazing."

"Norah has a Facebook page," said Laura Gober, who also teaches special education at Dunn Elementary. "Denver doesn't have one yet."

Norah is a Labrador-mix and Denver is a Golden Retriever who come to the school everyday, eager to learn and help two of their classmates.

"She's just added such a layer of security for us, just knowing that she's keeping an eye on him," said Jill Sapp, whose son Andrew goes to Dunn Elementary.

Sapp and her family got Norah almost two years ago, specifically to help with her son. Andrew has a form of autism that makes him prone to running away and Norah is specially trained to track him.

"I actually had to do a live track with Norah at school last year," said Gober. "So I truly understand the relief."

Andrew's teachers and classmates instantly fell in love with Norah when she started coming to school last year -- especially Nate, who is also a child with autism.

"He really interacted well [with Norah]," said Nate's mother Carey Montgomery. "He was calm. So when I saw that, I said how do we do that? How do we get a dog?"

After talking with Sapp, she found a local organization called "Made in Texas", which trains and matches service dogs to people with various conditions.

One of their sponsors, Purebred Breeders, had just donated Denver to their cause -- and they thought he and the Montgomerys would be a perfect match.

"The dog has to do things that their person can't do themselves," said Hailey Mauldin, who trained Denver. "When Nate gets overstimulated or worked up, he might hit himself in the head or do things that he can't stop himself from doing. So Denver is trained to come and nudge him and that helps Nate snap out of it."

Denver became a part of the Montgomery family last fall.

"I emailed the school and said 'how would you feel about having a second dog?,''" said Montgomery.

"I think all that went through our minds was if it's in the best interest of the kid, bring it on," said Butts.

Denver has only been attending school with Nate for two weeks. But already, his family and teachers see a big change.

"It's already reduced his anxiety," said Butts. "He smiles. He's very assertive with the dog. And he speaks out clearly, which he didn't do before."

Both Sapp and Montgomery say they're grateful that the school has been on board with them throughout this entire process.

"There was never an issue at all," said Sapp. "They welcomed Norah and Denver with open arms. We're just really grateful because what they're looking out for is what's best for our children."

And at this point, the school admits it wouldn't know how to get along without their most "paw-pular" students.

"It's amazing," said Gober. "And it's overwhelming at times, emotionally, when you see how far Andrew has come and knowing what lies ahead for Nate."

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