Icho made the world of difference in his life

The Institute for Psychology & Wellbeing at the North-West University (NWU) will host its third Autism Symposium on 25 and 26 June. The symposium, which is presented jointly by the NWU and Autism South Africa (A;)SA), is an opportunity for all healthcare providers, educators, social workers, parents and individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder to come together to connect, share and learn. It will take place in the Dawie du Plessis Lecture Hall on the NWU’s campus in Potchefstroom.
Martha van der Walt shares her family’s story of the difference a therapy dog made in their son, Christoff’s life. Christoff was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.
Martha van der Walt writes:
Christoff van der Walt (28) was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 24.
He has always loved dogs. At the age of two, he gave his parents the shock of their lives when he took a big, fierce Rottweiler by the ears and kissed her on her snout. She willingly sat there, accepting his display of love.

Christoff van der Walt with his best friend Icho.

By the time Christoff was doing a dog handler’s course in his twenties, everybody realised that his love for dogs had become a passion.
After matric, Christoff completed two Dog Handling Level 5 courses (sniffer dog training in contraband and explosives) and a course in dog behaviour. He was responsible for a dog unit and training at a firm in Potchefstroom, cared for scat detection dogs at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and accompanied comfort and therapy dogs at Paws4God in Pretoria.
Christoff has his own ‘therapy’ dog called Icho. He has trained Icho himself and the 3-year-old German Shepherd is his constant companion, no matter where he goes. Icho has even accompanied him on a few 10 km road races where he got his own medal.
Icho is a remarkably good-natured dog which makes it easier for Christoff to interact with people when they are together. Strangers automatically reach out to touch his soft fur and Icho loves the attention. His first love, however, is Christoff and he reacts to Christoff’s emotions.

This ‘emotional support’” has a calming effect and it is a common sight to see the two of them lying together.

Christoff states that Icho is cleverer and much, much nicer than many people he knows. It will be a great day if more people on the Autism Spectrum can have a companion like that.

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