’Tis the season for the hustle and bustle of the holidays. For many this time of year is full of joy, while for others with disabilities, this time of year presents unique physical, emotional and sensory challenges.

If physically disabled, some of those challenges will include navigating the parking lot. Often handicapped parking is full this time of year so simply moving from the car through the parking lot can present safety hazards. Once in a crowded store, challenges include congested aisles due to extra merchandise for the holiday shoppers along with long, chaotic checkout lines.

For those with psychological issues such as PTSD, facing large crowds is a major challenge especially around holidays when emotions and holiday excitement is running high. With the heightened excitement, increased movement of holiday shoppers as well as loud noises can trigger those with PTSD with anxiety and stress overload.

For families with children on the autistic spectrum, the holidays present a myriad of overwhelming decisions for each member of the entire family. Everyday life is a challenge, however during the holiday season those challenges become monumental. For those on the spectrum, every light, every sound, every smell is enhanced and creates a sensory process overload. For example, imagine walking up to the door of the mall and facing the loud clanging of bell-ringers. Bright lights, loud music, the noise of the crowd as families go about their holiday cheer — all of these typical holiday happenings are an assault for those with sensory issues.

Service dogs can change the outcome of these experiences for those with the aforementioned disabilities.

Imagine those who have a physical disability facing the same challenges with a service dog by their side. In the parking lot, a service dog will alert and block their handler from oncoming traffic. A service dog will help them navigate through a crowd by finding the path of least resistance. The handler will have faith and feel more secure knowing their service dog will get them safely to their destination.

With physical, psychological and neurological disabilities on the rise, service dog teams are a blessing to those in need and their gift becomes more powerful each day. As we move into the flurry of the holiday season, we invite our readers to be thankful for the inclusion a service dog can provide. When you cross paths with our service teams, remember the best gift you can give is a smile and a thumbs-up.

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