Twenty-four-year-old Danielle Jacobs is one of 3.5 million Americans with an autism spectrum disorder — in her case, Asperger’s Syndrome. But she also has a service dog to help her in her daily life, and together they went viral in a video that Jacobs filmed to show people what it’s like to have Asperger’s.
On June 1, Jacobs posted a video of herself having a depressive episode, or “meltdown,” on YouTube. But her 120-pound Rottweiler, Samson, is trained to respond to certain behaviors typical for Jacobs and others like her on the autism spectrum.
Just a couple of weeks later, the video has gone viral and been viewed more than 3.6 million times.
In the video, Jacobs is seen crying and hitting herself, but Samson uses his paws to stop her from self-harming and then rests on her when she sits on the floor. The pressure from his weight has a calming effect on Jacobs; many other people with autism also benefit from what is called therapeutic tactile stimulation.
“His weight has a calming effect,” Jacobs explained to Huffington Post. “He makes me acknowledge what’s going on — he kind of snaps me out of it.”
Although autism service dogs aren’t as common as the dogs that help the blind, they can help adults and children cope with being overstimulated, which can trigger panic attacks, and aid their owners in interactions with other people.
What makes Jacobs and Samson so unique is that Jacobs trained him on her own. Her YouTube channel features dozens of videos of her showing Samson how to react to panic attacks, self-harming behavior and other symptoms common to people with autism and Asperger’s.
Back in 2011, Jacobs adopted Samson from Halo Animal Rescue in Phoenix, AZ, close by where she lives. Since then Samson has earned the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen and Community Canine titles and has completed the public access test to become a service dog.
Jacobs currently works at Target but would like to train service dogs. She had previous experience training dogs in obedience when she worked in an animal shelter and credits her Asperger’s Syndrome with giving her the talent to work with animals.
Many dog owners in metropolitan areas, such as Phoenix, can spend up to $100 per week on dog playdates and other ways to keep their dogs happy during the day. Obedience training is another way to keep dogs occupied, which makes a talent like Jacobs’s in demand.
Incidents like the one Jacobs caught on tape happen about once a month for her, depending on how overwhelmed she may feel. But she mostly wants to raise awareness about the condition and help others who have autism.