Skittles has helped a lot of students.
Taylor Dearman suffers from crippling anxiety and seizures, which started when she was in college. They got so bad that she had to take a leave of absence.
"At my last university, I started experiencing anxiety, severe depression and seizures," Dearman shared. "It was so bad that I had to quit school and take a year off. I ended up moving to Georgia, and that is where I met Skittles."
Skittles is a service dog trained to alert Dearman, and really everyone in the room, to increased blood pressure, elevated cortisol levels, low blood sugar or emotional distress. The special black and white dog with the bat-like ears was the missing link in Dearman's life.
Soon, Dearman was able to return to classes at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi with Skittles by her side. She started to explore teaching opportunities but was wary of being in front of a classroom without Skittles. Luckily, her professor Dr. Robin Johnson told her she could use Skittles as a valuable teaching tool at Oak Park Elementary during her student teaching sessions.
Skittles became a popular staple in Dearman's classes. The elementary school kids became used to the dog being in the classroom and learned all about service dogs and how they help their owners.
"The students know that when she sits in her spot, they leave her alone - unless she comes up to them, which usually means she's trying to comfort them or she knows they are not feeling well," Dearman explained. But what was incredible, was when Skittles could sense any other issues in the room.
"One of our student's parents passed away last year and Skittles stayed by that student's side for a whole week. She's actually been a great behavioral tool in the classroom."
Dearman is excited to teach this new generation about how service dogs can truly change lives. Her students know that even if someone's disability isn't apparent, they still may be suffering.
"I get to teach my students that you don't need to be in a wheelchair to have a service dog; it's much more complicated than that," she shared. "It was hard having Skittles at first because people would say to me, 'Why do you have a service dog? You're fine.' It's like they don't understand."
Dearman sees such a difference in having Skittles now versus four years ago. When she first got her medical service dog she would have to explain to store owners why Skittles had to go where she did. Now, if Skittles wears her service vest most people know she is at work.
But Dearman sees more and more people open to learning about how Skittles helps her everyday activities.
"When someone tries to talk to Skittles or whistles at her, the teacher in me comes out and I take a moment to explain how important of a job Skittles has," said Dearman. "Now, most people I meet, on and off campus, are more open-minded in learning about her."
Taylor Dearman will graduate from Texas A&M Corpus Christi with Skittles by her side on Dec. 16, 2017. They will both proudly walk across the stage to accept a Bachelor of Science Degree in Interdisciplinary EC-6 Reading Generalist.
Ms. Dearman and Skittles will start teaching a fifth-grade class at Kostoryz Elementary next January. Dearman is excited to embark with confidence in her teaching career with Skittles by her side.
"As an educator, I'm more willing to tell everyone that just because you can't see a disability doesn't mean it's not there. I think that's where Skittles has helped me the most. I know I'm different but together as a team, we've come so far and have accomplished so many great things."
All images via Texas A&M Corpus Christi press release.
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