“When he was 2 years old, Fallbrook teenager Elliot Sylvester was diagnosed with autism and he visited Disneyland for the very first time.

Trips to the Anaheim theme park became a beloved family tradition for Elliot and his parents, Rick and Laura Sylvester, but they weren’t always pleasant experiences. Elliot, now 18, is highly verbal and his loud noise-making often distracted and angered other park-goers. Then, in 2011, Eliot got a service dog, Orbit, and the family’s next trip to Disneyland changed their lives.

“Before people would be staring at us, rolling their eyes and commenting on our lack of parenting skills,” Laura Sylvester said. “But when we brought Orbit to Disneyland, Elliot still made loud screeching sounds, but people would turn around, see the dog, read Orbit’s vest and then their frowns turned upside down. It changed what going out in public was like for our family. That was when we looked at each other and said ‘more families like ours need this.’ ”

The Sylvesters are the co-founders of Good Dog! Autism Companions. Since they launched the nonprofit organization in 2011, Good Dog! has trained and placed 49 service dogs. Four went to autism therapists and the rest went to families of children with autism. On Saturday, three of those dogs “graduated” from their 20-month training program at a ceremony in La Jolla and went home with their new families.”

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