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A best friend for autistic Colonie toddler

When Brady Hirsch misbehaves, his new friend won't take away his dinner, send him to time out, unplug the television or tell his friends to go home. He will lick him in the face.

Brady will soon be under the supervision of a new disciplinarian and nurturer a service dog that is trained to help the 2-year-old deal with his autism.

Lori and Thomas Hirsch, of Colonie, said they first noticed signs of Brady's autism when he was 19 months old.

He had no speech, diminished eye contact," said Lori. "We started Brady at early intervention services at 19 months old because he had the basic symptoms [of autism]."

At 21 months old, Brady was officially diagnosed.

"After Brady was diagnosed, I did find out that I have a couple of nephews that have autism on both sides of my family," said Lori. "I think people tend not to talk about it, and the sad thing is, even still [today]."

Lori and Thomas immediately got involved in as many groups and programs for families touched by autism, but it was through a weekend tradition that Lori and Thomas came across an answer, a rather furry answer, to Brady's behavioral problems.

"I would take my son to see the dogs on Saturdays at [the shelter], and this one woman that works there suggested to me, 'Did you ever think about a therapy dog for him?'" Lori said.

When she got home, she began researching autism dogs and found a number of organizations that provide services for families looking for ways to keep their children safe. However, not all organizations provides services to a person as young as Brady, who will be 3 in March.

Lori eventually discovered 4Paws for Ability.

Although representatives from the Ohio-based organization were not available by press time, the organization's Web site said it was founded in 2002 by Karen Shirk, who had worked as a social worker, specializing in mental retardation while attending college. Shirk eventually developed symptoms of Myasthenia Gravis, a rare neuromuscular disease. The disease left Shirk short of breath often times, and depressed most of the time. She adopted her puppy-match, Ben, through a shelter and spent time training him. It was Shirk's experience with Ben that led her to develop 4 Paws for Ability, Inc.

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