What do Autism Assistance Dogs do for Children?
Autism Spectrum Disorders are a rapidly growing epidemic among children. This often severe developmental disorder affects the way these children perceive the world around them as well as how they respond and interact with it. Autism Spectrum Disorders and autism often cause decreased social interactions, the inability to verbalize thoughts and feelings, night terrors, self-stimulating behaviors and a broad range of other symptoms. This disorder not only affects the child diagnosed with it, but can deeply impact, and can even cripple, the entire family of an autistic child. Families of autistic children often do not have resources readily available for managing some of the adverse affects this disorder causes. One of the newest resources for assisting these families are Autism Assistance Dogs for children.
These service dogs come in a variety of sizes and breeds and are specifically matched to meet the needs of the individual child. While out in public working with the dogs that we have in training, I am often asked “So, what do Autism Assistance Dogs do for children?” My answer is very often the same. These well trained dogs provide a vast number of benefits for families and children suffering with autism.
First of all, these Autism Assistance Dogs serve as a “social bridge” for autistic children. Often, because of their behavior, these children are excluded from social settings by other children. Because many children are automatically drawn to dogs, these social encounters are often increased and longer lasting. These dogs can accompany their children to school where they participate in the classroom with reading and recreational programs. This helps to nurture increased participation in school activities with both classmates and the autistic child.
Autistic children also commonly exhibit self-stimulating behaviors, also referred to as “stimming”. These repetitive behaviors include spinning, shouting, and hitting, to name a few. Autism Assistance Dogs are often trained to disrupt these “stimming” behaviors in children by touching the child on the hand or leg. By doing this, the dog is able to redirect the focus of the child and break the cycle of the behavior.
Sleeping and night terrors are also common problems associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dogs are trained to assist with sleeping and creating better sleep habits with these children. Many autistic children are very tactile and often sleep better when they experience some type of pressure and warmth at bed time. This leads them to sleeping in bed with their parents for years which can be disruptive for the entire family. Recently we delivered an assistance dog to a family in Florida. The first night we arrived, the seven year old child, accompanied by his dog, slept soundly in his own bed for the first time in over five years.
Trailing is another valuable skill that these dogs are trained for in order to assist families with autistic children. Many autistic children bolt or run away from their homes and public places. After bolting these children are often drawn to bodies of water. The end result can be fatal. Autism Assistance Dogs are capable of quickly locating children in a variety of environments and terrain which greatly reduces the risk of serious harm. This critical recovery skill is a valuable asset to a family with an autistic child.
Other benefits of having an Autism Assistance Dog are countless. These dogs are known to help increase independence, improve the child’s vocabulary, and provide an overall calming effect for the child in what they perceive to be stressful situations. We have seen that these dogs reduce help children with emotional agitation, improve focus, and increase their sense of pride which can lead to better results in schoolwork.
If you have questions about our programs or services, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866.200.2207