Autism Service Dogs are well-trained companions that improve the lives of those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders. These faithful assistants come in a variety of breeds and sizes and are selected to meet the individual needs of their handlers. Over the years, we have trained a multitude of breeds but have found Poodles and mixes (Doodles) to be client favorites due to their lack of shedding and hypoallergenic tendencies.
These amazing animals have proven to be an asset for children diagnosed with autism and their families. These dogs provide a variety of benefits from influencing social skills to offering additional safety measures.
Service dogs for autism present a social “bridge” for children who are often excluded by others because of their behavior or lack of social interaction.
These well-trained autism service dogs can also provide comfort by calming children who may experience overstimulation or become quickly overwhelmed. Autistic children who run or wander away can also be quickly and easily found by autism service dogs that are trained to locate them.
These are just a few of the advantages of having a trained service dog to assist an autistic child.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the way a child sees and interacts with the rest of the world. It affects everyone in a different way but typically triggers difficulty with sensory, memory, motor and postural control. Social and communication skills may be compromised leading to social isolation both within the family and with other people. Many autistic children display a tendency to bolt in open spaces making going to the store, park, or a restaurant almost impossible. Many autistic children also experience difficulty sleeping and often suffer from insomnia.
Children with autism are often misunderstood because they process information in a different way. Information is processed in a very detail-oriented way, meaning the individual with autism will sort through both major and minor stimuli, such as a car driving by, the smell of their clothing, or the sound of a dog barking, to make a decision. Too many details can cause them to become overstimulated and confused by everyday situations. The causes of autism are uncertain, but most experts feel it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Autism is incredibly prevalent in children and young adults.In 2018 the CDC determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
1 in 37 boys
1 in 151 girls
There are countless benefits of owning an autism assistance dog for children and families affected by autism. These dogs are faithful companions that assist these children and families with activities of daily living as well as increasing the safety of the child and reducing the stress level of their family. Some advantages of having an Autism Service Dog include:
Families all over the United States and the world have seen the effects firsthand of how an Autism Service Dog can change the life of their child and even bring improvements into the family’s lives as a whole.
Many parents have become trapped in a tedious routine to keep their child from having self-harming meltdowns. Others live with constant fear of their child wandering from them and getting lost.
Through the help of a service dog trained specifically for the struggles of each individual child and their family, countless families have witnessed life altering changes in their child.
Many children with autism find comfort in weighted blankets, bear hugs, or other means of pressure on the physical body. Autism Assistance Dogs can be trained a task that involves placing their body on the child’s to offer that deep pressure. This can be beneficial during the onset of a meltdown, episodes of anxiety, overstimulation, etc. In addition, this task can encourage relaxation during bedtime to help with night awakenings and anxiety of sleeping in their room alone.
When presented with overstimulating situations, some children may resort to repetitive self-stimulating behaviors that can often be damaging. These could include picking at skin, hitting their head, verbal repetitions, and many others. Autism Service Dogs can be trained to nudge or paw at the child to get their attention back on their dog rather than whatever may be upsetting them. This interruption can often aid in changing the habit of engaging in those self-stimulating behaviors.
For many parents, the safety of their child with autism is an immense concern. A large percentage of children are likely to either bolt or wander away in public. Many parents feel the need to keep a solid grip on their child at all times. Service Dogs for Autism are trained to understand the method of tethering so that the dog heels next to the parent/handler’s side and is tethered to the child. This prevents the child from wandering away or bolting away from the parents but also gives the child a bit more independence.
As an additional safety measure, Autism Assistance Dogs can also be trained to drop and hold their ground when a child is in the act of bolting/running away. This task is helpful for children who have a history of bolting without understanding danger or consequences. If the dog and child are tethered but the child begins bolting, the parent can give a quick verbal command for the dog to immediately lie down and resist the weight of the child pulling against it. The dog must remain in that spot until released, giving the parent the chance to get to their child before they potentially bolt into the road or get too far away.
When it comes to eloping behaviors, the worst-case scenario can quickly become a reality. If a child does wander out of sight and the parent doesn’t know which direction they went, a Service Dog trained in search and rescue trailing can offer a huge peace of mind. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell which can be tailored to finding a specific odor and following it to the source, meaning that the parents could work with the service dog to quickly locate their missing child.
Every child is unique, from their personalities and likes/dislikes to their needs and lifestyle. As such, every child’s application is viewed individually, for what works for one family may not for another. Several things must be taken into consideration during the application process of acquiring an autism service dog to ensure we develop a full picture of the family’s requirements, daily life, struggles, goals, and commitment.
After entering our service dog program, the autism service dog candidates immediately begin socialization. Socialization is an extremely important aspect of service dog training and must be heavily incorporated into any service dog training program. The dogs are presented with a variety of environments, noises, and situations to test their environmental stability and ensure they are confident in all types of situations. Busy schools, crowded stores, and noisy city streets are only a few settings in which the service dog candidates must become comfortable and relaxed in. Eventually, the service dogs will be expected to perform in these places so it is crucial that they experience them early in training.
In addition, they get positive experiences with all types of different people. The service dogs in training learn to remain calm and present a gentle demeanor with children of all ages, as well as adults and seniors. They are also introduced to a variety of handling techniques to ensure they are tolerant and comfortable with children interacting with their fur, tails, paws, and more.
While socialization continues, the service dogs in training also begin learning how to accomplish the specific tasks needed for children with autism. Manners are essential so the service dog candidates work on their understanding of all the obedience commands and household rules that will apply when they are delivered. This will ensure that the service dog is easy to handle and work with while its owner is learning how to manage and utilize their child’s new autism service dog. Alongside obedience commands, the service dog candidates also become well-versed in the important and essentially life-changing tasks they will be providing for the autistic child they are being trained for.
Many factors are taken into account when selecting a dog for service work. Particularly with autism service dogs, these service dog candidates need to be friendly and well-rounded in order to work side by side with their child. Every child’s needs vary so the specifics of each dog will vary too. However, every autism service dog candidate must be confident with a good nature, enjoy the company of children, be capable of working in distracting environments, and possess a loving temperament.
We have placed a variety of breeds as autism service dogs however, we do find that several breeds tend to have more qualities we are looking for. Labradors and Golden Retrievers, as well as Standard Poodles, Goldendoodles, and Labradoodles tend to possess the natural tendencies sought after for a service dog.
The service dog community has become vast and diverse in recent years. Now more than ever, families looking into autism service dogs are able to easily find an array of information at their fingertips. However, many have found that a lot of this information is confusing or even conflicting. So where do you start? For information on service dogs, we suggest becoming familiar with the definition, guidelines, and rules available for review by the Americans with Disabilities Act. This information is straight from the source and a great option for educating yourself on the subject of service dogs.