Autism Service Dogs 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. Autism Service Dogs 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.
Families all over the United States and the world have seen the effects firsthand of how a Service Dog for Autism 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.
There are countless additional benefits of owning an autism service 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. Other advantages of having an Autism Service Dog include: