Autism is a disability with symptoms that can vary from one individual to another. Autism service dogs often serve as a vital key to developmental success and psychological development in those living with autism. They also serve as a strong support tool for the parents of autistic children who rely on these incredible service animals for the daily help required to allow their children to thrive.
Often, children with autism are excluded by others because of their behavior or lack of social understanding. Primarily, the autism service dog is focused on protecting the child’s safety and can also provide comfort by calming children who may experience overstimulation or become quickly overwhelmed.
During the time I been working and training autism assistance dogs at Highland Canine, I have had the privilege to work with many families and children who benefit from the help and support of a service dog. There are many experiences and stories which I have heard from the families we serve regarding how their Autism Service Dog has helped them – I would like to share some of these amazing stories with you.
Radar, the Autism Assistance Dog, and Emily
I fondly remember the day I met Emily. She came to our Training Center with her mom Amanda and her grandmother Marilou to meet Radar. Emily was wearing a jacket with a hood, and at the exact moment she saw me, she covered her head with the hoodie and did not come near me. She would not interact with me at all – so I told her Mom to take Radar and walk for a while with Emily and the service dog. After a while, I saw Emily in the distance take off her hoodie – and here she is a few minutes later, talking and laughing with me. Just in those brief moments, Radar was able to provide Emily enough comfort and social confidence to interact with me.
After Radar had been placed with Emily and her family, we met again in November for a fundraising race for autism awareness. What emotion to see Emily more independent – she walked with me in the park and helped me to walk other Autism Service Dogs.
Merlin, the Autism Assistance Dog, and Pierce
There are a lot of testimonials and anecdotes I have received from Shelley and Peter, Pierce’s parents. Pierce is a 15-year old teenager with autism. I would like to share some of the quotes from his family:
“Merlin is trained to tolerate his joints being rubbed on for sensory relief and calm Pierce down” explains Shelley, Pierce’s mother. “Instead of him bugging me for a foot rub or rubbing my elbow, look what I spied tonight!”
This summer, Pierce went to two different summer camps. His mom thought there would be a mixed reaction, but Pierce loves art and was able to do it – with Merlin by his side the entire time.
Peach, the Autism Assistance Dog, and Mariano
Peach has been assisting Mariano – who has autism – and proves to be a great help on outings to the grocery store. Peach helps Mariano remain calm, and has also given Mariano’s parent the ability to put Peach in a “down” when they need to turn around to grab something – this enables them to pick up their items and move around the aisles, all the while knowing that Mariano is not going anywhere because he is tethered to Peach. Peach is like an anchor and keeps Mariano in place.
Peach goes to school with ‘JunJun’ (Mariano’s nickname) and now Peach is even the mascot of the swimming team! One of the many benefits of an autism service dog is it clearly helps the child’s integration with fellow classmates.
Darth, the Autism Service Dog, and Haydan
“Darth did everything perfectly and it totally rubbed off on Haydan, who was excited to go out and even ate a real meal and sat and talked to one of the Highland Canine trainers,” said Haydan’s mother.
In another instance, Haydan’s mother described how Darth helped during a meltdown situation.
Haydan practices taekwondo and I had the opportunity to go to one of his practice during the delivery. Of course, Darth was looking for his boy from the audience. A couple of weeks later, I received a picture from Mom, when Haydan did an amazing job winning First Place in three different competitions!
For a kid with autism and not a fan of going out often, within a month of Darth’s delivery, I received pictures from his family showing Haydan and Darth watching a baseball game at a stadium; enjoying some time out on the lake; and Darth marching with Haydan at the 4th of July Parade.
Splash, the Autism Service Dog, and Ty
Ty is a nine year old autistic boy who is interested in fans, cars, vacuums, and a plethora of other mechanical items. When seeing a car in the far distance, Ty can tell you exactly what kind of car and model it is. For a birthday or Christmas gift, he will ask for a vacuum or fan.
Going to the dentist is a very difficult experience for Ty. During Splash’s delivery, I had the opportunity to go with him to his dentist appointment. Upon arriving, Ty became clearly overwhelmed, and the office staff quickly brought a fan, movies, and all kinds of things to help him to be relaxed. This time, however, was different – Splash was there with him! As soon as Ty started screaming, Splash (who was lying down near to him) immediately got up and jumped over Ty to help him with deep pressure therapy. It was evident that moving forward, Ty’s visits to the dentist would be completely different thanks to the support of Splash.
Autism service dogs are not just support animals. They are vehicles through which autistic individuals are able to experience the world through new eyes. These dogs keep their handlers safe and comfortable, while helping them attain the confidence necessary to accomplish things they may never have otherwise attempted. They provide companionship and unconditional love, and their dedication makes them the perfect solution for families who are struggling to do it all on their own. If you have any questions about our autism service dogs, please contact us for more information.